The Endless Search: A Life Story

by Tom Swift

There is death happening all around me.

After I found a couple of carpenter ants in the house, I called an exterminator. Mostly, he put down preventative — he’s trying to thwart the ants’ pheromones; trying to make them think otherwise about taking up residence here with me and the little buddy. It’s a sort of Jedi mind trick for creatures without nervous systems. No, you do not want to go over here. You want to go over there.

Also there may be a nest in my ash tree. There the goal is not scent confusion but rather execution. I have nothing against ants, carpenter or otherwise, and I don’t think they mean to do me harm. But they could; they could cause damage to my home and that leaves a guy with no choice.

To be sure, I don’t have a problem today. I am simply taking steps to make sure I don’t have one tomorrow.

The stuff went down two nights ago. Earlier this afternoon I thought about a carpenter ant I found crawling up the side of my living room wall, the reason for my call. He was all alone roaming and moving his tentacles, crawling this way and that, headed up, over, back, up, again, up. If you look close — or try to catch one in close quarters — there is an intelligence there. They may not know how to conjugate a verb or make a TikTok, but ants do know well the business of being ants.

We think we are so smart but are we so different from ants roaming around on a wall?

Of late, when even friend gatherings are conducted through a screen, I have stood back — which is the advantage and disadvantage of a Zoomed experience; detachment — and observed smart, thoughtful, sensitive people as they wrestle with intellectual and emotional challenges of the sort that have challenged human beings for millennia. You see lights go off during moments of clarity that you know will be fleeting; you see projections of hopes-fears onto others; and you see good questions that want answers but don’t have them. And, well, we’re all roaming and moving our tentacles, crawling this way and that, headed up, over, back, up, again, up. (If not, all of us, thankfully, on my living room wall.)

That is the point of writing for me — to crystallize thinking, to consolidate experience, to see what I am too distracted or distorted to fully process in the moment — so that my experience registers more keenly, leaving me (hopefully) a wee bit more conscious of what it means to be alive. This is possible whether I’m looking at an ant — or at the guy who appears when I stand before a mirror, the one who finds fleeting clarity and casts projections, and asks questions without answers.

The same questions, by the way, that have always been asked.

And may always be asked.

We’re all roaming about along the vast terrain of uncertainty.