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Never Cry Ants - Your WRITES

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My name is Andre Lefkowitz. If you are familiar with my name already, then you undoubtedly have read science journals such as Science Today!, Animals’ Digest, The Western Frontier, or The Monthly Microscope. I was featured, also, in an eight-page cover story in We are Bugs shortly after I was rescued, and I believe that the author of that story went on to win some sort of award for it.
Entomology is not my field. I was born a lover of books, and I became a book seller after I finished schooling and went on to find a career. I opened up a book shop for children’s books and made a very good living from it, and we carried all sorts of books for children of all ages from simple picture books with no more than one or two words on each page to books for older children, from introductory books about the human skeleton to mystery novels and choose your own adventure books.
To be sure, my store also had many, many, many books about animals. We carried books about dogs, zoos, African safaris, whales, fish, birds, butterflies, snakes, extinct animals, dinosaurs, animal tracks, US Presidents and their pets, famous animals in history, animals from television shows, circus animals, and even insects. For the avid bug lovers, we had books about caterpillars, spiders, and fly anatomy as well as books with general facts about the insect world, guides to bug collecting, and a book for younger children that showed comparative sizes of different species of bugs.
I cannot recall if we ever had carried books about ants, and I can say with quite certainty that, when it came to ants, I could be considered quite uneducated on the subject. How I fell in with an ant colony, then, is a fascinating story for anybody who ever has known me.
I went once on a trip to the west coast. I lived on the east coast and had done little travel in my lifetime, so I quite honestly never had been anywhere more western than, say, Virginia. When the owner of a rival book store invited me on a hiking trip out west, I thought it a lovely idea. It would be nice to get away from my store for a spell and take a well-deserved vacation, so I readily agreed. It did not matter to me that his store was direct competition to my store. We were well acquainted enough and respected one another enough to be able to take exciting vacations together.
His name was Arnold Spellbottom, and he was the owner of Spellbottom’s Super Books. He invited to come along with us two friends of his, Reggie Vernon and Cassius St. John, neither of whom were in the book business, as well as his teenage son, Rutherford. It was just the five of us who would be taking this trip to the mountains of California for three fun-filled days of backpacking, hiking, camping, and all-out roughing it.
We headed out on a Sunday. We took a train. That, Arnold explained, would be part of the fun of the whole trip. Were we to take a plane, we could get there in a few hours, but a train would be far more exciting, and we would see a lot more of the country, none of which, I admitted to him, I had ever seen with my own eyes.
Our train travelled from one coast to the other, and we saw indeed a great many noteworthy sights in between. We saw mountains and valleys, rolling farmland and great, urban cities. We saw cows, deer, skunks, mountain lions, and even a very large porcupine. (Could you believe that porcupines could get that large?)
We entered one state and then exited it, only to enter an entirely new one all over again, and we made a stop or two along the way. At each stop, we had the opportunity to meet different people, some with accents that might well enough have come from foreign countries. We met plump ladies with wide-brimmed hats and skinny boys with flip flops on their feet. We met a homeless poet and a former soldier. We met a man who claimed to be a great-great grandson or the other of Jesse James and boasted that he had robbed more banks than Jesse James ever had.
The train trip across the United States, which introduced us to sunrises in North Carolina and sunsets in Kentucky, was an eye-widening experience for me, and I sincerely regretted not having taken my camera with me, though I did have my pocket recorder, which I often used to record the conversations that we had with the myriad interesting people we met along the way across the country.
The entire train trip only took a few days. Back in the ages before the Civil War and even earlier than that, travelling from the east coast to the west coast could have taken months. For us, with a train that ran on electricity rather than coal, it was nothing more than a handful of days, and we finally went down from the train under the blazing sun at the foot of the California Sierra Nevadas.
We bid farewell to the train that we had come to know over the course of the past few days and quickly found somebody willing to drive us up into one of the mountains to a place called River’s Peak. From River’s Peak, Arnold explained, we would trek by foot for several miles and end up actually descending the mountain. He said he had done things like this many times in his life. There was an element of danger, as was natural to expect from things like mountain climbing, hiking, sky diving, and other adventurous activities of the sort, but we were going to enjoy the next few days. Our time on the mountain, he said, was going to be much more thrilling than anything we had seen in the time we had spent on the train.
So it was that we got into a mahogany minivan and headed into the heights of the mountains, where we believed a fun outing was awaiting us. The outing that awaited us, though, not far from River’s Peak, was not to be much of a fun one, but it would turn out to be life-changing for all of us.

