Debra A. Copeland

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KILLING ANTS - 09/2013

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Think Pieces (17)

Posted 12/26/2019 08:47:44
Category: Think Pieces

September is my favorite month. I've been listening to Billie Holliday, humming and singing along to Easy Living and Tain't Nobody's Bizness and God Bless the Child while cooking apples in the kitchen. The pleasure of sniffing cool, apple-crisp air while watching the hills slip into something a little more colorful is tempered, though, by what seems to be, nowadays, ever present disastrous and disturbing news. We’re making such a mess of things. There’s a lot of really bad shit going on--I can't be the only one noticing.

Early in the month I got word of events happening at Guantanamo Bay. I don't know much about the place they call "Gitmo." When it comes to things to keep in the know about, and causes to take up and support, there are just too many, I'm in a state of overwhelm. I do know that Obama promised to close the infamous prison, but didn't. Now I know that people imprisoned there want to starve themselves to death, which leads me to think conditions must be abhorrent.

Andres Thomas Conteris, the man who brought Democracy Now to the Spanish-speaking world, has taken up the cause of the prisoners at Guantanimo. I learned this from a mutual friend who attended a September 6 demonstration in front of the White House, where Conteris, in solidarity with inmates who routinely experience the same type of procedure, allowed himself to be force-fed. During my friend's retelling of the event, I reached a point where it was difficult to listen. Her description of what she witnessed conjured thoughts of the Inquisition, when rope was stuffed into, then yanked from the throats of victims. When Mary stopped talking, I was grateful. I think we'd both reached a point where we wanted to scream.

They did the same thing to the suffragettes. (Yes, for those who don’t know, women were actually imprisoned for the "crime" of asserting their right to vote.) Back then, force-feeding was considered by some as a form of rape, a description which also has been applied to what's occurring at Guantanamo. In her autobiography, Emmeline Pankhurst wrote: Sickening scenes of violence took place almost every hour of the day, as the doctors went from cell to cell performing their hideous office. …I shall never while I live forget the suffering I experienced during the days when those cries were ringing in my ears.

This "hideous office" has been prohibited internationally more than once, more recently by the Declaration of Tokyo--why is our country still engaging in such a practice?

Mary gave me a flyer from the protest. On it, a tiny orange ribbon was pinned above a photograph of hooded prisoners holding placards which read: I died waiting for justice. Looking at the flyer, I found myself wishing I could see the men's faces. I wanted to hear their stories. Perhaps if we all saw their faces and heard their stories, we'd recognize parts of ourselves in them and not be so prone to stereotype and dismissal. 

Late in the month, I learned that a female author has been killed by the Taliban. I heard more accounts of slavery and forced labor in China and elsewhere. In Afghanistan, for example, for mere cents per day, men, women, and even small children are painstakingly weaving the beautiful wool rugs which sell in the West for thousands of dollars and pounds. The people who work in the dangerous mills of Asia also live on pennies per day so that we in the U.S. can buy T-shirts for $7. It makes me want to rant. But why bother. Who listens? I listened in disbelief as two news anchors discussed the situation with casual detachment, referencing a major retailer's need to protect its bottom line. 

To add to my discontent, I have an ant problem. First I tried coexisting with the ants and for a while, it worked. Then they came in greater numbers and I began to kill them. One day I realized, as I lifted my hand to drop a sponge down upon their tiny heads, that to those ants, I possessed the power of a mighty empire—no, greater than that. To those ants, I possessed the power of God almighty in my ability, with a single swipe, to wipe them off the face of Earth in the ant kingdom's equivalent of a mega-tsunami or -earthquake.  

But wait—don’t go yet, there is some good news. Two new museums are set to open in 2015, the National Museum of African American History in Washington, D.C., and the National Public Housing Museum in Chicago. Both will highlight people and events heretofore omitted from American history—like Maria Stewart. While all poor Abigail Adams could do was issue an appeal to her husband to remember, as he helped write law for the new nation, "the ladies," Maria Stewart on the other hand was a self-described warrior in the fight for abolition. She was the first American woman to make a political speech in public.

Also this: Research is being conducted into phytoplankton's ability, through photosynthesis, to turn excess carbon into organic material. Those tiny organisms which up till now I thought of only as fish food apparently are responsible, also, for nearly half the oxygen we breathe. It’s fascinating. To think what might happen if taxpayers’ money went toward projects like that instead of… well, you know.

And this: The little piece of earth I live on revealed to me this month some more of its magic. I've discovered a catfish nursery under the dock on the pond. I’m not sure how the fish got there, the pond has yet to be restocked after being drained some time ago for dam repair. One sunny afternoon I decided to eat lunch outside, on the dock. I happened to toss a piece of bread crust in the water, and something took it immediately. I broke off another piece of bread from my sandwich and tossed it in the water; something took it again. I ended up going back to the house for several slices of bread that day. By the end of the week, it required nearly a loaf to give everybody down there a bite.

In all the years I’ve lived here, it never occurred to me to feed the fish. Who feeds wild fish? Lots of people, I’ve since learned. When a friend told me about 50-lb. bags of floating pond fish food available at the local farmer’s co-op, I switched to that. The few dozen or so babies have increased to a throng of at least a hundred small black catfish and bluegills, and also a few big ones, and one VERY big catfish which looks as old as Methuselah and approaches only rarely, and cautiously, from the depths. I drop food on the water and by the time the larger fish venture to the top the little ones have devoured it all. When the old granddaddy (or grandmother—who knows?) shows its face, I gently toss pellets in its direction, but the merest movement of my arm, the soft plops the pellets make when landing on the water send the old fish turning and lumbering back to the bottom. In fact, let a honking goose fly over, or there be any sudden noise or movement while I’m feeding the fish and poof!—a collective vanishing act in a single, lovely, synchronized splash.

Someone said to me, What great fishing it will be. That seems an awful lot like setting the fish up, I replied. Although, they are wild fish. I won’t always be able to protect them. This morning as I approached with their breakfast, I was startled by a large blue heron emerging from under the short bridge that connects the dock to land. Startled by me, the stilt-limbed bird stepped awkwardly and comically, bow-legged as a cowboy, up onto the bank, then spread its expansive wings and took flight, a fat, dark something dangling from its beak.

At a house concert on the 14th, I witnessed a flyover of the International Space Station. I didn’t know at the time that astronaut Karen Nyberg was up there earning the distinction of being not only the 50th woman to travel into outer space, but the very first person to make a quilt there. That’s right, Karen Nyberg, Space Quilter! I like the happy, metaphorical sound of that. It makes me smile and want to use emoticons. :)

On the 21st, it rained, after weeks of no rain at all. I was behind at the office, behind in household chores, but I shut the door on it all and spent the day curled up by an open window, soothed by the sound of steadily falling rain and cups of hot tea while reading Daughters of Copper Woman, by Anne Cameron. The book tells the origin myths of the Northwest Coast Indians and oh my goodness, what stories Granny weaves! What amazing female archetypes! In these creation stories, Copper Woman is Eve but there's no equivalent for Adam. There's a flood story too, which makes me wonder just how many other arks and dugouts were sailing and rowing around the world when the Noah I was told of in my childhood went off in search of dry land. 

After a few peaceful days of no ants, yesterday I entered the kitchen and discovered an entire legion of them marching across the counter. Oh God, I groaned, and reached for the sponge. I hesitated. Sent a silent message to the ants. Let them know my intentions. Then I did what I'd come to do at the sink and left. An hour later, when I returned, the ants were gone. I didn't have to kill them. It was a relief. 

--DAC

09/2013 (edited 12/2019)

PHOTO: "Children at Looms" (Unknown origin)