Not long after my parents purchased our cabin in Twisp, WA, probably that next summer, we discovered that there were an abnormal amount of red and black ant hills on and around our property. We also discovered that these little buggers were aggressive and bit extremely hard. From the first bite, the war was on.
When we first discovered the red and black ants we got a bit too close to the hills but we were fascinated with the amount of ants on them. It was like the entire ground was moving. We would toss a rock or stick into the hill to watch them triple their pace, looking for anything to attack. All of a sudden one of us would start screaming and flopping around like a cat that just got ran over by a car, desperately slapping and smacking at our pants and shoes as one or more of the ants that had snuck up our pant leg were attempting to devour a small chunk of our flesh. They would not let go either, you pretty much had to decapitate them and pry out the pincers. It was fun to bring new friends to the cabin, take them to the ant hill and intentionally get them too close so that we could watch them scream like little girls once they started to get bit. Needless to say, these early encounters (and there were many) sparked a hatred that resulted in our soul mission as children: Complete and utter devastation of the red and black ant population.
Most of the larger ant hills were built surrounding a stumps, large rocks or downed logs. The ants would burrow under the ground or into the stump and then pile up pounds and pounds of pine needles, grass, pinecones and leaves around the base of the stump or rock. Our first attempts to destroy the hills were not well thought out nor were they very effective. We would rush up to the hill and kick at the needles and twigs trying to scatter the debris and ants as far as possible thinking that if we could remove all of that we could then attack the stump directly in search of our ultimate goal, the queen. All this resulted in was getting about 200 ants stuck to your tube socks, which then resulted in another dying-cat dance and ear piercing screams.
We then moved to the mobile infantry, our Suzuki 125 4-wheeler. We had all become masters of the 4-wheeler at early ages, before our feet even touched the pegs (we actually had to lean to one side to shift, then scoot and lean to the other side for the brake because our legs wouldn’t reach both at the same time — ..). We had built a small track around our property and on every corner we developed ruts from the heavy ATV tires digging out the dirt. We figured that if we charged the ant hills with the 4-wheeler and turned at the perfect moment that the back tires would then tear through the nest, sending the debris flying just as they had tore through the dirt on our track. This plan was OK, until on of us mis-judged the turn, hit the stump and was sent hurtling through the air at 30mph. Not only was the impact with the ground painful but the 4-wheeler typically remained lodged against the stump, on top of the anthill and would instantly be swarmed with ants, biting at the seat, grips and tires. One of us would have to rush in, shift it into neutral (it usually died on impact) and try to push it out without allowing any of the ant regimes to bail on to them.
The next of our attack plans, having realized that the 4-wheeler was just not going to cut it, was to bring out the artillery. We all had BB Guns, from Red Riders, to 760 Pumpmasters to my brothers Daisy CO2 pistol. Each of us could hit a grasshopper from 50 feet so hitting the ants from 10 feet was not too much of a problem. The problem was that there were probably over a million ants per hill and we only had a couple of hundred BB’s. We would shoot until we were out of ammo and then begin cramming chunks of twigs, small rocks and whatever else would fit down the barrels and continuing our assault.
If we could get close enough to the stump, log or tree that the ants had built their home around we could actually use the air from the gun to dismember them. We called it “taking their picture”. It is amazing the balls that an ant has. We would put our gun barrel about ¼” away from the edge of the stump where immediately a few ants would run over and stick their asses out, squirting poison at the gun (yeah, that’s right, they have poisonous asses. Maybe I am part ant — ..). Anyways, with the ant less than ½” from the barrel of the BB gun a squeeze of the trigger would completely tear the ant to shreds, sending his appendages flying off of the stump. We always remembered to say “smile” though before we pulled the trigger. When we got a bit older and had already mastered the ants, overcoming our fears, we would actually pick some of them up and stuff a bunch down the barrel of the BB guns, aim at the side of the stump and shoot them out at 900fps, embedding ant corpses in to the wood. We wanted to make sure that the rest of the ants saw the carnage, hoping they would eventually give up.
The ant’s ultimate demise was the infantry though. Hand to hand combat. After years of experience we started to lose our respect for the ants attack, becoming immune to the creeping, crawling and biting and venturing closer and closer to the hills, using hatchets and shovels to dig around and destroy their fortresses. If you vist The Cabin now you will come across the remnants of many ancient Hartle vs. The Ant battlefields. Decaying stumps with hatchet marks, exposed roots and 14lbs of copper BB embedded in them, standing like skeletons from days long past.
The Cabin was not the only ant battle field though. We made regular fishing trips to Big Twin Lake between Twisp and Winthrop and also discovered at an early age to watch out for these aggressive predators. There was a line of trees that stood about 20′ from the shoreline of the lake just about all of the way around and for some reason those trees were always infested with ants. If you went to relieve yourself and happened to stand where one of the branches was touching your shoulder or head it only took about 10 seconds before you had a couple of hundred ants crawling all over your shirt and head. Now, one ant is bad but when you have a couple hundred on you you REALLY spaz out! It is outright bedlam. Grown men have been known to scream like little girls on the shores of Bit Twin.