We reached River’s Peak just after sunset, so we decided that it was best just to camp there for the night and begin our hike first thing in the morning, which I rather preferred because I was anyway inexperienced enough in the whole business of hiking and the like. We paid the driver who had driven us to River’s Peak, and he drove away, blasting some classical music with all his windows rolled down as he left us to our own devices on the mountain.
Rutherford was bored as soon as we had pitched the tents. I tried to strike up a conversation with him, but he claimed to be too tired to answer my interrogations. I managed to get out of him, though, that he was sixteen years old and enjoyed running. He was not much of the outdoors sort, though. He made that very clear to me, and I succeeded in confiding in him that I was not either. When he heard this from me, he glanced at me as though we shared a camaraderie that the others with us did not have, but he refused to engage in much more conversation and crawled quickly into his sleeping bag. This was to Arnold’s chagrin because Arnold had believed that the trip with his son might be the perfect opportunity for one of those father-son bonding things that you see in all the good Disney movies, the sort of thing that I never had with my own father who had left my family when I had been just a small child.
At about eleven o’clock at night, while Arnold, Reggie, Cassius, and I were sitting around a small fire, roasting weenies on sticks, Rutherford let out a scream from within his tent. In all honesty, none of us were phased so much at the first moment, but when he came running out of the tent with a hand around his waist to hold up his pajamas which were a few sizes too big for him, we all set aside our weenies and ran over to see what indeed had caused the alarm.
Rutherford pointed to his tent. He was too frightened by whatever he had seen to speak properly, and the only things that came out of his mouth were little gasps or heaves that always seemed to come so naturally to a person who was quite scared of something.
Arnold, being that he was Rutherford’s father, decided to go into the tent and size up the situation, see what was the cause to all the ruckus that Rutherford now was making. Reggie and Cassius told him to enter the tent with caution, but Arnold was Rutherford’s father, and parents were often known for throwing caution to the wind when it came to their children. He looked around for a stick and, when he did not find one, he returned to the fire and picked up the stick he had been using to roast his weenie. He shook the stick for a few seconds until the weenie fell off it into the dirt, and he stuck out the stick before him in a defensive position and threw back the door to the tent.
Arnold entered the tent slowly with the stick extended in front of him. When the flap to the front of the tent fell back into place behind him, we heard him burst into laughter. It was not the sort of laughter one laughs when making fun of another person. After all, Rutherford was his son, and he could not have a laugh at his own son’s expense. Rather, it was the sort of laugh that comes from the type of enjoyment that is a relief from stress.
In a moment’s time, Arnold emerged from the tent with the stick calmly at his side.
“Well?” inquired Reggie.
“Is it dangerous?” asked Cassius.
“Can I go back to sleep?” Rutherford wanted to know.
With a smile, Arnold shook his head. “It’s just a few ants on the sleeping bag.”
“Dad,” said Rutherford, tightening his grip on his pajama bottoms. “It’s ants.” He named the creatures with a tone of utter disgust in his voice.
“Bugs are God’s creation,” said Arnold in a reciting tone, “and God’s creations are our friends. We must treat them with relation, or else we’ll come to meet our end.”
“Dad,” said Rutherford under his breath, “just shoo them away.” He made a sweeping motion with his hand. “Shoo them away.”
Arnold nodded his head. “Son, consider them shooed. You can return to your sleeping bag. You’ll be disturbed by no more ants tonight.”
Rutherford returned hesitantly to the tent. He did not come out again, so we assumed that the worst of the situation had passed already, and we could return to our weenie roast that had been so abruptly interrupted.
As we walked back to the fire, which had started to die down, Reggie asked Cassius as an aside, “Do you say, ‘consider them shooed’ or ‘consider them shoon?’”
“I think it’s shooed,” said Cassius thoughtfully, “though I’ve been known to be wrong. I was never very good at grammar and the likes.”
Reggie, Cassius, and I picked up our weenies where we had left off. When Arnold picked up his from off the ground, he found it to be covered in dirt. He tried to brush it clean with the back of his hand, but it was too dirty to be edible for men, so he tossed it over his shoulder and asked Cassius to give him a new one. He would have to start over again.
As Cassius handed Arnold a new weenie, the old one that he had tossed away had been discovered by a few ants, who quickly rounded up several of their friends, and they shared in a piece of our barbeque.


