My parents bought an old house across from our tiny apartment the summer that I turned 6. I would no longer have to share a bed with my older sister, and my parents would no longer have to sleep on the Castro Convertible Sofa (the prelude to the sofa bed back in the 50's) in the living room. I would have my very own room! The fact that it was the size of a closet did not matter. It was all mine and I would spend countless hours over the coming years using my room as a place of magic, inspiration, invisible friends and, years later, walls covered in Beatles posters! However, even better than having my own room was the fact that instead of looking out the window and seeing only concrete, we had a yard, a real, dirt-filled, tree-filled yard! That it was in desperate need of upgrades did not phase me at all. It was a yard!
One of the things I spent much of that first summer doing was to lay on my stomach and watch the ants. My mother, who was a staunch anti-insect person, was sure that I was going to catch some awful disease or bring something unspeakable into the house from laying in the dirt. That the worst thing I received from my science experiment were a few insect bites did not deter her from trying to shame me into "acting like a young lady." Obviously, young ladies did not roll around in the dirt. I took a vow never to become one.
Watching ants at work is amazing. For such tiny beings, they carry many-times their weight, all working and pulling together to find and store food for the entire colony, and taking care of each other in the bargain. Many is the time that I saw a wounded ant being carried by his friends and family on their backs in order to return him to their underground home for whatever ants do to nurse each other. I didn't know it at the time, but I was getting my very first lesson in the concept of team work and community.
Years later as an adult I had what I call a "mystical" experience and came to know wolf as my spirit animal (this is a whole other story for another time). I began studying the lives of wolves, becoming involved in keeping them from becoming extinct in the wild, and getting my next lesson in community and cooperation. I saw how the entire wolf pack is responsible for caring for and raising the young regardless of who the parents are. They have an extended family of aunts and uncles who not only look out for them, and protect them, but teach them what they need to know to survive. Mom and Dad never have to worry about going off on a hunt. There is always someone willing to stay behind and babysit. These babies grow up knowing the love and protection of the entire pack.
I have come across so many other examples of how nature takes care of its own, from animals to trees, plants and everything that lives on the planet. Those that survive, and thrive, do so because of a natural, instinctive knowing that working in community, with teamwork and cooperation, benefits everyone. It's not survival of the fittest, it's survival of the committed. Maybe we should spend more time laying in the dirt, watching the ants. It's worth a few bug bites to understand the secrets to a happy and thriving life that Mother Nature has to teach us.
And so it is.