Plan - Engineer Ants
were known to be a dependent people and so it was no surprise
that when they came to see Glooscap they arrived as a group. At
first, to someone who didn't know them, it would have seemed like
an invasion, but it was merely the base amount needed to provide
quorum in any ant gathering. Alone they were liable to be silly
and unpredictable, and had been seen diving into drinks just for
a joke. In small groups they could become bullying and dangerous,
but in the large packs that gave them the comfort of conformity,
they relaxed into the mechanical precision that almost anyone
would recognize as ant form.
that came to see Glooscap was unusual in that it represented two
different clans of ants, for they were famous for their intolerance.
That was the first sign that this was to be a special meeting.
Even the crow who loved eating them limited himself to a few stragglers
that were better off not in the gene pool anyway, he had decided.
He only pecked at those who diverged from the main pack.
The ant conference
with Glooscap was brief, for ants were nothing if not efficient,
and before long they were leading Glooscap to the growing pile
of leaf litter many had noticed at the rear of the camp. The deer
momentarily felt a qualm about where she had chosen to relieve
herself, but then reasoned that it wasn't her fault and who could
really tell where the ants were anyway. They could be anywhere.
Many had seen
the steady stream of ants carrying mouldy leaves and sticks, which
although tiny were a hundred times the ant's size, but few had
made anything of it. Ants were cryptic animals and although they
may have a highly intricate plan, it was often obscure to others.
As well, questioning individual ants, which the crow always claimed
to be doing, was a fruitless enterprise. An ant alone knew as
much about the overall work as the hunter from the city knew about
where he lived. The bear had questioned many hunters and although
they immediately began to stutter meaningless platitudes and apologies,
not a single one seemed to know anything about the purpose of
cities, or the eventual plan. The bear wanted to know if the cities
were going to spread forever, or whether there was a planned limit.
Often he would scratch the hunters in frustration at their stupidity
when they could not answer these simple questions.
The ants had
in fact been uncovering an anthill, which until this point they
had kept carefully hidden. This was their grand display. Here
they had worked for four days, which was many years in the time
of others. Glooscap and his followers halted in the tiny space
between the white pine and the struggling fir, just where the
alders from the swamp could find no purchase in the sandy soil,
and they were amazed at what the ants had accomplished. Everyone
knew ants were industrious, and most knew they were imitative,
but the full extent of what they could achieve given their organizational
aptitude hadn't really occurred to anyone. If Glooscap knew differently
he did not betray it. He appeared to be as surprised as anyone,
if running his hands through his hair was any indication.
The ants had
entirely replicated, down to the smallest detail, Glooscap's camp.
The only missing features were the hunched forms of the animals
and Glooscap himself, although it was obvious where they were
meant to be placed. Glooscap's shelter, and the cedar under which
it sat, was mimicked in its tiny way, and when the muskrat leaned
in closer to look, she gasped that even the wood in the miniscule
fire had been cut and placed in exactly the same way as its larger
counterpart in the clearing behind them. "I placed that log myself,"
she said in wonderment. The larger carpenter ants explained that
they had smoothed the forest floor and built the more massive
superstructures. The use of the word massive struck many as funny,
but they politely kept it to themselves, although the snake, disrespectfully,
had a brief coughing fit. The smaller red ants were the artists
and detail workers; they ensured that every aspect was identical
to its much larger original.
of awe was broken by the crow's irreverence, finally, as it had
been so many times before. The crow hopped forward, in that casual
way that he had, and pecked at the minute trees placed around
the clearing. "This might be my only chance to eat a bear," he
said as he leaned forward. He found himself picked up and placed
on Glooscap's shoulder, which was normally intended to be an honour.
At first few
could see the purpose of the ants' work, but most were content
to let Glooscap work out the exact details. The rest of the afternoon
was spent looking over the shoulder of one of Saul's cousins who'd
brought his laptop into the bush. He looked up the ant colonies
of northern Spain to southern Italy, where 6000 kilometres of
cooperative ants were engaged in construction mega projects. Likewise,
Melbourne Australia was in the papers bemoaning a new ant super
colony. How any of this related to their own imitative ants few
could say, but when a few weeks later the ants visited again,
it became clearer.
The ants had
been busy for a few weeks outside of New Bedford, a Halifax suburb
and when they climbed onto Glooscap's lap for the sake of convenience
rather than seeking favour they were almost dizzying in their
excitement. Even the most stolid ant of them, an older marcher
who nothing fazed, was perturbed to the point of distraction.
