Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tiny Ecologies & Future Generations (Part 5)

"We live in a world,
the end (mortality) of which is certain, 
even if it may be postponed"
Against Ecological Sovereignty, Mick Smith

The Tiny Ecology project is focused on intense ecological attentiveness of a particular place. Frequent visits to the site will be made between late August and early December. Critical attention will be paid to human influence and neglect, nonhuman forces (weather, sunlight, microclimates, pollution, decay, gentrification), and the surfacings of particular histories. This project arises from an engagement with the Ecologies of Conquest / Contact Ecologies seminar being taught by Prof. Jeffrey J Cohen at the G.W.U.



In my previous post I concluded with a Steve Mentz quote, contemplating our ecological position as perpetually in "shipwreck," never fully out of crisis, as we wondered at the fate of the ant-colony that I had been collaborating with, as it sank, flooded under several inches of rain. 

This uncertainty opened up to a network question (motivated by a personal investment in the answer) about what happens to ant-hills on a rainy day. This watery event must be, as Menz suggests, a perpetual crisis for colonies here and in other colonies. 

The Tiny Ecology project started by wondering how clover survives in arid earth. It is fitting that it now has become motivated by how ants survive(d) the flood. An excess of masculine humors (hot, dry, earth) threatening a gentle leaf on one side and an excess of feminine humors (cold, wet, water) threatening a hardy insect on the other.

As far as I could guess, if any did survive, I imagined that somewhere in that extensive cohabitation of my ecology, the ants had "foresaw" the flood and made preparations in their excavating. Did they create some sort of safe-space, a panic-room of sorts, through which (a few at least) could keep the water at bay? Standing in the rain, I had little hope that if they had built such an environment, it would have been enough to keep out of this wet-ecology.


Doing a bit of research, I found that my questions /concern /care for my ant collaborators was not unique. Many others have wondered, like me, how ants survive the constant crisis of flooding. The answers ranged depending on the region and type of ant, but there were several common tactics for dealing with ecology uncertainty.

One option had been to build up safe-guards, safe-spaces against the dangers of the outside. The ants, like me, even if there is a strange excitement in a deluge, cannot live in the water. We might live "through" and "with" but not deeply "in" such alien environments. The capacity to imagine, to relate, and even care for and about the water helps us survive, but does not mean we have to surrender all walls of difference or persistence.

Walls are not sufficient, however. Sometimes you have to run. Articles on newspapers like the New York Times, forum websites like Reddit, and even entertainment sites like XKCD have all explored the question and proposed the solution: one way to survive a crisis, if you can't get through it, is to get out of it. Ants, we are told, include among their chemical trails (their primary form of communication) an escape route for just such occasions.

Despite these assurances that within "30 seconds" of the start of the rain, ants can evacuate and get to "higher ground," I worried for my Tiny friends. Where could they have gone? Perhaps they hid out (as many other animals have) in rock, along the cracks in the brick wall? Could they have gotten out in time? Are all ants as able to run? How many got left behind? Do ants care for the lost?


While I may never know whether or not the ants I loved were able to withstand or escape the flood, I soon discovered that the Tiny Ecology would not be long without ant occupants. A bit depressed, I sat in the dirt, staring at the ground, trying to adjust my eyes to be able to look for Tiny presences. After a while a slight glimmer in my vision allowed me to focus in on a tiny tiny new friend.

Following and learning about this little ant, I began to suspect that he was not exactly like the ants that I had known. This ant was smaller, whiter, and working in relative solitude (a few others had been discovered soon after). Thinking on this, I concluded, as research assured me, that even if the ants I loved had not survive the crisis, it was totally possible for their eggs to make it through flood.

Whether massive or tiny, the loss of ants and ant-hill in this crisis was grounds for mourning. It was not so much inspiring, but uncanny and perhaps intriguing to discover that in the ruins of things passed away, a new generation would grow. I wonder: Do they know about the other ants? Do they know how they came-to-be out of their care, foresight, and demise? Do they (or should we) even identify these two different generations as one?

These were my ants, but perhaps not my ants. Crisis and danger does involve loss. While despair perhaps dwells on the negative aspects of absence, can we find a way to mark death and destruction without committing ourselves to becoming their agents? Is it more ethical to simply "move on" or can we find a way to "change" so that these cuts form scar-tissue in our being? 

There are no easy answers, but I can't help but feeling the present absences as I sit with these little ants. Another crisis, more death, and who knows what else will come. For now, right here, inter-crisis, we sit together. Among ruins and generations, the ants rebuild and I remember.

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