Should I Feel Guilty About Killing Ants?debragalant | April 18, 2011
A few weeks ago, our kitchen was suddenly overrun with ants. The little ones. Marching all over the sink and countertops, making themselves perfectly at home. I discovered, to my surprise, after leaving an almost-empty can of tuna in the sink, that ants are huge fans of tuna fish. It looked like Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
That was when I caused my first ant holocaust, wetting a paper towel and swiping up a few hundred of them, and turning on the faucet to flush the rest down the drain. I felt bad while I was doing it, wondering if to the ants I was their tsunami — a cruel and powerful force of nature.
I didn’t have any moral qualms when my husband brought home baits and set them out. Didn’t think twice about it. I was just relieved when, almost overnight, the ant armies began to disappear. The violence apparently happens offstage, back in the ants’ nest, where the whole colony, including the queen, devours the poison and dies. Kind of like Jonestown.
But it’s those poor strays, crisscrossing the countertops like lonely post-apocalyptic stragglers, that I feel most guilty about. It seems necessary to kill them — like wiping up crumbs — and yet it is hard to ignore that they are creatures. They have heads, they have legs, they walk, they’re heading somewhere. Until I come along with my sponge.
I have been known to release errant insects into the wild. It just seems a bit of a nuisance to release something that small. So I kill, and feel guilty. And cringe a little, in karmic fear, hoping there isn’t a creature bigger than me who will take a giant swipe at my plane when I go to Europe on Wednesday, just because it’s messing up some pristine cloud.
It’s not like I’m a vegetarian. I eat meet and wear leather. But the cows, like the ants killed by the baits, die out of my sight. So I rarely think about it.
I did think about it, though, we all did, several years ago, staying at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the day they took the calves away. The artist colony shares some property with a farm, but up until then, the cows had just been so much scenery. Until we heard the heartbreaking keening of the mother cows. And wondered and asked and learned that the calves had all been taken away.
For us fiction writers, and the painters and composers, the sad lament was just part of the background for the next few days. We all talked about it, at breakfast, at dinner. But the poets — like tuning forks — vibrated with it. They took the pain in, poked at it, struggled, and finally turned it into lovely words.
Poets are very sensitive. My guess is they don’t kill ants. Or at least they don’t kill ants lightly.
Ant photo by Sanchom via Flickr.