Formica Rufa

The low hanging orange of a late sun stabs through the Douglas-firs. Long shadows intertwine with glowing branches and shift in the dry eastern wind. The fallen needles on the path crunch under my walking boots and leave their imprint in the sand. A single, red wood ant skitters from under my boot, just before I place it down. Its antennae wave intermittently, tasting the warm air. We seem to look at each other. Then, as I continue, it too continues.

A tiny spasm in my left calf had been with me since I started walking that morning. It had worsened and lightened together with the rise and fall that characterized the Utrechtse Heuvelrug. By now it was a dull and continues throbbing. Fortunately, I was almost at the train-station where I would need to do nothing but sit and wait. The path had first led me through vast stretches of heath, where flowering ling created a pale purple that billowed in the wind. This sea of mauve fauna was interspersed with dots of bright yellow, dwarf furze that mimicked the sun above. The heat made the distance shimmer and high above I heard the joyous mumblings of a barn swallow.

Following the track, it had eventually brought me to this wood of close-knit pine trees. Their tall shapes break up the sun and catch the wind between their trunks. Walking further I slowly feel the ground rising as a small hill pushes the path upwards. A dense layer of litterfall muffles the sounds and distorts my perception. As I start to climb, my body leaning forward, I notice several red ants climbing with me. Their six legs throw up small bursts of sand. My calf spasms as if in response.

I reach the crest and stop for a moment, inhaling the dry smell of pine resin. Silence surrounds me. Or so it seems. As my breathing subsides I hear small rustlings, shiftings, tiny sounds made by minute movements. I turn my head, and there, partially hidden behind a dead conifer, lies a huge nest mound of red wood ants.

Dome-shaped it rises from the detritus. Twigs and conifer needles intersect, creating the impression of a compact mass. Yet, as I move closer, the surface seems to move, pulses with incessant energy. I kneel before the colony. Seen from this angle it is almost like a thatched mountain, were it not for the swarming multitude of insects that cover its flanks. I see legs, legs, thousands of legs, making a sound of whispering as they crawl across stick and stone and compound eyes watch their surrounding from a fragmented perspective whilst antennae wave when ants meet, paralleling the branches’ twitch as claws push them aside and then the last red rays of sun turn mound and ant into a single burning carapace.

My calf convulses violently and I am wrenched from my hectic musings by a sharp pain. I limp myself up and see that ants have almost completely covered my shoes. I stamp and give the nest one final look before following the path once more.


Pauw Vos

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s