The next morning, our first morning in the breathtaking Sierra Nevadas, the first one out of bed was Rutherford. When I finally determined that it was worth my while to slither out of my sleeping bag, I found Rutherford sitting in front of a small fire holding onto the long handle of a small pot of boiling water. He was trying to rub his hands together as the morning chill was too much for any reasonable city man to handle.
When I crouched down before the fire opposite him, he looked up at me and said as plainly as one could say, “Coffee?”
I nodded my head, committing myself to no definitive reply.
“I’m a coffee drinker,” he said to me with the sort of big smile teenagers flash at you when they are proud of their own characteristic traits.
He peered into the water, as did I. The scalding bubbles were dancing and bursting, dancing and bursting. The water was nearly over-boiled if such a thing was possible, and he took it off the fire and set it on a large, white stone beside him.
“You got quite a fright last night,” I noted as he poured the steaming water into two Styrofoam cups, one of the main utensils of the great outdoors.
“I hate ants,” he replied, keeping his eyes focused on the task of preparing our coffee.
“So much?”
He set down the pot and looked at me. “So much,” he said. Then, he returned his attention to the coffee, popping open a tin can and pouring a bit of coffee into our cups. (In the wilderness, spoons might be considered a luxury. He topped off the coffee with little packets of dehydrated creamer and long packets of sugar, the kind you might find in an airport or in a diner along some highway in the middle of Arizona alongside those silver packets of catsup and paper packets of salt and pepper.
He handed me my coffee, straight over the flame of the fire. I took it and nodded my head, mumbling, “Thank you.”
Rutherford rubbed his hands together from the cold before taking his own cup of coffee in both hands. “I hate ants,” he repeated.
“I believe you’ve already told me that,” I said to him.
He looked me in the eye with one of those looks that you expect to see from a fellow who has just admitted to having committed a capital crime. “I was attacked as a child,” he said to me.
I swallowed my coffee with difficulty. “By ants?” I tried hard not to smile.
“No,” he said. “By a cousin of mine.”
“So…,” I said, “what does that have to do with ants?”
He looked at me as though the answer were obvious. “Isn’t it obvious?” he asked me. “My cousin and I were eleven years old, and she attacked me when I refused to let her ride my bike. She beat me up very badly, and I got severe bruises and cuts all over my body. Then, she ran into her house and when she came out, she had with her a jar of honey. I was lying on the ground in blood and tears, and she just came over and poured the honey straight into my wounds.” He narrowed his eyes and said in a near whisper, “It was malicious.”
I thought that that was enough of a horror story for one morning but, as I took another sip of my coffee, he continued.
“I couldn’t really move. I was in too much pain. Within a few minutes, as the honey burned my wounds, I began to feel a new kind of sensation on my body. I looked around and saw that ants were starting to crawl up my body to get to the honey. I couldn’t do anything, and so I just let out the most blood curdling scream you ever did hear.”
He puffed up his chest in order to demonstrate the scream, but I quickly assured him that it was not necessary. “I got the picture,” I said to him.
Then, he shrugged his shoulders. “That’s why I hate ants,” he said in a childlike manner.
Before I had the chance to respond, though, he continued. “There were thousands of them, thousands of them, and they crawled all over my body and my face and inside my wounds. They could’ve ea—“
“Good morning, good morning, early risers,” declared Arnold suddenly, appearing from the confines of his own tent.
Rutherford greeted his father but with little enthusiasm. I gave Arnold a grin, my mouth too full of coffee for me to respond with any equally cordial greeting.
“Today we start off on our journey down the mountain,” said Arnold. “Ah,” he said, looking at the blue sky above us, “doesn’t it just make you feel like Tarzan or those guys from Deliverance? Well, now, we’ll have to get the others up, eat a hearty, hearty breakfast, and pack up camp.”
Reggie and Cassius awoke on their own accord but not before Arnold had persuaded Rutherford to make him a cup of coffee. By the time everybody was awake and Rutherford had a pan of eggs over the fire, the sun had begun to heat up the mountain. Away went the morning chill, and on came that delightful spring nip that can so tease you in mid-May.
The first breakfast of our great adventure—which, actually, was to turn out to be their last supper—consisted of oily, overcooked eggs and some of the most burnt hash browns I ever had been forced to swallow in all my years, and wasn’t it a breakfast of champions! We all enjoyed a second round of coffee, which seemed to be the only thing that Rutherford knew how to prepare properly, and shortly thereafter, we set to work breaking down the tents and packing up our camp.
