O the perfect place. This is that. Friday night I drove Daughter home from work at 9:45; the sun was still incinerating the horizon, giant clouds massed over the lake. To the east, a storm, fireworks in chain reactions in the skyscape. Warm air, lake aromas. I felt compelled to remind Daughter of her absolute and unquestioned . . . luck? Privilege? No: generous gesture of fate that landed her here in this place. Because it is so fine.
Saturday we went to a friends’ house on a lake to have a gathering with her old piano teacher, the one whose lessons were the final point of Friday. They live on a lake I’ve never visited - small, but big enough for a slow troll on a pontoon. Woods on the south end, public beach on the north. Perfect Minnesota late July summer weekend afternoon.
I only think about the religious beliefs of ants when I am working on the low-voltage landscape lighting.
You too? you say. We usually don’t ascribe higher thought to ants, but you have to admit they create amazing societies that are complex, industrious, and utterly fascinating except when they get too close to your house, in which case eh, wipe ‘em out.
KILLS THE QUEEN AND THE ENTIRE COLONY the box said - well, that just about covers it, no? WOUNDS THE QUEEN AND MAKES THE COLONY LISTLESS AND MOROSEwouldn’t be the same. I might but something that said PERSUADES THE COLONY TO MOVE DOWN THE BLOCK, though, because the idea of the entire ant colony, their whole civilization, just dead down under the dirt, is a bit sad.
But that’s if you anthropomorphize them, and see them as a self-aware system like something in a kid’s cartoon, where ants have names and personalities. The reality is horrifying - a society without consciousness, just tiny soulless machines performing tasks preordained by their DNA, a hideous seething mass of limbs and antennae.
So no, they probably don’t have a theology. But if they did, I’m pretty sure I’m the Devil. Or God.
An enormous ant colony resides in my backyard. I’ve no idea how big, but wouldn’t be surprised if they workers who mill around the main opening have commuted from Woodbury. It’s been there for years, too, and I know this because of the low-voltage landscape lighting. Perhaps a decade ago I sunk a 50-watt flood in the flower bed. A few months later it seemed to have gone out, so I unscrewed the front to examine the bulb.
Oh, the bulb was fine. Its light had been dimmed by the charred bodies of several hundred ants.
This was as disgusting as you can imagine, but my reaction was immediately overridden by the sight of many, many ants streaming up my hand. Not biting ants, just the less-dreaded tickling ants. I brushed them off, replaced the glass on the light, and stuck it back in the dirt.
I repeated this many times over the years, because I tended to forget I had an Ant Incinerating light until it was time to change the bulb for real, or shake out the corpses.
But what if this had significance for them? Think about it: the world is cold and dark, and then in the spring the Holy Light ignites, and there is light and warmth.
Do they believe that the Holy Light brings the spring, or that spring activates the Holy Light? Over the countless generations - you know, three or four years - this becomes a sign of their patron deity, and because thousands have sacrificed themselves in the light it becomes imperative to continue the ritual, because they have come to associate the sacrifice with the Light. They repay and honor the light by streaming towards it, and perishing, thus assuring the rest of the colony that the Light Shall Shine.
Unbeknownst to them, technology changes. Of course it would be unbeknownst to them; they have no concept of Halogen lights vs. LEDs, just as we have no idea how an advanced civilization would use Dark Light to navigate the Wormhole Substructure of the universe. Actually, no - at least I can use those words and they kinda sorta mean something. Changing from Halogen to LED implies a level of technology the ant cannot begin to describe. But they knew what the result was:
The Light was Still Bright.
The Light was different.
The Light was . . . cooler.
This meant that ants who went to The Light for sacrifice . . . came back.
What would that do to their theology? There would be confusion, but if they had priests intent on maintaining the role of The Light in their society, they would come up with an explanation that not only reassured the faithful, but confirmed the role of The Light and the wisdom of those who interpreted it. There would have been a Doomsday Cult that refused to accept the changes; there would have been hip young preacher ants with beards and guitars who now taught about The Light as an instrument of love, not sacrifice.
When I had to change a bulb the other day I noticed there were still some dead ants glued to the side, as if some zealots had vowed to die in the old ways, and managed to get sufficiently seared to adhere to the side of the bulb. I also noticed that the hostas had grown so much they permanently obscured the light, and it no longer hit the tree.
So I disconnected it and placed it about five feet to the south.
I have no idea how they will interpret that one. Was the light displeased with them? Was it showing the way to another place? Should the main entrance of the colony be moved? If they are spurred to explore the surface to follow the New Light, they may discover there are 25 other lights in the yard, with different luminous properties. Now they have to move from Monotheism to Polytheism, which is a recipe for societal dissolution, and there will be a minority that advances a radical theory: the Lights are natural phenomenon, or placed by an unseen intelligence whose existence can be inferred, and can be understood with study.
Those are the ants that explore. The pioneers will go beyond the fence, and perhaps bring back news of an entirely different set of lights, arrayed in a line, on the other side of the fence. A party of explorers that takes a different direction will discover three lights whose brightness outshines anything they had seen before. (These are the ones that point up into the trees and illuminate the front of the house.) In the almost unimaginable distances above, more glowing objects - the streetlights.
Nothing is certain, and for some that is terrifying, and for some it is exhilarating: to finally realize that you don’t know, but you are on the path to knowing something.
So was I the Devil for taking away the light in the first place, or a good god for opening their eyes? Even with their knowledge of the existence of all these lights, they still don’t comprehend me, or my ability to kill them if I decide to do so.
JUST SAYING IT’S SOMETHING OF A METAPHOR
As you may have realized by now, 2019 is all about the classic Sherlocks. What happens this time?
Oh, that’s super distinct. Well, right away we’re in Jolly Olde:
They have bitter over there! We soon learn, thanks to the talkative pub owner who’d been charged with exposition, that there’s a castle near the pub called Musgrave Manor, and that’s where the pub’s crow came from. The crow has a taste for blood, and he got it from the Musgraves! Cruel, the Musgraves were. Did I mention they’re named Musgrave? Aye, Musgraves they are.
We meet Mr. Musgrave’s sister:
Hillary Brooke's image as the epitome of glacial, regal, upper-class British gentility is muted somewhat by the fact that she was born Beatrice Peterson to a middle-class American family in Long Island, NY
And we meet the other members of the family, which leads us to believe this will be a drawing-room piece, even though there’s lots of talk about ghosts. Say, guess who’s staying at the house?
So google those Musgraves. Yes, it’s one of the canonical stories The 1943 film Sherlock Holmes Faces Death, part of the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce series of films, loosely adapted the story, though the ritual was completely re-written to represent a chess game played on the floor of the Musgrave mansion. Also the treasure is a land grant that was given to the Musgraves by Henry VIII instead of the lost crown of Charles I.
It’s . . . okay. It has some nice visuals.
And there is indeed the Facing of Death:
Other than that - well, you can see why Rathbone might have tired of these. I have the feeling I'm short-shrifting it, but maybe not.
But! It does have . . . the wind-up speech.
That'll do for today; enjoy some matchbooks, and we'll see you around.