I was victim to the tree attack once in my life but it was not at Big Twin, it was on the banks of the Twisp River. My friend Aaron and I had been fishing all day catching probably 30-40 trout each. It was June and the water was fairly cold and higher than we normally like it to be but the fishing could not be beat. We slaughtered them. Now, Aaron had a history of not being too surefooted on the rocks of the river. He was notorious for biting it multiple times when we would wade the river and this time of year, the water was about 52 degrees, so it did not feel good to go down all of a sudden.
Anyways, we were about to cross the river and hop on our ATV’s when Aaron says to me “Hey, I didn’t fall down once today.” No sooner did those words come out of his mouth and he was flat on his back in about 2 feet of water, scrambling to keep his nut sack from getting completely submerged. I was on the bank about 10 feet from him with my back to some small alder trees getting ready to cross the shallows. Needless to say, I was laughing so hard that I almost fell down. I actually started to lose my footing but recovered. When I looked back at Aaron he had stood back up but was soaking wet, looking extremely pissed. His anger did not last though, as he pointed at me and began laughing hysterically. I didn’t know what he was laughing at until I felt the back of my neck begin crawling. I looked at my shoulder and I probably had 200 red and black ants on my sleeve, making their way from a tree branch to my head. The alder was swarming with them. I completely freaked out, threw my rod and ran for the deepest part of the river I could get to, which was only about 2 feet deep. I did a belly-flop and turned on to my back, trying to dislodge all of the ants from my shirt and hair. So, both of us ended up soaked and I was picking ant bodies out of my hair for the next 20 minutes.
Back to Big Twin. This ant habitat was different than The Cabin. Not only were they in the trees, but their hills were smaller and usually covered but long, dry grass or by downed reeds. The ants could be anywhere. You would clear a spot to sit in front of you pole, plenty far from the trees but without fail, 10 minutes later one of those little bastards would be down your butt-crack, biting at your cheeks. We needed to devise a plan to rid our fishing spot of our enemy, so we turned to the best innovation idea maker known to man- Schmidt’s Beer.
It started by fairly innocent but very innovative. If the bite was slow with the fish we would get drunk and make little rafts out of reeds and fishing line. We would take one of our Schmidt cans, split it open and fold it out into a sail which we would then fasten to a reed mast. Once complete, we would lower the raft on to one of the small hills, enraging the ants, causing them to swarm on to the raft. We would then tie a small rock to the bottom, like a keel or a fish we had caught and toss the raft into the lake. It didn’t take long for the wind to grab the beer can sail and start to haul the ant crew across the lake, or the fish, if attached, to motor out to the middle. Within a few seconds, fish would see the ants that had attempted to abandon ship or just plain fell off and would start gobbling them up. So, the results of this tactic were more entertaining than effective. As an added benefit, many times the ant rafts would cross paths with fishermen who, seeing the neatly constructed raft, complete with beer can sail, would reach down and try to pick it up not realizing it was covered in ants. Their reactions were always well worth the effort put into building the rafts.
Our next idea came during the spring, when it was cold and windy at the lake. We would typically bring a small amount of wood and build small fires to keep our hands warm as we fished. One day, one of us decided that we would fill an empty Schmidt can with water, boil it and then dump it on the ant hills. This tactic was surprisingly effective. It would basically cook them alive as soon as the boiling water would hit them. Of course, a beer can is not very well insulated, so we had to cut tree branches and break them just right so that they would grab the tab enough to allow us to tip the can and empty its contents on to the anthill without dropping the can. This was very quickly mastered and became very popular amongst the Hartles and our friends, almost to the point that we would go fishing just to build a fire, drink beer, boil water and kill ants rather than actually fish.
Of course, we needed new cans every time, so we were “forced” to drink more beer before we got started. During the drinking, fire starting, dump-stick making and water boiling we inevitably had to pee. Beer does that to you. We would typically walk to the trees, careful not to touch any branches covered in ants and pee in private but at some point one of us figured that since we were going to kill the ants anyways, why not pee on them first? So we all began urinating on the ant hills during our ant-boiling parties. Again, you need to watch it because if one snuck up your pant-leg in mid whiz it could create quite a problem. Peeing on them was strictly an irritant though and was far from lethal — ..
I am sure that you can guess what is coming next. Yes, one of us decided to take it one step further, perhaps one step too far, and boil his own pee to dump on the ants. I don’t remember which one of us thought of it first but it didn’t take long before that was the norm. What death is worse than death by boiling urine?? We would drink even more, just to generate more pee to boil. I’ll bet that over 500,000 ants died on that lake shore to the scalding, ammonia saturated whiz-baths we gave them. But, as all good things do, that eventually came to an end when during transport to the hill one of our pouring sticks broke, sending boiling pee flying all over everyone. No one particularly cared for that, so pee-boiling kind of petered out, never to be used in battle again.
Not every battle was won by the Hartles though. There was one ant hill that was so enormous, so intimidating that the worse we ever did to it was stand back and shoot if from about 20 feet with our BB guns. The hill was built on the base of a tree that had broke about 8 feet above the ground. The broken tree was still attached to the stump and sat at an angle with the top resting on the ground. The ant hill on the stump covered about 7 feet of the 8 feet of stump, well over any of our heads at the time. We had always planned on attacking this stump, figuring that it was the headquarters for all of the smaller ant-hills near The Cabin but we just never had the manpower to even attempt it. To my knowledge, that hill is still standing. Perhaps one day I will teach my sons the art of ant hunting and leave them to fight the final battle for me.