In the field with Ant Lions


After Ant Lions and the alleyway, a beautiful violet blossom of rosemary is seen before the cold winter blast tomorrow.

Yesterday, November 23, 2010, late in the afternoon, I wanted to walk into the pastures, grove and corrals and first observe, then photograph, then write a post.  Frankly, I never got farther than the alleyway between barn and stables.  Since my intent was to observe sentient creatures especially — invertebrate as well as vertebrate — there emerged enough activity that I did not even venture past the barn or first corral.

Between the house and barn is a distance of 300 feet.  The house is about fifteen to twenty feet higher than the barn, providing a panoramic view of our countryside — Sims Valley, Upper Salt Cove, Twin Mountains, Salt Creek and Barton Creek.  From house to barn, I see yellow butterflies feed on small white flowers.  Acorns from the Live Oak trees continue to fall on the ground, making a crackling sound, and on the slope down from the house the acorns are like marbles under my boots so that I step gingerly lest I slip and fall.  Small birds flit about the underbrush and yucca.  I walk into the barn alleyway and sit down on a step-up crate that I have to climb on — like a small ladder — to mount horses.

Sitting on the step-up in the alleyway, I hear a solitary crow, then see the crow fly west to east, towards our duck pond.  The crow persistently calls, but no reply comes from other birds and it flies towards Morgan Mill, avoiding the duck pond treeline and mesquite on the other side.  Ducks quack, but I decide against walking to the pond to photograph the noisy assembly.  A turkey vulture circles in the sky over Salt Creek.  Our two horses, Star and Lilly, are nowhere to be seen as they had sauntered into the Grove, perhaps down into the creek bed.

A stern cold front is to pass through central west Texas tomorrow, putting the temperatures into the 50s F. for daytime, 20s F. for the night.  As I sit on the red-colored step-up, the temperature reads 80 F., the sun quite warm, the cold front a day away, the sky clear.  I look down at the ground in the alleyway and see small funnel traps, drilled by Ant Lions that throw dirt up frantically and then wait for ants and insects to kill and eat.  Of the ten or so dirt traps, three of those traps are being fussily arranged by bugs.  The sun beams down on their efforts and I bend down more closely to see if I could discern the sentient.  I could not, but the dirt continues to fly up over the one-inch funnel, prima facie evidence of invertebrate activity.  How fragile, how strong at the same time, life is.

As I lean over to see the funneling Ant Lions, I place my hand over a stable railing to balance myself.  The air is still, the sky clear to the south and east.  Then, quite discreetly a gentle zephyr comes through the alleyway from the north.  I face south and the cool air moves over my neck and hand grasping the rail.  The air is definitely cool and I look up into the sky and the clouds move across, northwest to southeast.  I know the cold front is a least a day away, but this is a prelude, an advance-scout for the weather change.  The clouds persist in clustering, the Ant Lions stop their funneling, the temperature falls a few degrees and I stand up, whistling for the horses to come to supper: long-high whistle followed by three short-low-toned whistles, a pitch change of about an octave.  Two minutes later, Star and Lilly emerge from the creek bottom and walk home to me, their grain and alfalfa.

I feed Star and Lilly.  I walk back up the hill to the house and pace the three terraces, looking for a possible photographic shot of an errant Monarch or striped lizard.  I find a small blossom of rosemary to photograph and by 5:00 p.m. I go inside the house to write of Ant Lions and alleyways.  I mince rosemary for our dinner.



After the second sentence in the second paragraph, I shift to present tense.  I had written this piece using past tense, but decided to change the tenses.  I like it better than past tense in this post.

The camera was in the pickup and when I saw the Ant Lions — Doodlebugs — I started to fetch it and photograph.  The wind — zephyr (I don’t get to use the word often) — came up about that time and I knew if I went to the pickup, I would lose my place in the alleyway and, besides, I could not capture on Kodachrome the wind passing over my flesh.  So, I stayed put and let things transpire.


Filed under Life in Balance

16 responses to “In the field with Ant Lions

  1. Randall Tate

    I do miss the country. Thanks for sharing your world with those of us that have moved to the cities. I had forgot all about the ant lions. Thanks once again for the memories.

  2. Sometimes it’s nice to just record the moment mentally without looking at it through a lens. In that moment, it feels more present and brings in all our senses. Zephyr is a good word. We should use them when we can.

  3. Here on the other side of the big Ogallala your words are heard this morning. You are making the clearest picture with them!

  4. After reading this, I went out in the gale force winds and storm we’re having to poach some rosemary from the front yard of a house a few blocks away. I added it to the rye bread I made. I knew the bread needed something but just didn’t know what. I also mixed it with fresh chopped garlic, toasted almonds and fresh farmer’s cheese from the local Mexican market to have to spread on the bread as it comes out of the oven. See what your writing has inspired?

    Have a good thanksgiving.

    • Well, don’t get caught poaching! But, I know how the attraction of such a fine herb can dull the ethic. What a piece of cooking you have turned out. My mouth waters. How do you come up with these recipes? Chopped garlic? Put it in everything but a wedding cake! A good thanksgiving to you. Thank you again for the painting. We are really proud of it and can’t wait to have a party to celebrate it. Our daughter is coming and friends will be over and we will point it out as a gift from Karen Rivera. Thanks. I hope all is well in northern climes — for you and yours.

  5. What a wonderful writing, such a fine description of your day. You have made it all so clear that it’s easy to feel the air and hear the sounds. And when you whistle and Lilly and Star come up to you. A lovely place .

    • I know that you like Lilly, Grethe. If you were about the place, I would have you come see her and tell her how special she is. She’ll not be with us much longer, but who can say? As we are in Fredericksburg now, our caretaker watches over her and Star. She would like you, I can tell. I do tell her — truthfully — of the horses you photograph and how you like them in many ways. A person in Denmark, far away, thinks and writes about your health. Thanks, Grethe.

  6. Val Erde

    Your writing is so good, Jack.

    My dad gave me a picture book of insects (coloured drawings) when I was a small child and the ant-lion always fascinated me. I think I went between nightmares that one would get me and desire to see one ‘in the flesh’! Will you be photographing any?

    • Yes, I will be photographing them. The camera was in the pickup and if I left my place, I would miss the wind. I will photo them. It seems — I think — I’ve got to wait for the cold front to pass and the sun to beam on them. Fascinating creatures as they play “dead” when you catch them — like a possum.

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  8. Ruth Karbach

    Thankful for your words reminding us to really see and experience the small wonders of our earth.

  9. Kittie Howard

    First, the view from your house sounds amazing! You live in a little slice of heaven, Jack. And, your post reminded me so much of NatGeo’s Great Migrations series. All of those little creatures working away, doing their part to keep us safe. It’s nice, very nice!

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