As with all good campers, we were ready to move onward by twelve noon. First, then, we had to eat a morsel for lunch. I sufficed to lunch on a pair of red delicious apples and a granola bar while the others found their own lunches by scavenging through the sacks of food that we had with us.
We set out on our hike—our fateful hike—with large backpacks on our backs. Each one of us had a bag full of provisions to carry, and for me, landlubber that I was, it was quite an unpleasant load. I did a lot of heaving and my fair share of groaning until I managed to accustom myself to the weight of my backpack as we found our way to the faint beginning of a makeshift trail.
Arnold explained to me and Cassius, who was also a first timer, that he knew this trail very well. The story that the locals told was that it was a famous trail that had been the path that some legendary Indian such as Sacajawea or Geronimo had taken. It sounded like a nice enough legend, but I had trouble swallowing it. After all, if it had been around since the times of the Indians, it likely would have been a more prominent trail by now. The story was pleasant enough, though, and I smiled and nodded as Arnold told it, and I had to wonder if this man, my business rival, actually believed the history that he was sharing with us, that he had shared so many times with so many people before us.
The trail led us into a heroic, mountainous wilderness. The foot of the mountain was still far ahead of us and by no means in the range of unaided eyesight. The trail had been cut through dead bramble, which quite often threatened to stab my legs, and there were bushes and plants of all sorts wherever the eyes might wander.
Early on along the trail, I asked Arnold, nearly breathless, what his plan was for the day. I wanted to know how much of this we would have to endure at a go. He just laughed and told me to relax and have a fun time. He said these reassuring words to me, but my eyes caught a glimpse of the occasional worker ants that were carrying foraged supplies hither and thither, and I thought about Rutherford’s story and knew that he must be holding within himself a great traumatic burden as we followed in the legendary footsteps of our continent’s original natives.
One thing that amazed me, which you can’t see much of in the urban centers of the east coast, was the variety of birds that these mountains had to offer us. I was a book seller, not a bird watcher, so I could not identify the various species, but they were wilder, more colorful, more content, and more numerous than the dull, brownless brown pigeons that made their homes in the brick buildings of the eastern cities.
At one point, I could see some larger birds in the sky. They were too high up for me to determine whether or not they were eagles, but they seemed to be beckoning us, like Mae West, to come up and see them some time.
Cassius noted that at least one of them was a vulture, but I knew quite well that that man had never seen a vulture in his life, so I doubted very much whether or not he could identify one that was so far out of range. Anyway, the thought that we were under the watch of vultures stirred within me an instinctual fear. Even city slickers know that the presence of vultures means the presence of death.
It was two thirty, and we had been hiking for over two hours when the heat of the sun began to become slightly intolerable. Rutherford had begun to move a bit sluggishly, and I was no better. I had been having some level of fun since we had started off. I certainly enjoyed the sights, but the unpaved trail combined with the weight on my back and a merciless sun made me start to dream of a Club Med.
I noticed Rutherford was walking with cautious steps, and I looked down and saw that there was a multitude of ants on the trail. I glanced at Rutherford’s face. If ever a young man had panic behind his eyes, it was undoubtedly Rutherford. There were places that he, too, would rather be at this moment.
Arnold and Reggie seemed to be enjoying themselves like gay little school boys. The more brambles that stuck into their pant legs, the greater the hikers they could consider themselves. They had been born for this lifestyle, and no extra sun was going to impede their progress this fine afternoon.
I saw Rutherford turn around to see if there was a way he could backtrack and find another way around the ants that now were overtaking our path. As he did so, we heard a rumbling above us.
“What’s that rumbling above us?” asked Arnold, shading his eyes from the sun to look up the side of the mountain, that which we had just spent the last two hours walking down.
Reggie, Cassius, Rutherford, and I followed Arnold’s gaze, and that was when we saw the giant boulders begin to careen down the mountainside straight toward us.
“It’s an avalanche!” cried Reggie as a dust storm of boulders and rock and debris were catapulted down the mountain. “Out of the way, guys!”
We tried to scramble, but we found ourselves weighed down by our packs. Cassius began to struggle to take his off, but as he did so, an enormous boulder ran straight into him and flung him down the mountainside. He heard one final scream, or at least we imagined we did. It was hard to tell which noises were what as the avalanche poured down upon us.
