Fire and Ants

Remember that fire? Grass burnt to the end of its story a couple weeks back? Only living thing left a few grasshoppers deep into the first stage of the grieving process and soon to move on? Well, the story has changed. The colonists have arrived. The clean-up crew is here.

Queen Ant Moving In Over the Ash

Is it an accident that ants are released to start new colonies during fire season?

I once watched four carpenter ants step out of the flames that were gushing through their tunnels in a slice of a lodgepole pine I had thrown onto the coals of a fire, walk across the log, through the curtain of fire erupting out of the bark around the edges of the wood, and across the red-hot coals towards dry ground. The living world doesn’t have to be the green one we all love. It can be a black one, feeding off of the ruins of the green one, at first, and moving on from there. And, you know, it’s not just the ants. The bees are moving in as well.

Bee Hives in the Ash Zone

Most species of bees in the grassland lay their eggs underground and tend them individually. Their work is done for the year. The picture above shows the beginning of their winter.

It’s not just bees and ants who have gone underground. These rock people are out of the light for the winter now, too…

Yellow-Bellied Marmot, Peshastin Pinnacles

When I found him in July, this fellow was living ten feet up a sheer granite cliff. He’s deep within it now, and won’t show again until May.

Most of our fellow citizens in these grasslands are gone from the above-ground world now, in fire season. Only we humans and deer and hawks and porcupines and bears are thinking that up here in the heat and the wind is where things are going on, as we graze in one way or another on the underground people. We’re not so different from them, though. For awhile, they come out into the light …


Apostemon Bee in a Mariposa Lily

Both the bees and the lilies are underground now. If fire were to pass through here, they wouldn’t know. They used the light and heat of our world for awhile, then went back to theirs.

Fire, and ants. They both begin the process of creating pathways across the earth. Fire turns the green world into a black one, which ants then carry underground and turn into new, organized life. In the spring, they come forth with the new shoots of the flowers and the grasses, and begin moving seeds and aphids around. I don’t think it’s any surprise that the Syilx, who have lived on this land for thousands of years, built their winter houses underground, in the shape of ant hills. Neither do I think it’s any accident that fire was one of their tools for increasing the fruitfulness of the land. It’s not just a story of fire releasing nutrients, either. It allows a specific set of webs to be re-created.

This is ant country.


1 reply »

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.