Friday, February 08, 2013

A grandeur in this view of life?

We have finally defeated the termites in the kitchen, or at least they are temporarily on the run. It meant ripping out and replacing most of the cabinetry, but –- hey -– this is the tropics and they were here first. Still, murder is the word of the day and it's us versus them. As far as the termites are concerned, I built the house to supply them with food. I'm prepared to defend it, even if it turns me into a cold-blooded killer. I'm consoled knowing that nature invented intraspecies warfare and I'm following a script written in the fabric of the world itself.

Then there's the ants.

We have ants in the kitchen too, but they aren't eating me out of house and home. Mostly they scavenge crumbs we inadvertently leave lying about the counter top. In fact, I rather like watching a teeming crowd of them collectively trying to transport a crumb a hundred times bigger than any one of them to a hole in the window screen that the crumb will never fit through. It's like watching an early chapter of a book called "The Evolution of Intelligence."

But murder is still in the air. These ants are tiny, not much bigger than the period at the end of this sentence. Tiny and brown, like grains of powdery beach sand. To my eye, only their scampering betrays their animation. But under the x10 magnifier, they are complex little animals, with all the requisite equipment -– eyes, antennae, legs, mouths, articulated bodies. No creation of FabergĂ© or Cellini could be more exquisitely contrived.

And there they go for the sugar bowl!

And so, and so, I squash them. Mush those exquisite little machines. No, not machines. Living organisms. Cousins (though many times removed). It's possible to imagine a planet on which they are the most successful form of life. Maybe this is that planet.

There they go, marching in a line……………..And I wipe them up, sometimes in their hundreds, with my wet sponge, my weapon of mass destruction.

But not without remorse. I try not to think about all those tiny mouths and eyes, the twitching antennae and scampering feet, the olfactory equipment that is more sensitive than mine, the instinct for cooperation, the innate loyalty to a tribe, the beating pulse of life. It's all preordained by evolution –- me versus them, the food chain, dog-eat-dog, tooth and claw. Necessary even.