Thursday, August 18, 2011

Funerals for Insects, a Funeral For Innocence

Some of my readers asked me where I got the “crazy idea” for Prophets of the Ghost Ants in which I envision a future where humans have evolved to the size of insects and live intertwined among them. It sent me back to childhood memories of life in suburban New Jersey.

Boys are fascinated by dinosaurs, insects and heavy machinery. Dinosaurs are large and powerful, the animal versions of the bulldozers and steam shovels that hypnotized us with their might. Insects are of interest to boys because of the power we have over them. A few could sting or bite but we weren’t afraid of them. They were ours to capture, torture and kill.

My neighbor, Raymond, got a magnifying glass for his tenth birthday. After you’ve looked at the whorls of your finger tips, the real value of a magnifying glass is using it to start fires. You take it out in the sun and get a concentrated beam to burn leaves, paper and … living creatures.

Few people fault you for killing insects. Roaches carry diseases, fleas drive your dog crazy and mosquitoes leave itchy bumps after they suck your blood. Raymond was fond of burning ants which turned to ashes and smoke in half a second. More interesting to him was to capture ground beetles, flip them over and do a slow burn as their legs clawed the air. He would take his victim’s charred remains, put them in match box coffins and then preside over a proper funeral.

Raymond was the bossy kid on the block, but at his house he had good eats so we did what he said. Playing the priest, he commanded us to kneel with our hands clasped and pray for the souls of murdered moths, mantises and ladybugs. I was not a Catholic, but I learned to make the sign of the cross. It was also my job to make the little cardboard grave stones we pressed into the ground. A covered dish supper did not follow the services but there were Chips Ahoy cookies which Raymond would shove in our mouths like communion wafers.

I did not like to burn insects, but I did try and play God with ants. In back of my house was a vast patch of weed infested sand. The sand was a bright, almost orange quartz and dotting it were ant mounds. I loved to sit by them and watch ants emerge from their tunnels with sand grains clutched in their mandibles. These ants were as black and shiny as fresh licorice.

One summer afternoon, I noticed a new mound but the ants that scurried in and out were dark red in color. I’d read that ants of different colors would fight and when I picked up a black ant and dropped it down the red ants’ hole, it emerged seconds later as a shriveled corpse. I tried to ignite a war between these “tribes” by setting Ritz cracker crumb between their two mounds which were only a yard from each other.

The two tribes went for the crumbs, but the black ants were more numerous. One of them hoisted up the largest crumb and carried it like an umbrella back to the nest. On top of the crumb was one of the red ants riding like a queen on a Rose Parade float, waving her antennae. Her reign did not last long and she was surrounded and killed by the black ants. They cut her into pieces and dumped them outside their mound. I had not ignited a war.

A couple of days later, I saw the red ants had made progress in building their mound. Dozens of larger red ants darted in and out of it, but they did not cross an invisible line to black ant territory. The black ants did the same, approaching but not crossing a border. Both sides were posturing, raising up their abdomens in something like a Mexican standoff.

Raymond and the other guys thought I was strange to stare at ants for hours. I thought they were strange because they were in the nearby hills playing “army”. They had plastic camouflage ponchos and machine guns and marched through the wild wheat, shooting imaginary bullets at unseen enemies. They made the sound of those bullets, shouting “Da da da dow” as grasshoppers fled their trampling feet.

I knew that real wars were raging around the world and American soldiers were returning as corpses. I had seen sickening, soul destroying pictures of napalm poured on Vietnamese children, turned into cinders or scarred for life as if by a giant magnifying glass in the sky.

Raymond thought war was fun. He had G.I. Joe dolls and his favorite shows on television were Rat Patrol and Hogan’s Heroes. The latter was a show our Jewish neighbors refused to watch because of its trivialization of Nazi war crimes.

A day later, I came to check up on my ants. With no prodding from me, they were hard and fast at war. It was a battle without strategy as red and black ants tore at each other with their mandibles, cutting off legs and antennae and slicing into each other’s bodies. They fought two at a time or in clusters, their corpses strewn between their mounds.

I watched all this with fascination. These tiny six legged creatures that were so different from humans were very much like us – they had an organized society, they built structures, and they warred. I sensed that ants were naturally war-like, that they could not help but stake out territory and fight other ants. Looking at Raymond and his Rat Patrol as they tore up the hillside slaughtering an imaginary enemy, I suspected that humans were just the same, that they inherently lusted to fight other men.

Prophets of the Ghost Ants

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Clark's first post

Thanks to all who have taken the risk of buying a book from a new writer.  The reviews for Prophets of the Ghost Ants from readers as well as professional reviewers has been so gratifying.  As of today, I have 350 "likes" on Facebook and have sold about as many books.  That's a very good start before we have even started our campaign.   The ants go marching one by one, hurrah.