Ancestor ants

Each day, through scorching heat and freezing rain, Pearl and I walk to work, and each evening we walk back home – no gas-guzzling commute for us.

Pearl is a creature of habit, so we start every trip strolling past the Bluff Fort, by the old elementary school where I spent my youth, along 7th Avenue and east on the Historic Loop to the trading post, she endlessly investigating markings of canines that have gone before and me coaxing her along.

Pearl is easily distracted, and I am typically laser focused on getting to work on time. Because Pearl is the independent type, however, the sniffing generally takes precedence, and we are all too often late arrivals.

In the evenings, our path takes us along Pioneer Pond Road just west of the Twin Rocks, over the top of Cemetery Hill, past the Mormon Church and by the stone homes built in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The Bluff Swimming Hole, where Jana, Kira, Grange, Pearl’s predecessor Buffy, and I spent many a hot summer afternoon cooling off, is unfortunately extinct.

Several years ago, it became the victim of an improvement project gone wrong. All that remains of the oasis is a basin choked with cattails.

As we stroll the quiet streets and backroads of Bluff coming and going, I always take the time to note what the ants are doing. Generally, they are working; recreating does not seem to be in their nature.

On the way out of our house around 8 a.m., the insects are generally slow moving, ambling along in what seems an aimless pattern. But in the evening, they scurry, carrying food down the hole and hotfooting it in and out of their hills. I admire their industry and work ethic.

In this corner of the world, ants are everywhere and bees relatively rare. That fact notwithstanding, Utah’s nickname is “The Beehive State.”

The appellation apparently derives from the state’s original title of “Deseret.” In the Book of Mormon, Deseret means honeybee, so bees, not ants, show up on everything related to Utah – the seal, the flag, the motto, and even the minor league baseball team. I, however, am backing the ants.

Early on Kira and Grange also developed a fondness for these crawling creatures. Maybe because we watched the Pixar animated film A Bug’s Life countless times during their youth.

The 1998 movie is about a misfit ant trying to save his tribe from a group of greedy grasshoppers. Kira and Grange were impressed with the oddball hero Flik, who ultimately vanquishes the demon hoppers, saving the day.

Having watched the movie so many times, the kids grew confident that if the ants could protect their colony, if it ever came to that, they could too.

Knowing my interest in these hard-working creatures, Priscilla long ago tutored me in the history of her people, and how they evolved from insects.

According to Priscilla, the Navajo creation story involves their evolution through four worlds.

The first was small and black. There were four seas and only one island containing a single pine tree. Ants, dragonflies, locusts, and beetles lived there and were known as the “Air-Spirit People.”

The seas were ruled by four supernatural beings named Big Water Creature, the Blue Heron, the Frog, and White Thunder.

Above the seas were clouds of black, white, blue, and yellow. A female spirit lived in the black cloud and a male spirit in the white mist.

Eventually the blue and yellow clouds merged, and First Woman was created. When the black and white clouds combined, First Man emerged.

As time went on, the inhabitants of the first world progressed through more stages.

At some point, First Man became dissatisfied because the people were still captive to a small barren island.

As a result, he led them upward to this world, where we, the five-finger people, live.

Some Navajo medicine men maintain there are two additional worlds above this: the World of the Spirits of Living Things and the Place of Melting into One.

The story of the Navajo people’s journey through their various worlds is, of course, much more detailed and varies from storyteller to storyteller.

All legends, however, describe the early creatures as insects, which has caused me to become cautious when it comes to Priscilla’s ancestors.

As Pearl and I amble around Bluff, I find myself hopscotching around ants and their hills in an effort to avoid smashing them underfoot or disturbing their homes.

Knowing the Navajo history of these industrious insects, I certainly don’t want to offend Priscilla by squishing one of her cousin brothers or sisters, aunts or uncles, grandmothers or grandfathers.

Frances, always on the lookout for workers in this pre-post-pandemic employee shortage, has suggested we might train the ants to carry food trays.

Priscilla, however, is not convinced her relatives are well suited for food service.

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