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Watching ants.

"What about the birds?" said the house agent doggedly. Basil, who had remained throughout the proceedings in a state of Napoleonic calm, which might be more accurately described as a state of Napoleonic stupidity, suddenly lifted his leonine head.

"Before you go, Lieutenant Keith," he said. "Come now. Really, what about the birds?"

"I'll take care of them," said Lieutenant Keith, still with his long back turned to us; "they shan't suffer."

G. K. Chesterton, The Singular Speculation of the House Agent

We used to live in a newly developed suburb. The developer prepared the area by scraping away all the topsoil, filling in the swamp with rubble, and cutting down what trees there were. Those of us who purchased lots either built our own homes or had them built, which made for an interesting mix of people, architectural styles, and expectations.

Since we were outside of the city limits, it never occurred to us that there would be restrictions about what we could do on our own property, so we got some hens, rabbits, and bees to provide healthy fresh food for our burgeoning young family. Imagine our dismay at learning that we were not allowed to keep hens, rabbits, or bees--apparently the properties were not zoned for these things. But, ever resilient, we cheerfully complied with the regulations. We built a garden shed and, out of sight, we raised hens and rabbits and cut a space in the middle of a big willow shrub for two bee hives at the back. Then we settled down to a life of peaceful coexistence with our neighbours, our consciences clear in the knowledge that our animals were hidden from sight.

The first indication that there were going to be difficulties came as I was explaining to my newest neighbour my plan to return my front lawn to a more natural state. This, as I pointed out, was already successfully underway, as the healthy abundance of dandelions indicated. I explained that beside making nice flowers for the kids to pick, dandelions would in turn give way in a few years to daisies, vervain, mullein, and maybe coltsfoot, and that the secret of such restoration work lay in patience. Then, once the lawn had developed a suitable layer of diverse wildflowers, it would become a good home for beetles, toads, and moles, which the children could catch and learn about. I left my neighbour looking pensive.

One fine August morning, I was in the backyard doing some yard work: lying on a blanket on the ground and patiently waiting and watching ants foraging underneath the grass and plantain leaves. The whole secret of watching ants is to lie absolutely still. Many who are new to the practice of ant-watching often make the mistake of giving up after only a few hours. From my experience, one needs to dedicate almost the entire afternoon to ant-watching to really see the little fellows at their toil. On a warm summer day, the best time to watch ants is after a satisfying lunch. I usually bring a book to help to pass the time, and I often close my eyes and pretend to sleep for the first hour or so to put the ants at ease. After this, I am ready for some really good ant-watching.

As I said, I was more or less in the middle of my ant-watching routine, when I heard someone shouting: "Hey, jerk! Wake up!"


"I said wake up!"

I raised my head and saw my neighbour standing on the other side of the fence.

"Why can't you just cut your lawn, eh? Why are you always just lying there sleeping?"

"I am not sleeping. I am watching ants," I explained. "I know it looks like sleeping, but you need to remain very still to watch ants. I find there is so much you can learn from their example of hard work and tireless industry--"

He interrupted my explanation: "Ants? ANTS?! Can't you just cut your front lawn, even once in a while?" he shouted.

"Ah. Hmm. As I explained to you before, I am waiting for nature to restore the native wildflowers, to make homes for the toads and moles. The secret for good restoration work is patience. Many people make the mistake of being too impatient when they set out to restore wildlife habitat."

From his response, I discovered that neither he, nor any of my other neighbours, were very interested in wildflowers, toads, or moles. Nor did they like hens, rabbits, bees--or children. Like many others, we moved to where it is easier to raise food, and for children to find wildflowers to pick and toads to catch.
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Author:Beresford, David
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2014
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