Reggie dove onto the ground just as a bunch of rocks rumbled past him. He grabbed onto whatever shrubbery that was within his reach, anything to keep himself from meeting Cassius’s fate.
Arnold, however, was the next to fall over the edge. His only sin was that he slipped, lost his footing, and one foot went over the side, and the rest of him followed suit. He flailed his arms as he realized what was happening to him, hoping he might be able to grab hold of something or somebody that would be his salvation, but this was no moment of salvation, and he disappeared into the depths of the mountain where Cassius had just gone. Rutherford watched his father fall with horror and, in a fleeting moment, flung himself over the mountainside after him. Such a folly act was not likely to save either one of them, but people in such life-threatening situations are very rarely known to be rational thinkers, and only Reggie and I remained as the howl and thunder of the avalanche continued.


I could not say how long I had been unconscious. It could have been for little more than an hour. It could have been for several days. The most likely cause for my unconsciousness was probably that a rock from the avalanche had hit me in the head. Indeed, when I came to and began to familiarize myself with the sensations of my body, I felt some kind of stinging pain on the top of my head, near the back, a likely sign that I had in fact been hit by something, and how I wished that I had a bottle of aspirin at my dispense!
To catch up with what had occurred in the moments before I had been rendered unconscious, Cassius had been knocked over the mountainside by a giant boulder. Shortly thereafter, Arnold slipped and fell to his doom, and Rutherford jumped over the side in an ill-fated attempt to save him. Reggie had fallen onto the ground in the hopes of escaping the wrath of the avalanche, and Lord only knows what had happened to me because I remembered nothing afterwards.
I made an attempt to stand, but I could not move my legs. I found that I was able to wiggle my toes, and I lifted my head slightly off the ground in order to see this great feat of my feet, but I honestly could not see down to my feet at all, and my head collapsed back onto the rocky ground from exhaustion.
I called out Reggie’s name, now realizing that he, too, had survived the avalanche, but my voice was very weak, and his name came out as something like a half whisper, which I knew that he would not be able to hear. Now, I tasted something salty in the corner of my mouth. I gave it a little lick and immediately spat it out. It was blood. Dried blood, granted, but there it was, on my lip.
I looked around my surroundings. I was unable to sit up, and I could hardly lift my head off the ground, so I tried to move my head from side to side to see if there was anything interesting on the landscape or if I might make out Reggie somewhere. Perhaps Reggie would be able to help me.
I heard some faint noises that sounded like bird calls, and I turned my gaze to the sky. As I looked into the blue heavens, the thought occurred to me that a helicopter might soon show up to rescue me and Reggie. I quickly dismissed the thought, though, because nobody but Arnold, Cassius, and Rutherford knew what had happened to us, and—well, they would not be calling any rescue helicopters.
What I did see, though, in the cloudless skies above me were two birds. They were large birds, but they were quite high above me, so I could not identify them properly, but they were circling, and they had their eyes on me most probably. Vultures, I thought. They probably thought I was already dead.
No, I thought with a sigh of unwelcomed relief, I’m not the only one around here. Maybe the vultures are interested in Arnold or Cassius or—
Oh, wasn’t that a horrendous thought! It was true, though. If the vultures were looking for something to eat, I sure would not appreciate their eating me as long as I was still living and could get off the mountain.
How, though, was I going to get off that mountain exactly? That was the most important thought that I could think at the moment. I could not sit up; I could not move my legs; I could not call Reggie properly; I had no aspirin for my pain. I was not in any position to get myself off the mountain.
I had read stories about people who had gotten stuck in the mountains. I remembered stories where they had now food except for a slab of chocolate that they had been forced to divide among three or four people for a week’s time until they were rescued; there had been other stories in which there was not even any chocolate to eat, and the people had had to resort to other dietary habits in order to survive. Well, let me tell you that I had no intention of starving until I was rescued. I would figure something out, even if I had to crawl down the mountain, and I would get home before I had the chance to starve to death.
The thought of chocolate, though, enticed me. Oh, how I would have loved a little nibble of chocolate. At least, it would have tasted better than the dried blood.
Ironic as it was, I laughed at that thought. I laughed at the thought of the mingling of the tastes of chocolate and blood in my mouth. Suddenly, I found that I was laughing quite hard. I was laughing so hard that my stomach began to hurt. I put a hand on my side to control my body from unnecessary movements, but the laughter would not cease.
