Beginning: Red Ants

There is first a setting out, a beginning of all things.  Among the Huron in America, a woman fell from from the sky, hurling toward water.  Two loons that were flying over the water saw her and placed themselves beneath her to cushion her fall, holding her above the water, and calling for other animals to help hold her up.  The cry of the loon can be heard a long distance.  Animals came, including the turtle, and helped her, building earth from the bottom of the sea.  Here in the Southwest, among the Navaho, human beings emerged from the earth as red ants and red ants are the ancestors of those that walk the earth today on solid ground.

I remember my Uncle Floyd on his ranch in Cherokee, Texas, taking poison to the large red ant hills in the corrals and alleyways of the cattle pens.  Some ants died, but most of them survived the attack and continued to bring small stones to their portal.  The red ants never stung him, nor me.  Uncle Floyd eventually gave up the task and let them be.  The Navaho and other tribes collect the stones at the ant pile and place them in gourds to make rattles.  Uncle Floyd, Aunt Lennie, and I would attend the Methodist Church in Cherokee, Texas, and hear the minister read Genesis on how God created the earth and gave dominion of its creatures to man in the beginning.

I never assisted in putting the poison on the ant hills.  The red ants always looked so harmless and when I held one in my hand, there was no stinging, just a waving of the antenna and a deliberate attempt to find a way off of my boyish hand.  Today here on Flying Hat, I let the red ants live and bring their little stones to their entry holes.  I wonder how they place themselves down in the ground and what chambers they retire to.  Their pathways are so well-traveled on the surface that they may be two inches wide, devoid of vegetation, and a hundred-yards in length.  In Pecan Tree pasture, the ants have a lot of food from the side-oats gramma Cody Scott and I planted five-years ago.  In the area cleared around the ant hills, I can see the tracks of deer.  The word, deer, is traced back to an Indo-European hypothetical word meaning,  to breathe.

On our place here in Texas, the ants emerge from the earth and a deer signifying breath stands above them on solid ground brought up by turtles in ancient times to save the woman that fell from the sky in the beginning.


For method, N. Scott Momaday, The Way to Rainy Mountain.  For Huron, Elsa A. Nystrom, Primary Source Reader for World History, volume I: to 1500.  For Navaho, divers sources including Washington Matthews, his Smithsonian series on Navaho singing chants.  See also Frank Waters, Masked Gods.


Filed under Colony Road, Recollections 1942-1966

8 responses to “Beginning: Red Ants

  1. Wow! Beautiful! I’ve seen ant hills in West Texas but didn’t know the lore behind them and now have an entirely new appreciation of the little worker-bees. You painted such a clear picture, I can see how we humans are the ants, building nests, walking to our nests, carrying our stones (building our lives) and so much more. Jack, this post says so much. Am looking forward to the next part. Thanks!

    • Yes, little workers they are. They appear big and fierce, but actually they are nothing like the fire ants that can really chew us up. The red ants are different. Very interesting creatures. As a boy, I was not stung. I hope to get the next part up soon.

  2. I had no knowledge of any of this, either. I, too, will look forward to more.

  3. I love the mythology of native Americans and I have always been fascinated by ants, almost Edward Wilson-y. I saw more clearly the life of all beings when I was sitting on a park bench and a dead ant was near my feet. I may have ended his life, even. A long row of ants started moving towards him and then formed a circle around him. About five of them left the circle and investigated more closely. I could see them examining him and then conferring together. Really. They continued to confer, went back to the circle, as though they looked to the unity of the circle for guidance, yes, and then went together, the five or so (six?), and lifted “Jerry, the Forager,” (I name him after a poem of same), and took him back into the ant hill. It changed forever how I see things, how I see Life. Thanks for the post, Jack.

  4. StarkRavingZen

    Oh Jack. I could read your posts all day. Especially when the subject is Native American mythology and ecospiritualism. Loved this. Thank you.

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