Occasional clearings in the tall redwoods along the ridge trail provided glimpses of the Valley below. The path through the woods paralleled Skyline Boulevard where it runs along the ridge in the Santa Cruz Mountains that separates Santa Clara County from Santa Cruz County. Commuters and bicycles whizzed along Skyline’s concrete ribbon about a city block or two from the path. Although noise of civilization intruded on the silence of the forest, no visible evidence of the thoroughfare could be seen through the impenetrable undergrowth. On the other side of the path, breaks in the trees revealed the Santa Clara Valley providing a clear reminder of the closeness of the hustle and bustle I live with daily–a stark contrast to the stillness and peace of the forest.
Down there cars crawled along freeways like ants on a mission. Tall buildings grouped together to add an aerial dimension to the grid on which houses and roads were laid out. The cars scurried back and forth to centers of commerce, fanning out in all directions, some going farther than others. At last at the fringe where the grid met a mountain or gave way to hills only a few stray cars ventured forth.
I wandered off the path a few feet in a a place where the tall trees had shaded out enough of the undergrowth to clear the forest floor. A mound lay ahead between me and the road. A gentle swelling of the earth almost a yard high at the center seemed unusual in the otherwise flat forest floor. I approached and started seeing movement. The mound was alive. Like a mirror image of the valley below, ants–hundreds of thousands of ants–were scurrying around over and into this mound. More than ten feet across, this was a metropolis that rivaled any I knew.
In the center there were ants everywhere, disappearing into tunnels and surfacing up from the earth. I wondered how may more there were down below. Did some of them always stay down there? What do ants use for girders and struts to keep the weight of this earthen construction from collapsing and crushing them? And how do they feed such a population concentrated in such a small space?
I stood, a respectful distance away. A few ants, hundreds really, were out beyond the mound searching the forest floor. They darted here and there, traveling out beyond where I stood. Was it their job to go out as far as they had to, to bring home provender to the city dwellers/ Were they considered the lucky ones by the others because they got to see the world? Were these ants better off or worse than the ones that lived in small colonies? Were they richer or poorer? Did they live longer? What caused so many of them to gather in this particular spot?
A Harley roared by. I returned to the trail musing on this tale of two cities, their similarities and differences. Sitting on a rock, I gazed back at the Valley that stretched out to the Bay.