7/10/04

First Rain

The summer rain arrived today, after two months of bone dry waiting. Suddenly the desert is a damp greenhouse, triggering the brief reproductive season of the small black ants who share my hill. I first see them on my way back from San Manuel, sailing toward my windshield like feathers, like snowflakes. Once home, I figure it out. From between, beneath the pavers of my patio they emerge, inverted paratroopers. Born underground in total darkness, nymph winged, finding air and light for the first time in their existence, they file upward through tunnels into the wet sunlight, and next thing they know they are flying over the house, on a mission which is clear to each of them, though not to me. I find a magnifying loupe and peer, unbelieving, down a single one of countless exits. Wingless variants line the tunnel, assisting their comrades into the light. Two seconds to shake out their gray wings and adjust their minds to the expansive sky, then liftoff. With no briefing, they take off toward the northeast, toward some nuptial rendezvous programmed into their ganglia, standard issue marching orders to all properly accessorized ants. Some don't make it, some perish, wet wings plastered in rain puddles on top of the pavers, legs and mandibles straining toward the golden air above. The wingless ones are otherwise identical, mere midwives apparently, their usefulness ended. Fire ants raid the pavers, carrying superfluous bodies off to feed yet further babies for yet further purposes. It is the frightful excess, the ruthless economics of nature. This happened today, under the ragged monsoon clouds, all across Arizona, all across New Mexico.

In the north of Sudan, the government is eradicating non-Arab farmers of the Fur, Massaleit and Zaghawa tribes by expediting predation from the nomadic Janjaweed, their natural enemies. First the farmers are bombed by planes from the Khartoum government, then, in storms of red dust, Janjaweed militias swarm on camel back into the desolate villages and refugee camps. They kill the men, carry off the children and rape the women, branding them afterward with hot irons. Observers who have begun to fly over the region report that these conditions are identical throughout western Darfur province, an area the size of California. Wherever you go, wherever you look, this ubiquitous bombing and raiding, this shooting, raping, branding. It is upsetting to some in Congress, who have begun to dither about human rights. The vastness of the event is daunting. We know that Africans live close to nature. Maybe we shouldn't interfere.

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