I would like to tell you a story. Well, really, I want to tell you the story within the story, and there is actually a story within all of that. But, I suppose the best place to begin is to tell you about the tree.
At the top of the slope to the driveway, sits a Pine tree on one side and an Oak with a slightly thicker trunk on the other. But this story focuses on the Pine. It is closest to the house and the first being that stands next to me when I get in and out of the car. It is also the closest to the house of all the trees here.
This tree has a few branches that brush across the power lines that run from the house to the pole across the road, and when there is heavy snow, I begin to worry just a little bit about those power lines. So, I got some advice about that from a tree expert while he was here to help me evaluate and educate myself on what would be best for the tree, as its roots have grown so big that they continue to crack the asphalt of the driveway clear across to the other side by the Oak tree. The tree guy told me that the power lines aren’t really absorbing that much weight when the branches that drape across them are wet with snow. Hearing that helped to put my mind to rest in the moment, at least on that question. But the bigger question is how to defend the health of the tree and the roots if the driveway were to be repaired. I’ve ruled out repaving for the time being for a number of reasons, and I know that the cracks I’m monitoring are getting a lot bigger. I also know that they have been patched with filler many times in the past, but now it was my turn to decide what to do. The tree guy explained how, if I want to protect the tree, and if I could live with it, I should do nothing, because putting any asphalt and/or filler across the roots will contain harsh chemicals by design to repair the asphalt, but is not good for the tree. So, in the back of my mind, where I parked that information, I felt I’d need to find the least offensive and most pliable way to accomplish both stabilizing the driveway and protecting the tree. Especially since the tree is so close to the house, I want those roots to remain nice and strong and healthy. I was particularly concerned about the roots cracking the driveway leading right up to the cement steps towards the foundation, and his feeling was that, while roots can pop the driveway up, they can’t do much to the foundation.
I once heard an animal communicator talk about her insights regarding the property she lives on together with all her animals. She felt that the land was part of the family, too, and suggested the idea of “what if the land also misses us while we are out, just like the animals do.” What if the land felt happy when we are happy and sad when we are sad, just like the animals pick up on our emotions. It certainly made sense to me, although I’ve never actually heard anyone put it quite that way before. I think the trees and the shrubs listened with interest to that conversation with the tree guy, and that they knew they were included in the decision. But, with that said, they understood they’d have to wait and see what I could come up with, since what effects one tree effects the whole community of plants, shrubs, and trees on the property and then some.
I began to investigate what kind of material I could use and only for the really deep crumbling cracks all the way across that may potentially present a hazard to me or other people, especially when there is snow and ice to be cleared and the rubble is loose. I also believed I would need help, mostly because I had no experience with such a project, and, because the one person I wanted to help me was not available. Like many such projects here, I needed to start from the ground up – no pun intended.
While all that was going on, one day, I was shocked to find a pile of sawdust at the edge of the Pine where some of the many cracks in the asphalt at the base of the tree had been established. I didn’t want to believe it, but it was clear to me that the resident carpenter ants had begun to forge their way into it.
Now, I have had an extraordinary relationship with those carpenter ants, and we have come to a very peaceful cohabitation. A story to be told another day. I have the utmost respect for them, and how incredibly strong they are and how well they work together. It puts us humans to shame, really. But seeing that sawdust represented a change. And in the course of that change I soon discovered that a transition to flying ants was also taking place. One such individual, and only once, made themselves known, appearing on a large cork coaster right in the middle of the coffee table in the living room. I emphasize “only once” because many people would become quite alarmed that “if there is one there are more.” But I didn’t get that feeling. I felt I was being informed that there were some new changes to the colony. And, that was enough for me. I brought him/her back outside to rejoin the rest.
But to be honest, a great conflict arose within me. On one hand, this beloved tree was pushing up the driveway, simply by being who it is. I wanted to protect it, but I wanted the driveway to be stable, too. And, on the other hand, the beloved carpenter ants were boring into the trunk of the tree, being who they are, too. I was so upset, and couldn’t help but wonder if I’d contributed to all this shifting out there. I know many would have said, “Ward them off now! Destroy the colony!” but that just didn’t sound right to me, despite my upset. But, boy, did I struggle as I watched the pile of sawdust continue to grow. And, still, I was filled with admiration watching the ants work with such organization and precision, carrying the pieces of wood out, walking them out anywhere from a few inches to a foot away, dropping the pieces off and going back for more. Sometimes, they would stop a minute to check something out and then continue. I watched them disappear into one of three holes a little bigger than the diameter of a pencil, and into another bigger archway about the size of a golf ball. My fear would run away with me at times, as I envisioned the ants doing what they do best. I wondered if they would ever come to a point where they’d dug far enough. I wondered how the tree felt about it so I asked them both.