One old timer fell from Glooscap's lap three times before he disappeared
into the crow's quick bill. Such was the attention on the ants'
message that no one noticed, and the crow would have undertaken
a wholesale slaughter if he hadn't seen a warning look from Glooscap
The ants had,
they claimed, replicated Halifax. Everyone trouped off to look,
although for some it was a considerable journey. The worm was
carried by the mole, although the robin, crouched on the deer's
back, had volunteered. In this way all managed the speed of Glooscap
who covered the kilometres to northern Halifax quickly in his
excitement. The metropolis that spread before them had little
meaning to most, but the eagle could see the breadth of the ant
achievement. The bird's eye view that the tiny town gave was exclaimed
over by the gull and the pigeon, for they had decorated many of
the public buildings with their feces. Now that they saw it before
them in miniature, they saw towers and churches they had ignored.
The pigeon in particular found the site too stirring and she flew
away into the trees for a few moments, lest she despoil what the
ants had obviously put a lot of work into. The gull restrained
himself, and like the others who knew Halifax, marvelled at the
went towards home they were pensive, and the mole, with her burden
of worm, almost slipped off the back of the deer. She claimed
she was tired from a long day and the unaccustomed trip, but most
recognized she felt as they did, slightly overwhelmed at what
the ants could put together, and slightly uncertain about where
it would all end.
optimistic, and true to his suspicion, the amazing sight was picked
up by the Halifax Chronicle Herald and then the tabloids,
thus reversing the typical trend. "Ants build Halifax in the Suburbs,"
proclaimed the headlines, and paper sales soared to new heights
as every citizen rushed to read the story. Illiterate politicians
had the story read to them, and even catholic priests had it translated
to Latin so that they might understand it more clearly. Thanks
to the White Girl, every toilet stall was decorated with the story,
glued in auspicious and difficult to ignore spots, and downtown
businesses were starting to use the tiny Halifax in their advertising.
"Clothes appropriate in both Halifaxes," proclaimed one ad, while
a brewery said that their beer was better than the tiny drafts
of their competitor.
sources were the first to note the new tourist site, and by both
supporting and declaiming the importance of the discovery, his
experts generated huge interest in the ant colony. People who
were prone to killing ants in their homes, claimed Saul's panel
of experts, were now hesitating and laws were being passed in
faraway Papua New Guinea that prevented the dismantling of any
insect structure. It booted nothing that Saul's claims were a
fabrication, for the protests of the Papua New Guinea government
in the United Nations were overlooked. Saul had picked his country
well. True to his suspicion, it was a country many expected to
be unusual, and Saul's claim was so bizarre that it captured the
public imagination far more than Papua New Guinea's detraction.
The rush to
New Bedford meant that the freeway expansion, planned for forty
years hence, had to be finished immediately; the normally lax
construction workers leaning away their shifts on their shovels
found themselves being unfavourably compared to ants. One foreman
said he would rather hire ants and soon that refrain was repeated
along the construction site, and quoted in the news. This made
him feel that he was a celebrity so he left his secure government
job to pound the boards of Halifax's downtown Neptune Theatre
to unfavourable reviews.
of traffic increased into New Bedford until traffic crawled to
a stop, and tollbooths were set up to make money from the flow.
Such was the excitement over "Seeing Halifax from the Air," as
one ad called it, or "Walk Across Town in Moments," as another
said, that the tolls did not slow traffic at all. The municipality
of New Bedford, which had finally seen a way to rationalize its
existence, charged outrageous fees for a view of the marvel, but
the crowds continued to come. Americans flooded across the borders,
going back to Boston and Los Angeles with secretive grins on their
faces and ants in their pockets.
With the invasion,
the fees went up accordingly, until a typical Halifax tourist
could not afford the several thousand the day's excursion demanded.
Gas along the ant-town corridor, as it came to be called, was
tripled, and the tolls were over two hundred. The extra charges
were masked by a new ant currency, but the token economy fooled
no one. The smaller municipalities, along the easily ignored back
roads, set up their own tolls, benefiting for once from their
so-called scenic routes. The entrance fees to glimpse this smaller
Halifax were themselves astronomical and even sight of the town
from a distance of twenty metres was four hundred dollars. To
get to the site the resolute tourist needed to fight through the
crowded stalls and venues that had sprung up. They inevitably
arrived broke and worn out at their destination, having been cajoled,
pinched, and robbed along the way. Fewer and fewer locals went
to see tiny Halifax, and after they had been, they began to complain,
as they always do, about the increased traffic and noise.
Such was the
excitement that few realized that there was no need to see a tiny
Halifax, since it was entirely replicated in the city itself.