I knew that I must have looked rather ridiculous, lying there half-paralyzed on the ground just laughing and laughing like a one-man studio audience, blood on my lip and chocolate in my heart. Oh, how hysterical I must have looked! Not that anyone would have seen me, for if somebody could have seen me, then they probably would have been on their way to rescue me.
I laughed now even harder at the silliness of my situation, at the silliness of an injured man caught in an uncontrollable fit of laughter. Had I had a camera with me, I thought, I could have recorded myself and then gotten millions of likes on the web. Certainly such a video would be able to go viral, and there went the laughter again, now like the laughter of some madman on the verge of taking over the world after just having inhaled that laughing gas that they give you at the dentist’s office.
Tears began to come to my eyes. Naturally, this caused me to laugh even harder, and by now, my entire torso was in miserable pain, but there was nothing I could do.
When I saw an ant on my chest, I suddenly stopped laughing.
I lifted my head as much as I could an saw a single ant on my chest. Had I not been drunk from hysterics, I would have sworn up and down from the east coast to the west coast that this little ant was staring at me. He just stood on my chest, which had been heaving ridiculously from the laughter, and looked me in the eyes—if an ant could do such a thing.
Then, suddenly, he turned about face and scurried away, disappearing to some part of me that was not within sight of my eyes.
I had to admit to myself that the encounter with that ant had been bizarre. He really had looked like he had looked at me. Wasn’t that just odd? Why would an ant just stare a man in the eyes?
I tried to call Reggie again, but my voice was no better. As a matter of fact, my throat was now a bit sore from the excessive laughing, and I thought I might regret having laughed so much, but the thought then occurred to me that it is always better to die happy than to die miserable—not that I thought I was going to die out there. I knew I would be rescued. I just did not know yet how.

Time passed, and the sun shone high in the sky. It was intensely hot, a heat that might be rivaled only by some African desert. I had no food or drink, and my mouth was dry. I was able to speak a bit more loudly by this time, but Reggie did not respond to my calls, and I eventually had to stop from exhaustion.
My thoughts returned to that ant, that single ant that had stood on my chest. I thought about poor Rutherford and how he would have reacted to having a single ant climb on his chest. He probably would not have been able to tolerate it as I had. I could imagine how he would have reacted to such a thing. In my head, I saw him with a single ant on his chest, and he then went into an attack of hyperventilation, and the ant multiplied from one to two to a thousand.
Oh, poor Rutherford! So young, and such a dreadful fear of ants. Now, he was somewhere over the edge of the mountain, and I was the one who was being surveyed by the little critters.
Back to my thirst, though. I was parched. My mouth was dry, and I found I was beginning to have difficulty breathing. I would need to find some way soon to get moisture to my body lest I end up like venison jerky by nightfall.
Though I still could not move my legs, my arms were quite mobile, and I decided to try to use them to get myself into a sitting position. I struggled, trying to find the best place by my sides to position my hands to get the best balance. I pushed hard. My arms bent at the elbows, but my body was very, very heavy, and the task of lifting it off the ground was by no means an easy one.
After a few tries, though, I succeeded and, for the first time since the avalanche, I got a sitting view of my surroundings. I looked around for a sign of Reggie. There was no sign of him. He simply was not there. I was there alone. I strained my neck to see behind me as well as I could, but there really was nothing to see beyond the continuation of that great, historic path that had led my little group to a frightening doom, that historic, Indian path that know lay silent and abandoned until the next group of weary hikers might chance upon it.
I knew from books I had read from the shelves of my shop that a lengthy period of a lack of water had the potential to induce states of hallucination, and the most fantastic hallucination now appeared before my eyes. What I saw was nothing that could be either explained or believed, and even when it could be explained, which I doubted at that moment, even still it could not be believed, which was why I naturally thought it to be a hallucination and thought little more than that of it.
What I saw was a shallow, glass plate to my right with a thin level of water. I grinned at the hallucination and intentionally fell back on the ground. If I was seeing hallucinations of water, then surely I was nearly in the arms of death. Ah, this was how it was going to come to me!
I turned over, though, as well as I could to look again at the plate of water that was not there. It was even with my shoulder, and it sure looked like it was there. It did not look any less real than anything else that was before my eyes, so I did the craziest, wildest thing. I stuck my finger into the water.
