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4/30/2000

How I Destroyed a Thriving

Filed under:General — eric @ 8:42 am

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How I Destroyed a Thriving City With Nine Gallons of Water

In my front yard there’s a mighty oak tree. Up until a month or so ago, encircling its trunk was a carpet of wild flowers and unbloomed jonquils. After a visit from an over-zealous landlady with a weed eater, there’s only a circle of dirt about fifteen feet across left. It was the perfect spot for a nest of fire ants. I’d seen the beginnings of the mound a few weeks ago, but didn’t get to it timely enough. Yesterday, the neighbor boys (aged five and three) came to play “garden” in my yard — they love watching me in my garden — and, trowels in hand, made straight for the ants. There was only one bite, but the younger boy was covered in them. This morning, I did what I had to do.

Before the ants were warmed up by the sun, I put three gallons of water on to boil. I investigated the mound a bit more while I waited. It looked like the ants were centered around the stump of a sapling that had been cut before I moved here. When the water was hot, I slowly poured it around the stump. The mound, mostly a hollow-out pile of dirt, collapsed. The water found ant trails and drained away. Gurgles emanated from below. The ground steamed. Hundreds or thousands of ants were caught unawares. The water instantly killed them and hard boiled the eggs. The bodies and pure white eggs were everywhere. I left them and went inside to my sourdough pancakes, putting another three gallons on to boil.

When the water was ready, I took it outside. The ants behaved like a responsible government would — medics were swarming over the bodies and eggs looking for signs of life (Some of each were being drug below. To the hospital or pantry, I couldn’t say.), engineers were inspecting the damage and repairing what they could, and I’m sure insurance adjusters were paying off claims. I behaved the way a reprehensible terrorist would — I unleashed a second flood of boiling water. The ants didn’t have a chance. Clouds of steam, gurgles from the deep, a thicker pile of bodies. Enough dirt had washed away that it became easy to pull up the stump, and I drug it across the road. In the hole I saw a few more ant trails, but precious few ants. I went inside for coffee and put another three gallons on to boil.

The last of the water was hardly necessary. When I took it out, only a few ants were about. These ants were from the lowest levels of the city and were staggering about like they were blinded by the light of the sun. The ground was fairly saturated, so the final three gallons were slow to drain. The pit held the water like a leaky bowl, and when the water was gone, so was any trace of the ants. All that remained was a crater. A square foot of total destruction.

I’ll watch the place for the next few days. It’s possible that the neighboring cities in the cow pasture may send in their best search and rescue teams, food, and construction equipment. If they do, I’ll be ready, stock pot in hand.