A Small, Separate Peace

My writing room isn’t big enough to comfortably accommodate more than one human occupant at a time, but I’m seldom alone there.  Tiny, roaming visitors also inhabit my creative zone.  If I ever decide to get a high-resolution camera and document their myriad activities the movie will be titled “A Few Good Ants.” 

I’m sure there’s a scientific name for these uninvited guests but I’ve coined my own term: WCR (West Coast Residential). They’re black, extremely petite, and look exactly like the ants I observed on numerous occasions while growing up in the Bay Area.

Those childhood encounters usually took place in the kitchen. Although WCRs don’t appear ferocious, the sight of them can be alarming when vast numbers converge to form a writhing, undulating mass on the same object—often a jar of honey or jam carelessly left open on a counter overnight.

Back then, such an incursion was viewed as a declaration of domestic war requiring immediate, massive retaliation, usually in the form of chemical pesticides sprayed from aerosol cans.

My current situation is much less combative.  I’m careful never to place sweet targets of opportunity on any shelf, bookcase, or other flat surface for extended periods of time.  And with no delectable temptations available, the presence of little interlopers never reaches attention-grabbing proportions. 

They usually show up in groups of four of five, exploring casually and randomly.  Their intentions often seem vague and unfocused.  Or maybe they have intentions but lack the commitment to follow through on them. Haven’t we all had days like that?  They’ve explored the wall behind my writing desk, and the desk itself.  They’ve poked around the tchotchkes on my windowsill, and climbed inside the small water glass where I toss loose change.  I’ve never sensed any hint of hostility or malevolence.

Ironically, my decision to pursue a policy of non-aggression is motivated by a lifelong interest in war and military strategy. I see the wandering transients as elite scouts on a recon mission.  If I played the role of Terminator, their disappearance would be duly noted back at headquarters and search parties dispatched to find out what happened.  I’d much rather have them return safely to the home front and tell their superiors, “There’s nothing out there but wood slivers, a few grains of sand, and dust bunnies.  It’s a wasteland!”

In the continuing absence of any invasion-size force, it seems my tactics are working.  How, then, to account for the fact that reconnaissance teams keep reappearing? One possible explanation I find most compelling is that, like me, the patrol members are loners, skeptical of authority, and unafraid to challenge conventional thinking. Renegades of all species have a way of finding each other.  My habitat offers a temporary respite from the stifling regimentation of colony life. That’s how we roll here.

Sometimes one of them will amble across the computer screen while I’m typing.  The situation is exactly like having a pedestrian stroll in front of my car at an intersection when I have the green light.  Getting mad accomplishes nothing; I just pause until the wayward walker has left the scene.  It’s not the little hill (or, in this case, the little video monitor) that anyone needs to die on.

And yes, the roving loners do occasionally crawl on me.  It’s inevitable, given that we all spend so much time in close proximity at the writing desk.  I’ve become accustomed to the sensation of microscopic feet pitter-pattering up my arm.  Instead of slapping them away, I prefer to lean close and aim a quick blast of air through my lips, as if blowing out a candle.  It’s been proven that ants can survive long falls, so I’m confident my method of airborne relocation doesn’t cause serious injuries.  It might even be grist for some animated dinner conversations (“Man, have you ever been caught in one of those crazy windstorms?  They come out of nowhere!”)

Does this all sound like the basis for a wonderful children’s book, or perhaps a whole series?  I’ve already put that idea high up on my “Not-to-do” list.  The last thing American literature needs right now is a 21st century Beatrix Potter wannabe spinning out insect versions of Flopsy, Mopsy, and Jemima Puddleduck.

The current real world storyline is that, as of this moment, my diminutive compatriots have gone away.  I’m not taking it personally; it’s a regular pattern of behavior.  For whatever reason, they seem to need an occasional break from me and, quite honestly, the feeling is mutual.  If the pattern holds, they should be back in a few days, and our coexistence will resume.

So long as I am the ruling body here, this shared space will remain a peaceable kingdom.

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.