This spring, the ants go marching across our kitchen floor, one by one. They are pesky, smart little guys that appear seemingly out of nowhere. The little scouts wander around, looking for something tasty. So far, the main target for these loners has been the cat food dishes.
These ants leave no trace of where they come from. There is never a line or trail of marching ants to follow, just one or two scattered here and there. Ant traps placed around the perimeter of the house have had no effect on their presence.
In past years, an occasional spritz from a bottle filled with non-toxic, all-purpose cleaner has been sufficient to keep the ants at bay. This year, however, has been different, due to late season rainstorms. While the rain has been welcome to drought-affected California, the ants are not.
In the children’s song, “the ants go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah! The little one stops to suck his thumb, and the rest go marching down, to the ground, to get out, of the rain, boom boom boom…” Our ants, however, seem to have found a cozier, drier, yet unknown place to camp out. They are not in the ground, where they belong, but rather, somewhere within our house.
Keeping ants under control can be tricky. While there are remedies, both toxic and non-toxic, the goal is to prevent them from spreading the word and bringing their buddies along next time.
Ants are not the only type of type of home invader one might experience. Mice often made their appearance when I was growing up near the then undeveloped hills of the East Bay. Our family included dogs and cats, so mice never became too comfortable inside our home.
Today, I doubt that either of our big-eyed, fluffy cats would know what to do with a mouse. Fortunately, the mere scent of a cat seems to deter the mice, as not one has ever appeared in our house. While more than one catnip-stuffed mouse has met its demise under our kitties’ watch, they surely would be baffled by the real thing.
Years ago, our previous cat Boris brought home a gift one evening, as cats are known to do. He stopped at our doorstep with a sleek, live, shiny black rat in his mouth. I shrieked and, of course, he dropped it. The rat made a run for it, straight into the house.
As the chase ensued, me in hot pursuit with broom in hand, trying to steer him back outside, the rat ran all over the house. Up the draperies he went, then under the stove. Finally, he squeezed himself under the couch, where he could no longer be reached. Boris, in the meantime, had disappeared. This rat chasing business had nothing to do with him.
Later that night, we left the front door open, closed the door to the hallway leading to the bedrooms, and went to bed. By morning, the rat had disappeared.
The memory of that rat still lingers with me. In hindsight, something about it seemed not quite right. He certainly was no ordinary brown sewer or roof rat. In fact, he was quite beautiful, though I certainly am no judge of rats. He clearly was as scared of us as I was of him. Could he have been an escaped or discarded pet, easy prey for a cat hoping to bring home a gift? I hope he found a safe harbor, sheltered from predators.
My sister-in-law Mary, who lived in McLean, VA at the time, also had an experience with an intruding creature. With her husband and three aging cats, she lived in a house that was surrounded by trees and acres of open space. It was a home with a lovely view from the kitchen and family room, which opened out onto a spacious, third-floor deck.
One year, while chatting with her in said family room, a little creature popped up behind me and ran across the back of the sofa. It was a chipmunk that, astonishingly, had taken up residence in the house. It lived, apparently, in the sofa, and came out at night to feast on cat food.
Why, I wondered, did those cats not dispatch with the chipmunk? Mary’s theory was that, since the chipmunk had become another indoor resident, the cats accepted it as just another pet. And cats, both domestic and wild, are known to share their food with other animals, after they have eaten their fill.
The ants go marching one by one across the kitchen floor. In the meantime, the cats eat their dinner in bowls placed in a tray filled with water (thanks, Nancy, for that great suggestion!), protected from the marauding ants.
The sun is shining, the soil is drying, and the air is crisp and cool. In other words, spring is here. Is it too much to hope that they will go back to wherever they came from?