What my finger felt, amazingly enough, was water. This was no hallucination. I had a plate of water beside me. Who had put it there? I sat up again and looked around for some rescuer. I called out for Reggie. Nobody responded, but somebody had supplied me with a plate of water before I ended up expiring from thirst. Wasn’t that thoughtful? I picked up the plate and drank the water. Some of it, naturally, did not fall into my mouth but fell, rather, down my chin and onto my shirt. I wiped my mouth and then wiped my wet hand over my forehead. The feeling was euphoric. It was like I had just won the Nobel Prize, yet it was so much more wet and so much more refreshing.
I glanced rather accidentally at my knee for a moment, and wouldn’t you believe it? There was that ant again, on my knee, staring at me. Have you ever seen an ant smile? Did you know that they could smile? Well, they can’t, but I could have sworn on a stack of Bibles that this ant was smiling at me. As soon as I saw him, though, he crawled down the side of my leg and was gone.
When I had drunk all the water from the plate, I wiped the plate with my hand, taking up all the moisture that I could. I paused then for a moment. Was I doing the proper thing? Perhaps I could use this to help Reggie. It was a thought, but Reggie was nowhere to be seen, so it was quite possible that he already had gone for help. I forgot about thinking of his needs and wiped my wet hand all over my face and cleaned the blood from the corner of my lip.
I tested my legs, and I managed to move one of them out a millimeter or so, but that was all that I could do with them. Something was sprained or twisted or torn or broken, and I was not going to be standing or walking anytime soon. Of course, I thought, I might be able to find something within reach to use as a splint, and I could bandage my legs and limp on down the trail to salvation. No. On second thought, I thought, I would not get very far with two broken legs. That would not go over well.
Oh, how tired I was from the entire ordeal, and I could do nothing. I set the plate back on the ground where I had found it and began to scan the area for a morsel of food. There was nothing of any edible appearance in sight, though, and I could not help but groan. Now that I had had water, though, food was of secondary importance, so I knew that I could go without it for another day or two until I could gather enough strength to move from the position where I was lying.
As I thought these thoughts, I noticed an ant scurry across the ground beside me. He was going in the direction of the plate, and he was carrying between his pinchers what appeared to be a bread crumb. Lucky ant, I thought. He has food at least.
What that ant did, though, was very odd. He crawled up onto the glass plate, put down the crumb on the plate, and scurried away. A few moments later, a few more ants appeared on the plate, where they also put down bread crumbs. Then, by the scores, they started coming. It was an entire group of ants. What was the name for a group of ants? A school? A bevy? A pride? No. It was an army. Was it an army or a fleet or a squadron? Thinking about it hard, I remembered something that a group of ants was called an army. From this army, each ant was carrying a crumb of bread in its pinchers, and they all put the crumbs on that plate until, after not very much time at all, there were enough bread crumbs to constitute a meal for a starving person. When the ants had stopped bringing food to the plate, one of them appeared on the edge of the plate, where he stood for a minute or two (though probably more like five) and just stared at me. I could not be certain that this one was smiling at me, but he appeared to be expressing some sort of concern for me. An ant! Concerned for my well being.
My instinct suddenly was to squish the little thing, but I stopped myself just before I committed the act and, instead, I put my finger on the edge of the plate for him to crawl on it, but he just scurried in the opposite direction and disappeared, leaving me alone with my meal.
Well, I did not let that bread sit on that plate for very long. I ate up every last one of those crumbs. I must have looked like a starving Ethiopian child, scrounging every last morsel from that plate, but what could you expect from a man in my position? I could do nothing else for I was, after all, only mortal, and I was determined to find a way to survive this situation in which I now found myself and get myself off the mountain one way or another.


I lay awake that night looking at the stars in the sky when an amusing thought popped into my head. I could not help but wonder, after having seen how the ants had brought me all that bread, if they, too, had been responsible for the water. Had they all helped carry the plate over to my side, and had they brought me drops of water, one by one, until there had been enough to quench my thirst? What a funny thought, but the thought that they could have brought me the bread crumbs in a collective effort also rather funny, and that I already had witnessed with my own eyes.
Something somewhere in the distance howled. It was a wild dog of some sort, obviously, a coyote or a wolf if they had such things these days in the mountains of California. He didn’t sound sad like they do in the cowboy movies. He sounded proud. He sounded like he was a lone dog but top dog and he liked his station in life. The thought gave me a warm sensation as the evening chilled me.
