Australia :: June 1994 - March 1995

Subject: Ants in yer . . .
Date: November 26, 1994 22:28

19:35 Ormiston Gorge NP, Northern Territory :: 21 OCT 94

Most people would end the subject line of this message with . . . pants.

Would you believe computer?

And I'm not referring from some creature with an exoskeleton crawling through my display's heat vent so it could walk around between the back-light and LCD planes either. (An actual experience I've already related in an earlier entry.) Nor were there just two or four or eight or even two hundred and fifty-six ants.

We're talking infestation. We're talking 2 raised to a power of some two-digit number.

Last night at Ipolera I found a couple relatively convenient powerpoints in the wash area between the men's and women's showers. An upturned metal bucket served to keep the computer and the camcorder battery charger off the floor (and away from any possible water disasters) while they merrily sucked mother's milk from Ipolera's generator.

Perhaps I should explain that Ipolera is an Aboriginal settlement that houses much of the Mablanka family, the land trust's regional school, a resident teacher, and a campground whose purpose is to house tourists taking in a bit of Aboriginal culture. Like most settlements of this size and remoteness, Ipolera generates its own power and pumps its own water. The sun's rays heat the water in solar collectors for showers, cooking and cleaning.

The nearest habitation that gets its power from the Australian electrical grid would be Alice Springs. Near Alice Springs the US government continues to operate a 'space tracking station' although nobody in Australia seems to know what really goes on in there since even the Aussie P.M. can't pass through the gate. Whatever it is, Australians believe the American installation provides 'The Alice' with the dubious distinction of earning a dot on the Nuclear Armageddon map.

Ipolera's probably just far enough away from that dot to escape the physical destruction. And the predominantly westerly winds should blow the radioactive cloud toward Brisbane and Sydney, sparing the friendly inhabitants of Ipolera from the worst of the fallout. For whatever comes next, they'll be prepared.

I dare say the ants would probably survive anyway, if what I'm about to tell you is any indication.

Now, I'd left the computer and camcorder battery greedily hoarding electrons with plenty of time to completely gorge themselves before the generator shut down, probably at 11PM. Katrin and I had dinner and went to sleep, were woken up by two bulls dickering over whose was bigger, went to sleep, woke up to the continuing argument of the bulls, went to sleep, woke up to the sun lazering through the tent fly, ate breakfast, and headed off to the shower. On the way, I checked in on the electronics.

21:03 Whistler, BC-Canada :: 26 NOV 94

The image remains vivid a month later. You've seen an ant horde streaming over rotting meat? Well, several ant rivers, running in both directions, coursed over the sides of the bucket. At the confluence of these rampaging ant-ways was the Toshiba T3400, a barely recognizable form under the roiling mass of insects.


After the vocal observation of the device's plight I plucked the power cable from the computer and, after sweeping clear a hand-hold, picked it up. While repeatedly turning the Toshiba from top to bottom and briskly brushing the ants from the exposed surface the thought occurred to me that this might not be the best solution to the problem; this is a $3300 device I'm cavalierly flip-flopping in one hand while madly brushing away a crazed horde of angry pincered, stinging insects with the other. Unfortunately, it was just about that time the startled ants got over their confusion and began attacking, in earnest, the warm fleshy thing that was absconding with their prize. My only consolation was that the bites and stings of these small ants hurt only a little . . . each. Twenty or thirty at a time hurt a bit more.

#$&@!!! Yiiiiii!!! #@~*%@#$!!!!

Just take a moment to yourself and think about how this must have looked.

Vaudevillian slapstick. Larry, Moe and Curly manifested in a single individual.

It gets worse, or perhaps better depending on your appreciation of the absurd. I took, oh, about thirty seconds-an eternity, really-to realize that the ants that kept appearing on the other surface of the computer every time I flipped it over hadn't evaded the last sweep, nor had I finally outsmarted a few that had been anticipating each flip and running to a hidden surface. Nope. They'd been hiding out, and boy, were they surprised when I opened the display flap and caught 40 or 50 of 'em dead-to-rights (whatever that means) running all over the keyboard and LCD.

Of course, this action created a whole heap of new surfaces to be swept free of ants high-tailing for new cover. And an open laptop is somewhat more unwieldy than a closed one. Still, one would figure that 10 or 20 seconds would clean up the remaining fifty vermin but when a minute passed and still every flip to a new surface turned up one or two scurrying critters I began to consider the possibility of spontaneous creation as a possible alternative to evolution. Then I figured it out.

Remember the first time you saw the film Alien? The scene I'm thinking about is the one where the weird leggy thing's finally come off John Hurt's face and he and the rest of the crew celebrate over a few drinks in the galley. I won't go into the gruesome details that follow. Suffice it to say that the emergence of an Alien from human host is most unholy.

Well, the sight of an ant crawling out of the reset button hole is a little unsettling. Seeing 2 follow, then 4 more, then 8, then noticing that they were practically streaming from every orifice of the Toshiba, well, that just gave me the shivers.

Somehow I managed to keep a firm grip, went into the bathroom, placed the computer on the floor and turned it on. As I'd hoped, this action forced a mass exodus that I swept away, for the next half hour. Eventually I got them all out, I think.

What were they doing in there? <shivers>

Patrick. -- Responses Sought --


"What good is reason," [the Romantics] sneered, "if it drives out beauty, terror, and vivid emotion? Can a thousand facts compare with the epiphanic moment, when a poet stands tall in a lightning storm, hurling challenges at God?"
  graphical element David Brin,
Science Vs. Magic in the anthology "Otherness"