Although the original was more suited for human visitors than
the ants' replica, it now lay as silent as a ghost town. Ants
had moved into most of the buildings in the rich areas near the
university and enrolled in courses that without their presence
would have been cancelled. The professors, finding themselves
in the unique position of instructing insects, were happy that
their new charges were diligent and hardworking. Although a few
of the rowdy black ants might slip away for a pint, most spent
hours studying. The university library opened one floor to tiny
carrels, and businesses began to carry sugar water.
seeing their human tenants fleeing to the now busy suburbs, sensed
an opportunity, and so they let apartments to as many as a million
ants, charging each one forty dollars. Storage rooms were hastily
called apartments and, as if the Olympics or World Expo were in
town, even closets were being rented as rooms. The avaricious
landlords were so excited by the windfall that they never noticed
that the ants paid their rent by moving cash in storage rooms
to the front of the apartment where they handed it to their eager
landlord. They were thus duplicating, in miniature of course,
the capitalist system. Money was continually in circulation, they
had learned in their economics courses, and they took the dictate
The ants did
much better in engineering and the hard sciences, although a few
took up the arts and enrolled in the Nova Scotia College of Art
and Design. They constructed masterpieces that brought fame to
the school and the associated higher tuition fees, until only
the wealthiest humans could attend.
tourist season was at its peak when the ants changed their construction
techniques, it was a few weeks before anyone noticed. The tiny
Halifax, seen as it was by so many strangers who knew nothing
of the original, and by ticket-takers intent on their income,
didn't have the most astute audience. It was an engineer from
Boston's big dig, on an imposed holiday after several people had
been killed in one of the tunnels, who noticed the, at first rather
subtle changes. His speciality was tunnelling, and he had often
visited Halifax, so when the ants began to connect downtown buildings
by tunnels he was intrigued. They were changing the plan of Halifax.
This project was no longer about mere imitation, and to the horror
of the city designers and even some of the spectators, the ants
slowly began to improve the city's planning.
reaction was outrage, and vandals from city departments crept
into the site and tried to destroy the entire city, just by jumping
a few times in their boots. But forewarned by some of the art
college ants, new security measures were in effect. Any ant could
come and go as they pleased, even with an attendant human, but
any city official was at first scrutinized and then humiliatingly
searched, until they left in pain and embarrassment.
municipal officials were mostly incarcerated and some of their
posts had been filled by more dependable ants, the media began
to praise the ants as master engineers. Like claims made about
the beaver for centuries-that a beaver could build a biodegradable
dam that could withstand the strongest spring flood-people began
to realize they could learn from ants. "We have mastered the burdock,"
one of the most vocal spokesmen said, even while tearing open
his velcro-fastened shirt and showing off the patches of manly
hair pasted to his chest. "We have traveled to the far jungles
of Brazil and Uganda where we have patented the medical knowledge
of the locals. We are sitting on a gold mine."
of bio-piracy into the discussion alerted the lamprey, who was
making up for his lack of legal knowledge by many late nights
studying at the Misty Moon, a well-known downtown bar. He met
with his fellow justices and they began to work through legislation
that soon had the legal world sitting up to take notice. It was
the first of its type. Unbeknownst to the general public, laws
began to be passed that limited imitation by humans, although
neatly avoiding mentioning any other forms of copying. The butterfly
patterns could no longer appear on shirts and hats, and the frog's
coat was forever protected from duplication in children's toys.
The stores were either emptied of their imitative wares, or money
was demanded by a trust the ants had set up for legal counsel.
The producers of the teddy bear were made to pay thousands, and
even the World Wildlife Fund was told to pay a nominal fee or
remove the panda from its logo.
responded by backing the legislation, and accordingly, helped
by the White Girl's firm prodding, paid for their presentation
of seal pups and whales. Disney almost lost their corporate place
in the sun, and would be many years recovering the billions demanded
by Maritime law, and the owners of the Toronto Blue Jays took
on a lengthy court battle which found them facing an outraged
blue jay. All films and shows featuring unpaid animal actors had
to pay huge licensing fees and reruns of Lassie and Benji
the Wonder Dog were cancelled, since subscribers could not
afford the extra charges for such suddenly ostracized shows. Squirrel
Park, Saskatchewan and Rat River, Northwest Territories scrambled
to change their names in order to avoid what seemed to be inevitable
court cases. Even the popular shoe company, Hush Puppies, found
themselves under scrutiny, and the Szechwan dish, Ants Climbing
a Tree, was banned outright.
that these laws had on engineers was profound. Legislation was
applied in such a way that it prevented human engineers from using
the ants' ideas. These constraints were put in place even while
city planners and urban engineers were rushing from all over the
world, displacing the desultory tourists who had drifted away
now that Halifax didn't look like Halifax.
wanted to use the ants' ideas, and they watched avidly as ants
prevented traffic in their tiny downtown, built postage stamp-sized
parking lots in the outskirts, and encouraged commuters to use
public buses by high tolls and accessibility. Likewise, skyscrapers
were gradually trimmed down and huge boulevards, now unnecessary,
were replaced with parks and walkways. The harbour front was cleared
up and ants sat there on Saturday afternoons ostensibly fishing,
although even plankton was too small for their microscopic hooks.
