The first time I saw them, I just watched in awe as they worked. There was one in particular who looked like it was carrying too much--a large leaf six or seven times the size of the ant’s body. I watched as the other ants passed this one while it meandered drunkenly along the path back to the colony. I suppose if it had bitten off more than it could chew (so to speak), it wouldn’t continue on, but it did.
We bought this house in September last year. Owning a house built in 1943 sounded exciting; we could update it and make it our own since it was long overdue for an update. The yard resembled a gravel parking lot with patches of weeds and invasive grasses, so we started planting trees right away and cutting everything else back. “Someday, these trees will shade the house,” we said.
I’d held onto my grandfather’s ashes for over a year, but was unsure what I wanted to do with them, until we bought this house. Each time I check on the Southern Live Oak that I planted in our backyard I am reminded of him. The tree had been doing better than the other nine trees we planted around our home and I was delighted in February when the tree’s leaves filled in beautifully; I thought of the ashes mixed with the soil, helping it grow. Then, one day in March, I was on my way to work when I noticed the tree’s leaves had mysteriously fallen off and laid in a pile around the delicate trunk. Did I not give it enough water? Off to work I went for one of the last times, thoroughly perplexed by the tree. When I came home at dusk I noticed something moving along the ground where the leaves had been: Ants. They were carrying the leaves and were busy at work cutting the remaining new growth from the tree as well.
I thought of my grandfather and got the pesticide.
I’ve been carefully monitoring and watching the tree since, along with all of the other plants in our yard. Working from home means I spend a lot of time watching small trees grow, noticing every new leaf, waiting for seeds to sprout, churning soil, wondering what I’m doing wrong, trying again, and generally fussing over the foliage in our yard. My grandfather taught me what little I know about gardening, but this definitely isn't the Midwest. Learning how to grow anything in the desert has been a challenge, but I have a lot of time to do just that right now.
I’ve been forced to slow down by COVID-19. My wife asked me for years to slow down, to give some things up. She saw me struggling with anxiety and depression and coping by taking on more and more work, carrying much more than I should. It took a global pandemic to cancel all of my professional conferences and events--to finally plant that tree and do something meaningful with those ashes. I am relieved, or something like it, as new growth (very) slowly replaces what has been taken.