I talked to the ants first. With the idea that I could offer them an alternative to the trunk of the Pine, I asked if there was anything I could bring them as a viable substitute. The answer I got was a resounding “No. We chose this for good reason.” And, my heart sank. I tried explaining my concern about the tree and there wasn’t much on their part they were willing to consider. They simply said “We all understand each other” and kept right on working. And, frankly, I couldn’t debate much after that. But, I did continue on my own agenda to see if I could bring in a stump of some kind and park it right next to the tree as a peaceful offering in exchange for burrowing into the Pine. Even if they didn’t want it, I thought they should know I wanted to give them something out of love and respect for them. After all, I’d do it for the birds, animals, and plants. The problem was where to find a stump.
Several days later, while dropping off some fallen tree branches at the local recycling center, I discovered they had a huge pile of cut tree branches and limbs and trunks that had been segmented before being brought there. Eureka!! I’d struck gold! Only, as quickly as my excitement rose, it was quickly dashed when I realized how heavy the stumps were that interested me. There was no way I could get them into the car by myself, and I yielded to reason. However, I continued to look for what I could handle. As an aside, I have to tell you that on this day, it was over 90 degrees and the humidity was extreme, so rummaging around out there in the blazing sun kept my search short lived. I thought, if worst came to worst, I’d come back another day that wasn’t so beastly hot. I rummaged around a little longer climbing further into the wood pile and spotted a few slices of a thick tree limb a little thinner than my lower thigh, that were just beautiful with an inner darker circle at the core. I found what looked like two cuts that would have been made back to back, and since I could pick them up, I opted to bring them home. They were gorgeous and the bark was still nicely intact with a little bit of fuzz. One piece was a little taller than the other. When I got them home and placed them upright near the tree, my heart sang. Even if the ants didn’t want them, I loved how they dressed up the little patch of ground next to the tree.
But, then I soon realized two things. They were way too small to be of interest to the ants, and, since they were light-weight enough for me to carry them, they were also light weight enough to potentially get swept away in high gusting wind which we can have here. Fear had me envisioning them getting blown away, or worse, damaging property.
My solution to the latter was to bury them about a third of the way into the ground to hold them in place. I set out to find whatever tools were available to dig a hole for each one. And, although I wound up using a rock hammer pick and a spackle spreader, I eventually got the job done, and watered the ground around them to set them in. I thought they would hold better but just to be sure I braced a pretty rock behind them to help the cause. It looked fabulous! I invited all the insects to come and enjoy them.
Okay, back to the ant story. As difficult as it was to let them be, I decided one day to wait until there was no activity and at least sweep the sawdust off to the side of the tree so I could monitor how quickly they were progressing. Even that felt like interference but I needed to be able to observe. After all, I had to fit into this equation somehow, too. They soon had a new pile of sawdust, and even when it rained, I could still see from the growing pile that they were very busy digging. My heart continued to ache. So much so, I began to pray and send healing to the whole situation. All the while, I understood that the ants were determined, and that was part of their nature, and therefore, part of their medicine. I imagined the lead worker shaking his fist at me for sweeping. So, I explained it to them, and they said “Well, we don’t like it much but we certainly can understand your need to do it.”
As my stress level continued to escalate, I continued to pray and send healing to the ants, the tree, and to my fear and conflict about not doing anything more to alter the whole situation. But how could I choose one over the other? How could I say the ants were “destructive” and the tree should get my intervention? It just didn’t seem right, even though my human mind was so full of fear. I couldn’t help but wonder if my upset over the tree roots added to the arrival of the ants digging into them. At this point, I called on the Angels – because I knew I didn’t know what was best beyond this, and neither interfering or doing nothing soothed my distress. So, I continued to pray.
When I asked the tree about what the ants were doing, the tree just smiled and said the same thing, essentially. The tree said, “The ants need to express themselves in the work they were designed to do. I provide a way for them to do that and hold no concern about it, nor do I consider anything more than what goes on in the moment. I do not need to wonder how far this will go, or what it will cause in me. Whatever is to be, will be.” Again, such wisdom was beyond my capacity to realize, but when I hear it, I recognize it as the truth of the earth and how nature gets along with itself. I did my best to allow all that into my heart, too. And, I have to admit, it did help a little even though I still worried.
