Keep Going, Son
As a boy I played with bugs. I was fascinated with them. One of my favorite things to do was to salvage two empty, metal coffee cans from the grown ups. Yuban. Folger’s. Then I'd find a good, stiff stick, about a foot in length. I'd fill one coffee can with dirt. That one I'd leave behind in the backyard or in the garage, wherever was homebase on that day for my ongoing experiments with red ants. The half-dirt one was gonna be my ant farm. That’s where they’re gonna dig holes. That’s where I’m gonna put the other bugs and watch the red ants attack them. The other can that’s empty still, that was my collecting can. That one I took with me, along with my stick I’d find. Then I'd head off down the street to wherever I had seen that red ant nest.
Red ants are the big ants, they bite and sting and get really mad, but that's what makes them interesting. Plus, they can't climb out of cans, not straight up on metal, they can only dig. I would crouch down, tip the empty coffee can sideways and press the rim of it on the ground, and with my stick I'd sweep red ants into the can, one by one. They'd be boiling and spazzing in the can after I’d fling them in, rolling up into an angry ball all over their buddies, but they couldn't climb out, so they’d just keep running around in there while I got more. I could safely get about 30 ants in the can before things started getting hairy. I’d be taking chances after that. After that, if I tipped the can to sweep up more, I ran the risk of letting some get out. And they weren’t happy. But I ran that risk. Over and over, every time. I'd probably bring back fifty or so red ants before I called it quits. I would always get stung on the legs two or three times, because red ants CAN climb up shoes and socks. It feels kinda like a bee sting. Maybe a little more stingy-ness that won’t go away, but a little less OUCH at the start. One time, I rubbed Vaseline on my shoes, thinking that would stop them. I thought they’d either get stuck or else slip off. But no, they just climbed right over it. Vaseline didn’t work at all. I didn't care. Stings never made me stop. I was so fascinated, the stings, never even fazed me.
I had this bravery around stinging insects that is hard for me to fathom now: I have kept my curiousity about insects as an adult, but I have lost my bravery around stings, so I mostly leave such things alone now. That, and I'm a lot farther from the ground now. I think that also has a lot to do with it.
I watch my boy now. And he does things with bugs that bring me back there. He's got that same bug bravery that I used to have.
God, I hope he doesn't lose it.
He'll pick up earwigs and tell me how much their pinchers don't even hurt. He'll pick up ground beetles--the predatory kind that hunt other bugs--and he'll do things that even I would never have the guts to do as a boy: He'll pick up a predatory ground beetle and stick the formidable-looking, carnivorous mandibles of that angry, writhing sucker up against a finger on his other hand, and he'll tell me how much it doesn't hurt either. Apparently, as gnarly-looking as those beetles' jaws are, they cannot break human skin. So they were harmless this whole time.
My son is pioneering new ground here. I remember those beetles as a boy. I never messed with them without a stick and a can in my hands. My boy has discovered something new that I never knew. Not even when I was brave. My son is already better than me. He has already outdone his old dad.
Keep going, son. Keep going.