Today I was moving a lumber stack. Moving from an informal stack of old barn wood. Very untidy. Not at all like my stacks of furniture grade lumber.
I was working steadily and pulled up a board to find, laying in the gap between two boards below the one I had in my hands, a fair sized copper head. I tossed the board I held aside and looked around for weaponry. Fortunately it was quite early in the morning; cool, and the snake had not yet had its coffee. I dispatched it easily and with little fuss. Had it been later in the morning, things might not have gone so well.
After what seemed like eight hours of pulling sodden boards out of the pile, sweeping off the fungus and mildew and beetle larvae, then carrying the boards to the other end of the lumber yard, around a tree and up a hill to the new stack (although in reality it was probably only an hour and a half) I encountered another snake.
A King Snake this time. Just a small one. It had crawled in to feed on an enormous ant colony that had set up housekeeping between the layers of this lumber stack.
King snakes are amicable fellows once you get to know them, so I allowed him to escape. He disappeared between a pair of lumber stacks near where I was working. I caught a glimpse of motion underneath one of those stacks, and stepped closer for a better look. I caught sight of the tail of another snake slithering in under that pile. At first I thought it was a coral snake, but they’re not common here. I decided it was in fact a baby Copperhead whose banding and bow-ties had not yet developed.
There wasn’t anything I could do about that one. But I am thinking that the next time we’re in Tractor Supply we might want to pick up a jug of snake repellent. All this is going on in very close proximity to my workshop and is in the area where our dogs like to play during the day. I’d hate for any of them to get curious and end up with a snoot full of snake venom.
I watched the ant colony for a while. It was very large: spanning three planks wide and turned out to occupy the spaces between 4 layers of boards. And they thought they were having a bad day when the snake showed up! I could just see it in my mind’s eye:
It was an average day in The Colony: hunters had gone off through the passages to where the beetle grubs grazed on rotting wood. They would kill one or two from this herd, tear up the carcasses and bring the pieces back to feed The Colony. Nurses scampered around, tending the tens of thousands of egg cases. Workers cleared passages, removed refuse and brought in fresh supplies. They all toiled complacently in their snug, warm, moist domain.
Suddenly alarm pheromones are passed into the nest: enemy invades!
The enormous head of a great serpent forced it way into the nursery and began snapping up egg cases, pupae and nurses alike. Soldiers appeared and attacked the vile serpent, but to no avail; most were eaten as well. The soldiers could do little against the great beast’s armored head.
New orders went out: “Move the children to another chamber. Hurry!” And nurses began clutching eggs and scurrying through the cavity, into cracks and out into new cavities. Back again for another egg. And again. The Beast must not eat all the children!
Suddenly their world is rent open, the top is ripped away, leaving the distressed cavern awash in sunlight and flooded with fresh air.
“Extreme alarm! Extreme Alarm!” All members of The Colony are called in to help move the egg cases down to lower levels, to safety, away from the burning light and drying wind. The colony works feverishly. At least this disaster caused the serpent to flee.
Unknown to the main colony, many loyal ants were clinging to the board that was lifted away to expose The Colony. Now fully exposed, the board is swept clean, tossing, rolling and crushing ants and egg cases. Clearing entire chambers in just moments. The survivors scramble for cover in the dirt and grass below.
Antony Insectus, leader of a squad clinging to the removed portion of The Colony, hatches a plan to attack the enormous entity that appears to be responsible for this devastation. As he organizes his squad to carry out the plan his immediate superior countermands his orders and directs them back to The Colony to aid in rescuing the pupae. “We must save the children!”
Just as they enter the colony, another section of their world is sliced out and carried away. What horror! The workers wail, the nurses cry, attendants moan, “Where is the Queen? What has become of our Queen?”
Again and again the attack comes. Huge portions of The Colony simply cease to exist. The death toll is enormous. Eventually their entire world is ripped to shreds and is gone. The handful who survived are scrabbling between blades of grass, some carrying a pupae, some seeking shelter for the survivors.
A leader emerges and begins dabbing her abdomen to the ground, “Come this way, come this way. We will rebuild. We will begin again with what we have saved. No time to wail now. We will morn when we have found safety for these remaining children. Come this way…”
And I; The Destructor of Worlds, carry my piece of lumber to the new pile and slide the plank into place. As I turn to go for another, I wonder; how would we react if our world were disemboweled as that of those ants just was?