Do ants sleep? I had to wonder that. They always seem to be working so tirelessly when you see them, but when do you ever see them just stand still and rest? Maybe that was why you ordinarily won’t see them at night. Maybe they all go back to their homes at night, where they have nests and families and the like. Maybe ants sleep like all the rest of us. You would have heard about that, though, on PBS or the Discovery Channel, and I never in my life had heard that ants sleep.
Then again, I never had heard of ants that brought food and water to injured humans.
I slept very little that night, and the entire night I never saw a single ant. They began to appear early in the morning, though, shortly after the sun had risen. They were not late sleepers like my two daughters. They were up and on the go before most commuters were on the road with their paper cups of coffee and their morning doses of the news reports.
The first group of ants—army, now that I think about it—was rather small. It consisted of twenty or so ants. They all headed for the glass plate, and they appeared to be surveying it, possibly for any remainder of food, but I had eaten all the bread that had been brought to me, and even licked clean the plate, so there was nothing for them to take back to their colony.
Watching the ants was amusing. Lying on the ground, I was able to observe them from up close, something I never had bothered to do in my lifetime, even when I had been a little boy. Now, I looked at them. The ants might be walking in opposite directions—toward each other, for example. When two ants would meet, then, they would greet one another with their feelers and do a sort of dance like people who pass each other on the sidewalk and don’t know whether the oncoming person is going to move to the left or to the right. This the ants would do for a moment, then when they had determined whatever it was that they wanted to determine—perhaps something to do with foraged food—then they would continue along their merry ways, wherever they had been heading before they had met one another.
Being that I was not an entomologist, as I believe I have already mentioned, I knew little about ants except that there was some mysterious queen who hid herself in the depths of the colony and all these little guys you would see on the outs were her worker ants, male slaves as I always had thought of them. The truth was, though—as I found out in the time after my ordeal on that mountain—that the workers were both male and female. There was a sort of warped gender equality to them and, though it is no easy task to tell the boys from the girls, I imagine that the colony that had come to my rescue on that mountain were of a mixed bunch, perhaps even with maximized forces, which now appears to me to be a sort of relief, but I knew none of this as those ants scuttled about me like the good little workers they were.
I spent the morning dividing my time between sitting up and lying down, at which time I would have to shade my eyes from the sun with my hand. The ants—I never could tell whether they were the same ants or different—returned by mid-morning with morsels of vegetation for me. It was a gesture for which I was grateful and a gesture that I had no idea how I would be able to repay when the time might come.
I ate what the ants had brought me. It was no savory meal by any stretch of the imagination, and my imagination now had been wandering to Thai food and burritos and insanely spicy enchiladas and curry chicken. It was, however, a filling meal that the ants served me on my plate, and I had the utmost respect for them.
Imagine! Having respect for ants! Feeling gratitude for ants! The whole notion was very laughable, but there was no denying the fact that the ants were my saviors for the time being. It was because of them that I had not yet died of dehydration or suffered from severe hunger pains. Ah, the little critters!
As earlier, there was one that straggled behind the others enough to stop and stare at me until he felt he had had enough—or she, perhaps?—and returned to the colony where more pressing work must be waiting.
I was sure that by now somebody must be aware that we had gone missing. Our families must have begun worrying about us, and help would be on its way soon—if Reggie himself had not already gone to get help, in which case my rescue was surely much closer, and I would have to rely on these ants only for a few hours more at best.
My mid-afternoon, I was able to scoot myself out of the position in which I had been lying since the avalanche. I could not bend my knees, but I was able ever so slightly to dig my heels into the ground and maneuver my lower body just a bit, just enough to fill me with a spot of confidence and a sense of humble triumph.
To celebrate the victory of my mobility, the ants brought me more water. This time, I noticed that some of the ants were red. There were now two types of ants that were coming to my aid. I had the vague suspicion that red ants might be venomous, but they were helping me for now, so I tried to put away my instinctual fear of them. Anyway, the black ants outnumbered them by the scores while there were no more than a dozen or so red ants out at any one time.
The water was cold as though it had come from a refrigerator, but I could not ask the ants from where they had taken it. I just drank it and nodded my head politely at my benefactors, who simply did not seem to take notice of any expression of gratitude that I might offer them.
After drinking up the water, I took a nap for an hour or so. When I awoke from my nap, I spent the remaining daylight hours trying to get movement out of my legs. During that whole time, I was aware of the constant presence of ants around me. They were watching me like little nurses, trying to determine what next they could do to attend to my physical comfort.