When I was about seven, I discovered the joy of raking a stick over an ant hill for no other reason than to watch all the ants flip out.
It’s probably the most effective form of pest control I’ve ever employed, because my siblings and I managed to cause either the eradication or relocation (they were gone, at any rate) of two whole anthills in our front yard before we got tired of freaking them out practically every single day (Me: 2, Ants: 0).
“Oh, poor ants!” you might say, envisioning the situation from their eyes, watching every day as sadistic giants scrape away your roof, your friends, your pet aphid.
All I have to say is that my mom seemed quite happy when we pointed out the empty anthills to her, demonstrating their barrenness by raking them vigorously to no effect. In my opinion, I done good.
You know how playgrounds are supposed to be immensely entertaining to children of all ages? They’re really not.
I spent the first ten years of my life on an acreage, with lots secret animal trails and hiding places to discover among the trees. With three acres to play on, there were always new places to explore and old places to learn better. Playgrounds aren’t like that. Once you learn them, you’re done, and there’s no more to discover.
At about eleven, I was finally so good at learning the hidden places in playgrounds that they held no challenge for me, which meant that I ended up just walking around the perimeter with my friends until we could finally go home. The only problem with walking around a box is that it’s painfully boring, especially when you’re eleven and conversation is less than enthralling.
It’s about now that I should mention that I was, at that time, living in Alabama, the Land of Highly Populated Anthills.
“Ah!” you say. “I see where this is going!”
The Canadian child introduced her friends to the game of “Pissing off the Ants*”, and it was glorious. We found two hills full to the brim of black ants that poured out of the ground in such a way I’d never before witnessed. Since the activity level of irritated ants plateaus after a certain time, becoming boring to watch, we alternated between a couple of hills, letting each rest and try to rebuild a bit before coming back to watch again their fury as our sticks ruined all their hard work.
This is the time where some of Freud’s ideas of psychological development are highly applicable. In my early ant-related entertainment, there was no strategy. As if I only had an id, I sought pleasure immediately, without much thought to anything else. By eleven, I strategized, my ego using the realities around me to bring pleasure in the most gratifying way possible. I haven’t the slightest idea if the superego was ever intending to enter the picture.
While I was in the middle of round five (Me: 7, Ants: 0), one of my friends announced that he had found a freaking enormous anthill and we had to come and see it.
We all ran over immediately.
Have you ever tried to imagine the ground boiling? It was like that, except the ground was an uncountable number of red things with legs. You barely had to touch the hill with a stick, and a small volcano of ants would erupt beneath it. Best. Thing. Ever.
There was something different about these ants, though. While the others would scramble around their hill, trying to save the children and repair the damage, these spread out away from their hill to find the source of the damage and end it.
Of course, children are thousands of times larger than ants, even a mass of ants such as this, so, as these approached like a wave over the concrete, we simply swiped at them with our feet and pushed back their perimeter.
At some point, we got bored. It might have something to do with the fact that we no longer had to do anything to make the ants angry, which meant all we were doing was watching them at their freak out plateau, waiting for them to calm down so that we could start all over again. Of course, these ants weren’t calming down. Bo-ring.
Have I mentioned I was wearing sandals? I was.
As the boredom began to set in, I started thinking of what to do next. Those other two hills were out of the question. The glory of this one was simply too much to compete with. The only problem with trying to come up with something is that you forget to keep doing what you were doing which was, in this case, fending off the ants.
When I felt something stinging my feet, I looked down to see ants all over both my feet and concluded that they must be biting me. Nonchalantly, I tried to brush them off.
I’m from Alberta. The entire list of Albertan Biting Arthropods of Concern is as follows: wasps and bees (only if you have allergies), horseflies (only common around bodies of water), mosquitoes (if they’re carrying diseases -unlikely), and black widow spiders (which I’ve never seen outside of books). Where normal people would react in some sort of reasonable, mildly adrenaline-inducing fashion, I was more like: “Geez, these things are annoying!”.
So, there I am, standing on ant-covered concrete, lifting one foot at a time to try and brush the ants off. It went like this:
Up comes right foot, ineffectively brush off ants. Left foot stinging too much to ignore. Down goes right foot.
Up comes left foot, ineffectively brush off ants. Right foot stinging too much to ignore. Down goes left foot.
It was like the weirdest version of the Hokey-Pokey anyone’s ever done.
By the third time I was brushing ants off my right foot, I realized that I should probably take off my sandal so that I could more effectively get them off my skin. The only problem was that my left foot kept stinging, so I opted for that one instead.
Down went right foot, up came left foot, ineffectively try to remove sandal, right foot stinging too much to ignore.
Brain clicks on.
“The ants keep getting on my feet every time I put them down. I should probably get away from here if I want to get them off.”
Right now, I’m mildly shocked that I completed my second year of university last month.
I found a bench several feet away, sat down, removed my sandals, brushed the ants off my feet and shook any stragglers off my sandals before putting them back on. Crisis averted.
It wasn’t until much later that my feet started itching so bad that I had to cover my feet with calamine lotion, despite the fact that it hadn’t done a thing for me when I’d had the chicken pox. When my mom saw the funny white bumps all over my feet and heard my story about the ants, she put two and two together and informed me what exactly I had antagonized at the playground that day.
And that’s how I learned that fire ant bites look just like pimples.
*The actual title was: “Raking Sticks Over Anthills”. My only experience with the word ‘piss’ at that time was that it was a synonym for ‘pee’ and my parents didn’t like me saying it.