I find the natural world fascinating, full of absurdly beautiful creatures, so rewarding to a patient observer. Many years ago we lived in an apartment that had its share of domestic wildlife – squirrels and raccoons lived in the attic, mice in the walls. Our kitchen was home to black ants. I tried to deter them in unsuccessful, non-toxic ways and would sweep them away or step on them when I saw them. One day I was cleaning up our round kitchen table and saw a black ant perched near the edge. I had raised my hand to sweep it off when I realized that the ant was cleaning its face and antennae just like my cats. It was stroking its antennae like a minature black panther. This kinship with my beloved cats was astonishing to me, and I sat on a chair and watched the ant for at least five minutes. Black, with a not-quite-glossy sheen, delicate legs and antennae, the ant was gorgeous. In the days after, I found myself watching the ants trundle around the countertops, gently shooing them out of the way, lifting them out of places I didn’t want them. If they fell in the sink when I was doing the dishes I would fish them out and set them curled up on the counter; after a time, in which I was sure they were dead, they would stretch out and shake off the water, and wander off. I haven’t been able to hurt an ant since.
This memory came back after I saw this book trailer for Step Gently Out, a poem about paying attention to the world. It feels like a message we need to hear over and over again. Written by Helen Frost, with photos by Rick Leider, it reminds of all the wonders that exist in our backyards and urban spaces. The creatures of this earth are marvellous.