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Animals

I Hereby Beg All Outside Creatures To Please Remain Outside Of My Home

Eric Feferberg/AFP via Getty Images

Every spring, like clockwork, little tiny ants breach the boundaries of my home somewhere along the front exterior wall and begin marching toward my dining room. This has been true for as long as I have lived in this house. I don’t feel super great about admitting this! Now, when I invite you to my home for a cookout or whatever, you will think of the ants and wonder if my home is a gross pigsty and check the calendar to make sure you would not be visiting during ant season. I don’t blame you! I can only tell you that my home is a reasonably clean and tidy place, and that you should not make the mistake in your life of planting peonies within ant-marching range of your home. Ants love peonies and treat them as way stations for further exploration. If you have peonies, soon you will have ants.

Some years the ants never make it farther into the home than six or eight feet, petering out somewhere in the front hallway and retreating well shy of any sustaining organic matter. It’s been years, in fact, since the ants have made it much beyond the coat rack. A time of peace! Back when I had a pair of big sloppy dogs, the ants would push at all costs for the dog bowls, and the occasional stray kibble that would slide under nearby furniture. Those were the years of the Ant Wars. Once the ants find the pet food, all bets are off. They will set up little forward stations and launch reconnaissance missions into the kitchen and pantry, and if you don’t stop them they will find the sink, and then you might as well drop napalm on your home.

Unfortunately, 2022 is shaping up to be just such a battle. What has changed? There is now a very tiny child in the home who loves eating solid foods and who has learned the pleasure of what happens if she smashes her hand down violently onto a blueberry, or waves around like a magic wand a tiny little spoon loaded up with oatmeal. To her this is the funniest thing. The “splash zone” of all this flinging and exploding is tantalizingly close to the head of the ant column, and the invaders are clearly emboldened. The challenge is twofold: on the front, to halt their advances so that the ants remain discouraged, and in opsec, to find and immediately remove all traces of any food matter, no matter how microscopic, that remain on any surface after any meal.

The stakes aren’t super high. The absolute worst thing that will happen if I yield is I will have lots of tiny ants all over the place, which will be super gross for me but no real danger. There are worse outside creatures that can and will invade the peaceful inside of your home:

Just because I do not live in Australia, the land of Murder Animals, does not mean that my home should be an apartment building for outside creatures. It strikes me as very sad, and possibly abominable, like an actual moral catastrophe, that hundreds or even thousands of poor little idiots are poisoned and smushed and smeared each spring, simply so that I will not be forced into a bizarre cohabitation arrangement with tiny harmless ants. On the other hand, it is genuinely supremely gross and unsettling to have ants swarming across sections of your living space! To me the entire point of having a house and living inside of it is that you will not have to share your living space with the things that live outside. What I wish more than anything is that I could call duly appointed representatives of the local outside creatures to a conference in a neutral location and explain to them that I bear them no ill will but that they simply must not make any attempt to live inside my home. I would happily put kibble and blobs of apple sauce in the yard, if only they would please not interpret this as an invitation to move in! I want this badly enough that on more than one occasion I have found myself pleading aloud with the ants. You live outside! Please just go back outside, and then I will not have to do this, where “this” refers to murdering them in astonishing numbers.

I realize that the concept of “inside”—an interior space that is both sheltered from the elements and absolutely closed off to small uninvited things which share our appreciation for warm shelter—is an extremely recent invention in the timeline of life on Earth. I also appreciate that certain other shelter-dwelling animals live with the constant threat of invasion from animals a lot more treacherous than these stupid tiny ants. Moles, for instance, are blind little burrowers whose homes are invaded by snakes, who eat them. There can be no negotiated detente between moles, who must burrow in order to survive, and snakes, who must eat small animals. Most animals who live in shelters would not think to write a blog about how jacked-up it is that other animals sometimes crash the party. A mole, reading this blog, would elbow a nearby mole and say, “Get a load of this guy.”

I would like to point out to these two mole jerks that there are plenty of outside creatures that seem to have no trouble respecting my personal space. Songbirds, for example, fly all around the place, nest in trees and little boxes all over the yard, and eat constantly from feeders stationed all over the place. Know what they never do? They never take a couple bites of seed and decide that the next move is to colonize my kitchen. It is because of this that the birds and I are able to enjoy the benefits of living in close proximity, free of all hostilities. To me there is nothing cooler than an outside creature that is chill about remaining outside but in such a way that I am able to occasionally observe them doing their thing, and smile, and go on about my business.

Unlike the birds, the ants are not chill. Unlike the snake who invades the home of the mole, the ants do not require the flung Cheerio resting just under the shadow of the refrigerator in order to survive, and this is why I find their annual invasions so rude and frustrating. There is plenty of ant food out there. The outdoors is a land of abundance for ants! Take my peonies, I beg you! Ants themselves live in elaborately constructed shelters. How would the ants feel if every year I walked over to their big complex house and started stomping around on and in it, just to see if it someone dropped a bowl of linguine in there? They would hate that, and in fact it would cause many of them to die. I don’t do it, in part because I know there are better places to go looking for linguine, and in part because I prefer to leave the ants alone in their home. All I’m asking for is the same respect, from all the outside creatures. Field mice must not seek the warmth of my home’s insulation. Stink bugs must honor the spirit of screened doors and windows. Ladybugs must respect the sanctity of my exterior siding. The place for outside creatures is outside!

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