Domestic Life

Note: I no longer have a worm bin. I gave it away to a very nice fellow who lives in an intentional community. However, I now have many more snails. -- May 8, 2018

Two people live in my house, and for the most part, that’s all that’s important to anyone. Sometimes the fish tank becomes interesting, so then it’s two people, a dozen tetras, and a snail. Most of the time, nobody wants to know about the snail.

Fewer people want to know about the underwater plants, the algae and the cyanobacteria.

The worm bin gets politely overlooked. I literally cannot tell you how many worms live in my house, though I would guess that it’s somewhere around a thousand. That pales in comparison to the number of yeast cells that have blinked in and out of existence in the past two weeks, inside the carboy of beer that’s brewing in the closet nearby. Billions, all working for me. It’s a kind of agriculture in which I have a few little ecosystems inside my house.

To a sequoia, the lifespan of a person probably looks a lot like the lifespan of a yeast cell does to me.

People usually admire the houseplants and the garden, some dozens of organisms dedicated to pushing up through dirt and stretching toward the sun. There’s a sword fern that I’m particularly delighted about at the moment.

But those are only the tiny lives that we have invited to share our home with us. There are others that just show up, usually around this time of year. The fruit flies, the spiders, and the ants.

I love the spiders. They are always welcome here, with their spectacular artwork and shy, yet looming presence. Fall is great for going out onto my porch in the morning and finding a huge shimmering web, with a spider in the middle the size of a quarter. The spiders seem to be doing a fine job of keeping the fruit fly population in check, although I’ve had to make a fruit fly trap to get the last few of them out of the kitchen.

Of the uninvited lodgers, I’m the most sad and vexed about the ants. They find any tiny crack in the wall or the floor to pour in and there they are, covering the jar of honey that we let drip a little in the cupboard, like bargain hounds at a Black Friday sale. There’s something about their purposefulness and teamwork that makes me really like the ants, but we set poison out for them, lest they overrun the kitchen. The poison sits in little puddles right outside the hole where they come into our house, and they gather around that, shoulder to shoulder. They take what looks like food to them back to their nest, and think that they are feeding their cohort, but it’ll actually make all of them starve to death.

I see the occasional ant up on the third floor of the house, and I wonder how it got up there and what it thinks it might find. It’s off the pheromone trail left by its comrades, far from home, probably destined to wander until it dies. Like a NASA rover, or a lost explorer. I know that the individual ants themselves are more like drones or cells in my body- it’s the whole colony that’s more like an individual animal, but that’s somehow just a different kind of sad.

The fruit flies don’t evoke anywhere near the same kind of response in me, and I can only guess that it’s because I can’t relate to them in the same way. They seem much less intelligent and aware of their actions to me, though there’s no way to know whether that’s true. That’s simply how empathy works, though.