A reader writes … By Scott Fullerton

August 10, 2001

I just saw the coolest thing.

But first I must backtrack. I'm out in my front yard trimming some trees and raking stuff up and I see this cockroach. Now, I've got this elevated island of dirt supported by sectioned-off telephone pole pylons, and there are these cactus-type stunted Joshua Tree-looking things, a grapefruit tree and this thorny tree with these squiggly seed pods that constantly drop off, littering the place, and I've been told what they're called but I always forget.

Anybody who knows me will say, "Yeah, duh, Fullerton," but anyway I've got this grass rake and I see this roach, big dude, as they all are, and I instinctively thwack him and he lies there, ugh, smacked against this tree trunk, two feet from the ground.

Ten minutes later I'm back at the same spot bagging' some leaves and I glance at this commotion out of the corner of my eye. It's the roach and he's moving. Not in a natural way, mind you, and it's almost imperceptible but there it is: he's longways, head pointed north, bottom down, and his butt end is swinging, slowly, back and forth, to and fro.


I look closer. There's a battalion of ants all over this guy, running all over, in, under and around him. They're moving Mister Roach, who shows no signs of life. He's had it, he's done gave up and these ants are most definitely excited about it. You can almost hear ‘em: "Steak tonight, and all this week!" and "Get down widdit, bwah, lift!" and the inevitable "Gung ho, Marines!"

So, dig, I'm fascinated, it's my own Discovery Channel flick, an exclusive, I'm peepin' this out at close range, personally. The ants have got this guy swinging back and forth as mentioned but the roach won't let go because he's squished, stuck to the tree, somewhere between his head and his thorax (cool word, eh? You don't get to use that word every day unless you're a thorax specialist or something). At any rate, he's, like, greased.

I'm really checking this out by now, locked on, and I'm totally hoping nothing is crawling up my leg to get me (earlier I saw scads of roaches in the area; they always seem so frantic and desperate, just like me when I see them — ick). I'm so amped by now, I've got my Walkman cranked up to the max and I'm timing this whole episode through the length of the tunes, Bill Nelson, King Crimson, Pell Mell, Talking Heads ("Once in a Lifetime," how's that for irony?). The ant dudes got it going, from 9 o'clock to 3 o'clock and back again, and again and again.

They were, honestly, moving as fast as the second hand on a watch. It was too much. And while some of the ants were directly involved with the pushing and shoving, I observed others on the periphery, clipboards in hand, and still others commuting along the nearby trail/ant freeway, seemingly oblivious, not even a Lookie Lou among them.

It began to get tedious. I focus in tighter, looking for specialists with blowtorches, crowbars, possibly even shape charges with which to blow their quarry from this radical incline. After no less than 20 minutes, and well into David Bowie's "Dead Man Walking" (ditto irony), it happened; the roach unstuck and the whole shooting match fell to the ground. Yeow!

Not to worry. Having spent a tour with an engineer unit, I understood perfectly. It was too weird, yet it made … perfect sense. It was Mother Nature hard at work. I watch them drag the carcass 15 inches from the base of the tree in less than five minutes before they disappear into a leaf-covered crevasse, one side of which is a pylon. I'm thinking they've got the cooks alerted and the leftovers will be headed for the reefer units they no doubt have stashed deep into the recesses of my property. Gotta save the best cuts for the queen. It's always about the women.

And there it is. My own nature film, just like the ones they used to show in grade school (remember Disney's "Beaver Valley"?). In my own front yard, no less. In El Centro. Who said there's no life out here?

SCOTT FULLERTON is a teacher and coach at Southwest High School in El Centro.

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