Monday, October 1 2007
Gretchen's parents headed back north today, and they'll be spending a week in the Adirondacks, though not in a yurt.
When I haven't been doing other things, I've been cutting up and splitting the wood piled up within and just in front of the garage. Most of this wood is from powerline maintenance on Dug Hill Road, and most of it came in pieces that would just barely fit in the back of the Honda Civic hatchback. They could usually be sawn into three or four stove-length pieces and then split four ways, making as many as sixteen stove-ready pieces per log.
Many of these pieces were from diseased trees that were somewhat hollow. In their insect-excavated interiors were a number of ant colonies, usually of a large (centimeter-long) black species. Being the sort of person I am, I felt bad destroying their homes. Suddenly a great ant hallway would be open to the daylight and the suddenly-homeless residents would scurry about. I don't know where they go when this happens, but eventually they disappear. To them I must seem like a wrathful god, sending the equivalent of a Hurricane Katrina to ruin their world. The truth, of course, is that I'm anything but wrathful; I'd much rather be benevolent, but I have to split up the wood to prepare for winter and the ants are simply in my way. Though I mean them no harm, I don't have the time and resources to devote to keeping any particular group of ants happy. If I started worrying about them, I wouldn't be able to create a firewood supply. In this way I'm much like the forces of nature that humans have long thought to be dictated by the whims of gods. Hurricanes, volcanos, and asteroids are as inevitable under our laws of physics and chemistry as are the organisms they occasionally crush. Sometimes these forces create opportunities (islands, waterfalls, puddles of elemental copper) and humans imagine they are blessed. Other times they destroy and humans imagine they are cursed. Our brains are wired to read meaning into things that have no meaning or whose meaning lies far outside any concern about us at all. I'm not thinking about ants when I gather, cut, and split wood, but if they were religious they could easily imagine that I was punishing them for their sins or (when I leave logs lying around long enough for them to move into) that I'm blessing them for their antly virtues.
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