most sweeping changes, although few saw the implications at the
time, were those that affected who lived in the city. Human-centred
housing was replaced by anthills and deer parks, and raccoons
flourished in the eaves of human houses which were expressly built
for that purpose. Public buildings were stripped of preventative
measures meant to keep away birds and skateboarders, and the spikes
were replaced with ramps and perches. Public money was set aside
for the clearing of guano and candy wrappers that the birds and
the skateboarders inadvertently left behind, and panhandlers were
encouraged to come back into the city. Soon the pigeons and their
imitative cousins human panhandlers were seen around the downtown
vying for their similar treats, change and thrown grain.
the lamprey's new laws, the engineers could only watch as true
city planning evolved before their eyes. Some carried the ideas
back home and implemented them, only to be caught up in months
of legal battles. The humiliating fines they had to pay were enough
to make others reconsider their impulse to steal from animals,
and soon they were paying copyright fees just to build a walkway
or an ant-designed bridge. Cities were being redesigned over the
entire world along ant blueprints and ants were making even more
elaborate plans. They stalked along the blueprint paper, to all
appearances aimlessnessly, even while they laid down a chemical
trace of blue ink for humans to follow. They redesigned Tokyo
and Paris, Cairo and Calcutta, although they left London and Rome
to fester. Some claimed that was because those two cities had
an ancient oppressive history, but the ants were silent on the
had trailed off to a trickle, and many of the ants had moved to
the city where they were reworking Halifax into a vital downtown
and working port, Halifax's tiny duplicate was demolished. This
left a flood of humans in the suburbs, eager to move back to town
now that they'd been abandoned by the wealthy tourists. Unfortunately
for the humans, housing was at a premium and many of them had
to be put on ant waiting lists where they anxiously squandered
their savings for several months until they were allowed to move
into ant-designed low income housing.
what the ants did with all of their income, but after some months,
when real-estate prices soared all over the Maritimes, a few began
to suspect. Even the most decrepit farm was purchased by secret
buyers through representatives, and while the humans marched happily
away to settle in an overcrowded Vancouver, ecstatic at the fortune
they had gotten from their worthless land, those left behind began
to grumble. Die hard farmers and settled old money in the cities
and towns, were at first annoyed and then angry that prices had
soared so drastically. They blamed it on the excitement over the
ant Halifax colony, but when that colony was demolished to make
way for a park, they paused to reconsider.
land around them was not filled with tenants, as a rich human
would do if they were to buy it, and instead the land, to all
appearances, lay fallow. The Moose was seen on the outskirts of
marshes were he had not been sighted for years and the partridge
was constantly ducking across the main roads from one fallow field
to another. Roadways had been demolished and were never replaced,
the humans complained. They never noticed that the trails and
pathways that paralleled the roads could be used for walking and
transport of goods, as long as your mode of transport was your
back or, as humans were prone to using, someone else's.
changes had made much of the human complaints impossible or at
least negligible. The lamprey had pushed through legislation,
with the advocacy among of white environmental groups with the
White Girl at their head, which prevented public land from falling
into private hands. Likewise, parks were declared a trust in perpetuity;
it became much easier to make a park and impossible to dismantle
one. Government officials found their greedy hands tied. When
they were approached by corporations with bribes in hand petty
bureaucrats could only complain that they had no power to make
Sable Island a temporary oil platform rather than a preserve of
a unique ecosystem of wild horses. The corporations were livid
and went to court to force the government, which had traditionally
been so compliant, to cave to their demands, but when they found
themselves regarded by the lamprey's cold legalistic eye, they
retreated in fear.
The rest of
the world was watching the Maritimes continually now that it was
more than just a place for unique species. Now Halifax was exporting
city planning workshops and internet courses, where ants on tiny
keyboards typed out messages and graded the papers of thousands
of foreign students. The world was partially in fear. Those with
money and influence saw the ants on the wall, although the dispossessed
throughout the world were exhilarated. These greedy humans had
overlooked a single most important fact, however. The revolution
sweeping the Maritimes was not merely a revolution for the downtrodden
urban dweller, but rather it was meant to ensure all beings had
a place and future. This meant that if these policies were to
be adopted elsewhere, some would have to move aside. Each country's
dominant groups would need to acknowledge the place of others,
and both of those human groups would have to make space for the
other beings by whom they were surrounded. The Maritimes, although
few realized it at the time, was exporting some of the most radical
revisioning of humanity on the planet, and the outcome of that
change to the archaic ways of being could not be foreseen.
glade in the forest, Glooscap and his supporters were more than
a little surprised by the far-reaching effects of the ants' simple
imitation of Halifax. Even the crow, usually loath to support
another's enterprise if it didn't involve personal gain, was loud
in his praise. It was still dangerous for an ant to be near his
complimentary beak, but his change in attitude exemplified a whole-hearted
optimism that had come over Glooscap's project. Everyone had been
able to see the progress of his plan, but until now few could
see how easy it could be once it had been set in motion.