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Northern Days Gone By: The giant anthill

As I walked through the forest with my father, we encountered a large column-shaped mound standing by itself, taller than me. As we got closer we discovered it was an anthill. We viewed it from several different perspectives and could see ants scurrying about on it, carrying bits of sand ever upward. Even my father was astounded, for he had never seen anything like it.

It was then I walked closer to it and gave it a kick. My father stopped me immediately. “Don’t do that,” he admonished. “You have no idea of the purpose of this anthill or how many years it took the ants to build it. It could be that this anthill is essential for the life of these woods.”

I took a closer look, and it struck me that this anthill was ancient. And my father was right in stopping me, since neither of us knew what purpose this anthill served in the woods. He pointed out that we did not know its function. It might be essential in the lives of some birds or some trees. He then said, “Just because we do not know its purpose or function does not mean that it has no purpose.”

As I matured over the years I look back at the wisdom of my father, for he shared his views of life with me on many occasions. When he said I should not kick the anthill it was not a nasty comment but a loving correction. The word “no” may serve as a loving affirmation even when we are too ignorant or arrogant to appreciate it.

As we journeyed that day and along with many other days, my father exhibited a deep respect for all life, along with respect to his fellow humans. As we walked in the woods and along streams he would from time to time point out some details in nature that I may have overlooked. He pointed out an old house, abandoned in the woods, made of logs, each shaped by an adz. He explained what an adz was and pointed out that these houses were built by early Finnish and Swedish immigrants to the area. No nails held these houses together. We came across empty barns with wooden stanchions to hold cows still when being milked. Again these barns were of logs with not a single nail in them.

He pointed out the work of porcupines that had gnawed on some deer antlers, leaving tooth marks on the antlers. He showed me the work of beavers, turning a creek into a trout pond. We saw bear sign and deer and moose tracks, even an occasional wolf track. Every time he always indicated that we must take care to leave the woods at peace, for like that anthill, it is not for us to indicate the worthiness of any part of creation. And the same way with humans. Treat everyone with the respect and kindness we all deserve. It is not our call to be the judge and jury of anything. If you had a father or someone in that role in your life like my father, then you have much to be thankful for.

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