04 October 2006


“He was just some Joseph looking for a manger”
Leonard Cohen

Towards the end of winter a small colony of blind Driver Ants made its preparations for escape. The corporate intelligence of 250,000 ants had decided to move away from their dying mountain forest and march towards the coast. On the beach just above the tide line they discovered a large hollow log well suited to be both a nest and a vessel. Having established a temporary home in the coarse grasses behind the beach, phalanxes a thousand strong gathered and moved quantities of food into their new log home. Large male ants were captured by the workers who tore off their wings and accompanied their hymenal procession back to the grassy nest and their Queen. The colony was ready. Long lines of soldiers guarded the Queen and her eggs as they were escorted into the log where the rest of the colony was already installed and the entrance was sealed. That evening the tide was extraordinarily high and the log was swept south out to sea.

In the early Spring a flock of Cape Crows flew south. In spite of fifty million years of imprinted instinct and custom, they abandoned their parched, sweltering homeland and island-hopped across the raging seas until a remnant of the original flock, wind-hurtled, bedraggled and hungry, found an island where the grass was green, the spring water was sweet and flowers still grew. There the Crows found insects, small reptiles and mammals and a flock of inoffensive Yellow Birds. The Crows had arrived in the Promised Land.

By the time the log with its colony of ants was washed up on Yellow Bird Island the Crows were running out of food. The flock had stripped the scrubby bushes, eaten every visible insect, consumed any tiny creature who had not taken refuge underground, killed and devoured all the small Yellow Birds. No longer acting as a coherent group, they began to turn on their weaklings. First they throttled and ate the sick and the old, then the young fledglings. Now lurking solitary in undergrowth and in dark rock fissures they stalked and killed each other. Those who escaped cannibalism fell starving out of the sky and their bodies began to rot.

The Ants unsealed the log and organised themselves. They gathered up every tiny morsel of food the crows had not found, they smelled out the underground fugitives, killed and carried some of them back, in many pieces, to the nest. They feasted on the remains of the crows. Everything they could scavenge, everything they took they shared, but for now left alone the younger animals and the microscopic insect eggs the Crows had failed to see. Yellow Bird Island was theirs and the colony perhaps had a future.

When the sun turns blood red, when our piece of the planet burns up, when the ocean rises, the sea boils and the great flood comes, when we fly from the destruction of our homelands, whose example shall we follow - that of the Crows or of the Ants?