Saturday, April 30, 2016

Enjoying Life with the Ants -- 4-24-16

Dennis, a friend of mine, with a nice big walleye.


As for me, I like these really good eating size walleye

            I was sitting on the back porch of my little cabin on Panther Creek, listening for wild turkeys.  It was then I noticed the ants, thousands of them! They were climbing a four by four wooden roof support going up to some little crevice at the top, and it was like a super highway, hundreds of ants going up on the right side, and hundreds coming down on the left.  And I know that many of you who think that any outdoor writer who has resorted to writing about ants has probably run out of anything to write about, but that’s not so.

            Some of the things that happened to me in the woods this week turkey hunting would make one heck of a story.  You should have been there.  But then, turkey stories are a dime a dozen right now.  Every turkey hunter has a good one.

            And I could write about how this was the worst mushroom hunting spring I have ever seen.  If I give it a little effort I usually can find a couple or three hundred morels early in April. In a good year it might be five hundred.  But this year I hunted them as hard as ever, and only came up with about seventy-five.  That is really bad. 

            It might be that I can get into a good grove of them this week but I have my doubts.  For instance, I have a special place I always check first that I can figure will harbor 20 or so mushrooms. In good years, that spot will sometimes gives up 40 or 50. This year it had only 13!  Thirteen of course, the bad luck number, told me what was coming… hard times for mushroomers! 

            Thirteen is indeed a very unlucky number!  Once years ago I caught thirteen crappie and had two flat tires on the boat trailer on the way home, nearly cut off a finger when I cleaned them and then found out my best fishing rod had the tip broke off of it.  I won’t bring home 13 of anything now, and when I found those thirteen mushrooms I left one of them to go to seed. We need more mushroom seeds in the woods anyway!  But it didn’t matter.  Up to now I have found twice as many terrapins as mushrooms.  It is shaping up to be a good terrapin year for whatever can eat a terrapin.

            Sometimes in the woods I find where a terrapin has flipped over on its back and is unable to get upright.  I have saved several, but came along too late for others.  That really bothers me.  I saw an armadillo intentionally tip over a terrapin once and it made me so mad I shot the armadillo and rescued the terrapin.  It bothers me to think of a terrapin lying there on his back knowing that he is doomed. It won’t happen quickly either.  I can live with seeing a few hundred of them squashed on the highway because it happens quickly.  He’s just plodding along and wham, he’s on his way to terrapin heaven.

            Next year I may organize a terrapin rescue league, made up of people dedicated to walking through the woods looking for those poor hapless creatures that somehow ended up on their backs.  I know that God’s plan is perfect and what He created seldom has any flaws, but why couldn’t He have foreseen what a problem it would be for a terrapin if it winds up on it’s back?  I think about things like that, when I am off in the woods by myself.  Why did God make so darn many ticks and so few mushrooms?

            I also could write a pretty good story about walleye fishing a few days ago with two of my friends on a stretch of river where walleyes are fairly common after they spawn.  White bass were hitting topwater lures and we filled a cooler with them, but I soon tied on a little multi-colored crank bait, a long slender one that seems to appeal to walleye.  Right off I caught an 18-incher and a 20-incher and one of my friends quickly went to a deep-running gold Rapala, hoping to tempt a couple of those glass-eyed, sharp- toothed fish that everyone says can’t be equaled in the frying pan.

            In only a few casts he tied into a hum-dinger, and I had an idea that he would never land it with the light tackle he was using.  The hum-dinger was perhaps an eight- to ten-pound walleye and it might today be swimming around in the river with that gold Rapala hanging from its jaw.  Later my friend caught a three- or four-pound walleye that he tried to horse a little too much and it got off right beside the boat.  All this makes it sound as if my fishing partners aren’t as good at fishing as I am and I hope I am not leaving that impression because both of them are just almost as good a fisherman as I am!  But I have learned not to brag about my God-given abilities around the two of them.

            Setting all that aside, lets get back to the ants.  Watching them closely I could see that the upward bound ants were carrying little bits of stuff with them and the ones in the left lane, going down to the ground, were empty.  But I’ll tell you what amazed me.  Almost every downward-headed ant was running head on into an upward-headed ant! 

            Now this amazes me, as I am sure it does you.  Is this happening because they are blind and just don’t know where they are going, or is it some kind of behavior mere humans cannot figure out.  Maybe it is a way of communicating briefly… something like, “Oh hi, haven’t seen you for awhile, thought you were dead, heard you got ate by a lizard.”

            I just don’t know, but it was something to see, all those ants head-butting each other, then off to run into another bunch.  I noticed that it didn’t always happen with all ants.  So maybe there is a little animosity there amongst individuals. Some missed most of the oncoming ants only to run into others.  If there is a qualified antologist out there amongst my readers, please enlighten me about all this.

            It would be nice to hear from an ant expert, well educated and perhaps with a master’s degree in ant studies, maybe someone who wrote a thesis about ant behavior. That certainly would surprise the editors of a couple of the newspapers who use this column.  One told me once he couldn’t imagine that I had many readers who had finished high school.
            The thing of it is, those red ants are attending to a queen ant somewhere up that wooden beam and sometimes you could see five or six of them struggling with all their might to move something up it that was too big for them. It seemed to be the kind of struggle akin to the ancient Egyptians carrying blocks for the pyramids.

            The thing of it is, nature is so complex and fascinating that if you get to watching, whether you are observing a pair of eagles in their nest above the creek or a muskrat making himself a mud platform in the middle of it, or a couple thousand ants on the hillside, you can be so fascinated that you forget what a mess the everyday world is.

            For that reason, I quite often think that it would be best for me to stay there at that little cabin, where television and telephones don’t work, and leave the struggles to the folks back in the city, miles and miles away, where, like the ants, they go one way on the right side, and another way on the left.  And like the ants, it seems as if they do a lot of head-butting the more of them there is.  The ant’s queen is already in place, and being well served. Ours won’t be there until November!

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