After a few more weeks, I decided to sweep aside the sawdust again, in part to see the extent of the continued progress, but also because it was extending out far enough that I was starting to step in it when going to and from the car, and I didn’t want to track it towards the house. I waited again for a break in all the action, which seemed to be pretty ramped up at this point, and again, my fear ran away with me. I waited until there was no one working, and I swept the sawdust off to the same side of the tree which was very slightly uphill from where the pile was. By now, the ants pretty much dealt with me without much grumbling. That is part of their remarkable resilience, having their hills and homes destroyed by both nature and man again and again, and they just simply rebuild.
A few days after that second sweep of sawdust, a very bad storm blew through. Extremely heavy rain and strong gusting wind raged through, and I was concerned about branches that were falling around the house and car causing damage to both. There were moments when I would hear a big bang, and I knew it was a branch hitting the roof and falling to the ground. All I could do was remind myself to breathe and ride it out, and, hope for the best.
The next day, when the storm had cleared, I went out and walked the perimeter of the house. I stepped back into the street to get a broader view of the house and the roof because sometimes a little distance reveals things you don’t see up close. As I rounded my way to the driveway, I saw some big branches had indeed fallen, and I was deeply relieved to see no damage to the house or car.
As I walked around the car, and came along the side closest to the tree my heart stopped. The rain had somehow washed the sawdust that I’d swept to the side of the tree along with some of the dirt beneath it into the cracks at the base of the tree, essentially filling and covering the big arch and almost everything the ants had dug. Two of the three holes were no longer visible. Only a portion of one of the small holes could be seen. The driveway was washed completely clean of all the new sawdust that accumulated after I’d swept, and it looked as if none of it had taken place. Even when it rained in previous days, the driveway was never that clean of the sawdust. It was as if time had turned back to before the ants began to dig into that precious Pine. That whole area was quiet again, free from the hustle and bustle of the colony and all that excavating. And just like that, it was over.
My heart ached in a whole new way. I evaluated once again how, on one hand, I was deeply relieved to consider that the damage being done to the tree had ceased, at least for now. But still, I couldn’t help but mourn the loss for the thriving colony who were so active for all those weeks. It was fascinating to watch them, and now things were still. Relief and grief comingled, and a terrible guilt washed over me as I considered whether it was my fault that the holes got covered over. Would that have happened if I hadn’t swept? My sorrow flared as I feared the ants getting blocked in there, somehow, and that I contributed to it by sweeping the sawdust aside. I watched for them every time I went outside, and I would spot one or two foraging around.
In the days that followed, new ant hills emerged a bit farther away from the tree trunk in other parts of the cracks along the driveway. Just like in the old days. Some hills, in fact, appeared in the big cracks that ran across the driveway, and it was as if order had been restored. I studied that spot along the base of the tree many times in those following days, and marveled at how precisely the spaces were filled in, not just where the ants had dug, but in the cracks on either side of where they were. It was all so precise in a way I didn’t fully understand, which, in a way, made it a little easier to forgive myself. I heard the ants say, “We are still here and all is well.” I didn’t feel at odds with them any longer, just like before when we were all at peace. And the beloved tree just smiled and said “All things take their natural course. We are all here to help you learn not to worry so much, and, to let us help you with it, too, when worry gets to be too much.” I thanked them both, saying how very grateful I was for the lessons about interfering and the natural balance of things.
Earlier this week, as I was carrying groceries out of the car on that usual side, I became aware of a very long running spider web which appeared to be like a highway running both deep and wide, with much damage to the spirals of the web a little further back. It was long strands mostly, and they glistened in the sun if you looked at just the right angle. Because I bumped it, the spider who occupied it moved. It was a most odd shaped little spider, a little bigger than a pea. And, because I had been pursuing a great new interest of photographing insects I find in the yard and along the street, I set out to see if I could capture any pictures of this little guy. To my great surprise and awe, he sported what I can only describe as what looked like a little silver and black sea shell on its back end. It was so beautiful! When I was able to get close enough with the cell phone camera fully zoomed in, I got the most amazing pictures of this remarkable creature which I have since learned is a type of Orb Weaver. “Welcome, little spider!” I said with total delight. To which he replied, “There’s a new kid in town. And, this is my house,” he stated with obvious pride.
So, there you have it. Just a story of a few of the many neighbors in my yard. I have a new reason to stare at the area at the base, watching that little spider move up and down that web, placed right in front of the little tree limbs I’d planted. I get to watch all the goings on around the base of that Pine with a whole new excitement and a much better understanding of how things evolve – all by themselves.