I don’t know about you, but I have these burning questions that have haunted me all my life. Like, how can pansies not freeze when it’s below freezing? And how can one candy bar look bigger on your hips than it looked in the package? And what does happen to all those lost socks? You never get them back, even when you move, and yet you always take them off right there in your own home.
And this one: how does a tiny little ant, not much bigger than a semicolon, carry something that is several times its size? You’ve seen them – this miniscule creature hauling a leaf or bug ten times taller and wider than it is. How does that even work?
Well, I finally got the answer to that one, and from an extremely reliable source. One day last summer, I noticed an ant crawling across my driveway carrying an entire June bug carcass. So I asked him.
I had to get his attention first, of course. I put my finger down on the driveway in front of him. I had to do it several times before he stopped and looked up at me crossly.
“Excuse me,” I said, “but do you have a minute? I’d like to ask you a question.”
“Well, looky here,” he replied. “An actual human has deigned to take notice of an insect who is not biting him. You not gonna burn me with a magnifying glass, are you?”
“Oh, no,” I protested. “I would never do that. I just have a question.”
He seemed to relax a bit, and dropped his load on the ground. He leaned against the carcass and took a tiny bottle of water from somewhere (it seemed like he had a pocket), unscrewed the cap and took a sip. Then he capped the bottle and slipped it back wherever it had been.
“Well, you’ve already interrupted my work, so ask your dang question. Fire away.”
“How can you carry that June bug that is so much bigger than you are?”
“Oh, you noticed that, did you?” He puffed his chest a little. “My people have noticed that your kind can’t do that. Got to use wheels and motors and stuff like that.” He gave a self-satisfied chuckle. “Wimps. You really want to know? Okay, I’ll tell you.”
I leaned in a bit to listen closer. He lifted serious, tiny black eyes to mine. “It’s because we don’t know we can’t.”
Seeing my puzzled look, he continued. “You see, we ants have been carrying things bigger and heavier than ourselves for a mighty long time. So we have forgotten we can’t. It never occurs to us that we can’t. In some far-distant past, ants couldn’t do this. And then one did. And ever since then, we all have done it. We teach our antlings from birth on that they can lift things bigger and heavier than they are, and they never question it. It’s what we do.”
“But –“ I started.
“I know,” he interrupted me. “It doesn’t make sense. But what other explanation could there be?” He gazed off into the sky. “No one knows the name of that first brave ant, who, eons ago, first stopped saying ‘I can’t do that’, and just did it, but he is honored in our communities every year on First Brave Ant Day. We have Carcass Carrying Contests, nine-legged races, and all the overripe watermelon you can eat. It’s truly a fun outing for the whole family.”
“Wait a minute,” I scoffed. “This can’t possibly be true. You can simply because you don’t know you can’t?”
“Young lady,” his voice became stern. “You have interrupted my work. I have politely answered your question. And now you diss me because you don’t like the answer? I don’t have time for this foolishness. Some of us have work to do.” He took another sip of water from the bottle, and then – I swear it’s true – he took a tiny kerchief from somewhere and wiped his brow and then his mouth. He heaved the June bug carcass to its place on his back. Before continuing on his way, he turned squarely back to me and looked me in the eye again.
“I have a question of my own,” he said gravely. His eyes bore into mine. When I heard the words, I was left scratching my head for three days:
“What do you suppose you could do if you stopped believing you can’t?”