I have been waging a war for several weeks against a clever and determined enemy that’s trying to invade, and potentially ruin, my home.
Fortunately no lives are in danger.
No human lives, anyway.
The carpenter ants, on the other hand, are enemy combatants, and I am not inclined to give quarter.
I would prefer not to be embroiled in this conflict, or indeed any other.
But the battle has not been without benefit.
During this unprecedented spring of 2020, a season defined by sadness and disillusionment, I have occasionally appreciated being able to focus my frustration on something other than the various societal conflicts roiling America.
Which is to say I much prefer to think the best of people and to reserve my animosity for a bunch of ants, which among things don’t have Facebook pages or access to smartphones.
I have found that while I’m concentrating on dealing with my invertebrate pests I enjoy a blissful interlude, when pandemics and protests seem less important.
Carpenter ants are hardly rare, of course.
I don’t suppose a year has passed during the quarter century I’ve lived in my house that I didn’t see at least several of the bugs trundling along in a flowerbed or in the driveway.
I rather enjoy watching ants. An individual ant seems to move as aimlessly as a drunk searching for his car keys in an unlighted parking lot at 2 in the morning. But when you see even a handful of ants a certain purpose in their pattern, even a level of precision, usually becomes obvious. Ants, it goes without saying, can’t accomplish much without teamwork.
Including chewing up my home, which is not at all entertaining.
This was the first spring I found carpenter ants in large numbers, and worse still they were crawling right beside the house.
My kids have even seen a few ants inside — most disturbingly for my 13-year-old daughter, a couple in the bathtub — also a first for me.
I don’t have any particular grudge against ants, as they’ve never done me any harm. Indeed when I see them in the woods I understand the crucial roles they play, in spreading nutrients and serving as food for birds and other species.
But city-dwelling carpenter ants have the potential to become more than a nuisance.
Their affinity for burrowing into wood to create their nests — and they’re not at all particular about whether that wood is a discarded 2-by-4 or the walls of a home — can cause major structural damage.
My first few forays against the ants reminded me of nothing so much as the final story in the 1982 anthology film “Creepshow.” That’s the one in which a fastidious man’s apartment is infested with cockroaches.
It’s delightfully creepy — especially the last scene when the cockroaches pour out of the dead man’s mouth (he had a heart attack) and other parts of his body in a grisly brown flood.
Anyway, I was pottering around by our front porch one afternoon and I saw a single ant near the lower of the two wooden steps that give on to the porch. I raised my shoe, intending to step on it, but the ant veered at the last second, moving with a speed I wouldn’t have believed possible.
Its escape left me off balance and I barely avoided what could have been a nasty fall, what with all the sharp edges nearby.
But just as I was regaining my equilibrium another half dozen or so ants rushed out from beneath the steps.
I started a sort of tap dance.
This was energetic but scarcely more effective.
I suspect that if anyone was driving past during those 15 seconds or so they would have assumed I was in the throes of a seizure, or possibly being attacked by Asian hornets.
This unsettling episode prompted me to investigate around, and eventually underneath, the steps.
I found a few telltale mounds of shredded (which is to say, ant-chewed) wood, but these were only about as wide as a dime.
The other ant avenue I noticed was the walkway leading from the driveway to our back door. I frequently saw a few ants there, sometimes heading toward the house and other times away, but in both cases clearly on a mission. A few specimens were carrying larvae. Those I smashed with a particular satisfaction.
My wife, Lisa, later traced this route to a corner of one of her raised flower beds, where I found more diminutive piles of masticated wood.
Most generally I prefer to sow seeds rather than poison on our place. And I like nothing better than to watch the honeybees going about their business on our flowers, to listen to their somnolent buzz at noon of a hot summer’s day.
But I also have a mortgage.
And an aversion to four-figure bills for contractors.
I procured some ant-killing granules, which I distributed with what seemed to me significant restraint.
I’ll concede that this was not easy. I felt a powerful urge to use something more akin to a carpet-bombing strategy.
But as any responsible warrior does, I seek to avoid collateral damage.
I still see carpenter ants on occasion but so far as I can tell we’ve reached an impasse, if not an armistice.
Although I can’t help but worry that some day I’ll step outside and find a corner of my house turned into a crumbling pile of ant munchings.
Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.