Where Ants Build Memories

Musings / Friday, January 25th, 2019

Despite being a runner, I love walking. When you go running, you scarcely notice the world around you. You try to be more mindful while you are running, of course, but I always seem to use my running time to write in my head all the words I want to say and well, words best left unsaid.

But walking? Walking is an invite to the world. You pause, listen, observe, and suddenly it seems that the same world you went zipping by in your car or even on your run is just not the same anymore. Whenever I travel, one of my favorite things to do is to just step out and walk, especially in a city. It’s something that arose from need (traveling abroad, I just couldn’t afford to pay for cabs all the time!), but then walking gradually became the preferred way for me to explore a city.

These days, in the evenings, I just take a walk. I have no particular purpose. I have no route. I don’t walk fast. I amble along. I observe a man sitting on the bench, reading a book. I crane my neck trying to see what book he is reading. An old man sits on another bench and, like me, seems to have no purpose in mind, just staring out into the park. A group of kids bounces around on the basketball court. The pavement I walk on is beautifully laid out, and the bougainvillea is in bloom, their hedges trimmed as if in anticipation of a bride’s homecoming. The pink is dazzling against the green. The road is dug up (yet again) for laying some fiber-optic cables. I walk along, peering over the wall on my right, gazing into the children’s play area. And then I almost brush past the dusty old tree. But I pause.

I am not sure why. I do. This tree looks different. The leaves somehow seem closed, forming little canopies. Tents of brown. I look closer and then the memory wheels wind back. I don’t know the place, but I remember the scene. A man showing me a tree. A group of us listening. The forest around us noisy in the way that silence can be loud. “This is an ant’s nest,” he had explained. It didn’t look at all like an ant’s nest. I was used to seeing anthills all over. Red earth pyramids I call them. This covering of leaves? On a tree? That memory fades. And I stand in front, looking at the ants’ nest.

This is the nest of the weaver ant.

weaver ant


These ants form nests by stitching leaves together using silk produced by their larvae. I observe them for a while. Ants, as always, look very busy. Yet, you have to be still to observe their business. Somewhere, there is a lesson in there for us. The fragment of memory from my past colors my vision again. I leave the ants to their busyness, and I walk along richer in time and space and stillness.

Go out there today. Take a walk. Spot an ant. And tell me if you do.

9 Replies to “Where Ants Build Memories”

  1. A friend of mine was a Creek Indian. We worked in an awful manufacturing plant. When we went on break, we would sit in the bed of my pickup and he would, without fail, begin our conversations with “White man. Ugh. Busy. Busy. Busy.” Busy, indeed, but we needed the money at the time.

  2. Akkkka, amble along and walk along and zrrrrrrrr make a pit stop in Nagawara 😀 the observations my white monkey does would amuse you too, including pigeon feathers 😀 😀
    that’t the fun part.
    I loved your writing about bougainvillea. I love these flowers a lot. there are various colored ones in my complex too and love to spot them during our walks.
    I am glad you are enjoying to walk, pause, stare, observe, click, write and share 🙂
    keep it coming madame

  3. Profound, and I enjoyed the read. There’s another very lost wisdom here.

    These nest making ants where once very sought after in kitchen gardens of old times. That is, if you happen to have a bug or an aphid infestation, all you had to do was gently and very carefully pluck and lift the entire nest and place it on the bug-ridden plant. The bugs would flee, and the ants would devour all their eggs as well. Once your plant recovers, you can transport them anywhere else.

    Long before when the insectisides and their many poisonous alternatives where not in common use, this method was adopted. But then, its neither scalable, and is very time-consuming.

    1. Wow, Vishal! I didn’t know that. Who would think of that? You have spoken like a true start-up man (I am guessing) in that the idea was not scalable. Grin.

  4. I love this observational post. I would never have noticed the nest in that heap of brown leaves nor remembered that brief lesson.

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