Friday, 20 March 2009

A fable

I wrote the following fable for my Tuesday evening writing class. Enjoy!

The fable of the bear and the ants.

The bear was a miserable old fellow, with scarcely a single friendly bone in his whole furry body. His age had not dimmed his strength, nor had it improved his ill-temper. He had first moved to the cave when he was a young cub, and it had been his home ever since. It was a damp, sandy home, dirty and smelly, but it was a home nonetheless. Most bears would sweep out their caves; make them a nice, comfortable place in which to raise some cubs. Not this bear. He liked the feel of the damp sand under his fur at night.

It was the ideal den for a large brown bear. Salmon swum freely in the nearby river. If not salmon, then there would be trout. If not trout, well, he was a large bear, and there was always some food around.

Some tall, green trees stood near to the entrance of the cave, and they offered the bear shade from the sun during the hot summer months. Between the cave and the trees there was a sunny glade, where the grass was the comfiest. In the middle of this glade stood a solitary ant-hill. It was a large and ancient example of its sort, about five feet tall and as broad as the entire stretch of the bear's arms.

Now, the ants were of little interest to the bear, and the bear was of little interest to the ants. The ants did not bite or sting, and should not have been a nuisance to such a large bear. So they should have lived side by side with no problems.

But the bear had other ideas. He disliked the ants more than he disliked any other creature, and he disliked a lot of creatures. On the first day he moved into the cave, he had smashed the top off the anthill, and had roared in rage as thousands of ants got into his fur. The feeling of their tiny feet on his skin sent him gamboling into the river to rid himself of the pests.

To his horror. that was not the end. Within a month the anthill had been rebuilt, and there seemed to be just as many ants as ever, thousands of the things, scurrying about on their miniature legs. They avoided him, and he avoided them; except, that is, for the rare occasions when he would stamp on them with his gigantic paws, or try to smash down the anthill.

The beast grew old. No other bears ever came to see him, nor the birds; he had chased them all away from his glade. It was his glade. His and the hated ants.

Then, one day, in a fit of violence, he destroyed the anthill. Not just the top, but the middle and the base as well. His skin was thickened with age, and he could no longer feel the ants running over his fur and skin in their attempts to escape. He razed it right down to the ground, until only a pile of sand and mud remained. In the middle there was a hole that went further underground than even his long arms could reach. The ants had escaped. Beaten, he fetched some old, sun-bleached bones and dropped them in the hole, a final sign of contempt to the weak from the mighty.

The ants had had enough. Ants always take the long view; thousands of them may die, but the colony as a whole would survive past the awful, hated bear, with his paws so big and wide. Some of the colony wanted to move away, to go somewhere safer, away from bears, but no-one knew of such a place. Others wondered why they should be the ones moving. Instead they hatched a plan.

Ants do not think like you or me; they do not even think like bears. Sometimes one colony does not even think like another colony. This colony was very ancient. They had seen many bears come and go; some kind, some quiet, some nasty. But none of their tales from generations past mentioned a bear such as this.

Above the entrance of the cave was an outcrop of soft sandstone, heavily sculpted by rain and wind. On hot days it offered the bear protection from the sun, and he would lie out, letting the wind rustle his fur. On wet days it offered shelter as he stood outside, watching for anyone unwise enough to intrude on his glade.

The rock was soft, but the ants were little. They started one crisp March day, and ended on a blazing-hot summer's evening. Of course the bear noticed that there were not so many ants about, but that pleasing fact in no way made him curious. If they were gone, then they were gone. He only hoped that the rest would follow. He never went to look above his cave, where a big mound of sand was forming, right at the very lip of the ledge.

Each ant could carry only a few grains of sand, but they worked tirelessly night and day. A few grains of sand every half-hour, multiplied by tens of thousands of ants. Slowly the ledge weakened, and the bravest ants stayed until they could feel the first tremors in their legs as the earth started shifting. Tremors that were far too small for a big, mean bear to notice.

The ledge fell whilst the bear slept. Tons upon endless tons of sandy rock blocked the entrance. For days they heard the bear trying to dig himself out, then, finally, glorious silence.

Occasionally other bears came; but now there was no cave for them to live in. The glade had been ruined, at least for the bears. But for the ants it was better than before. For now there was a mound of loose sand in which a new, larger colony could be formed, Nestled behind this was a dark cave that gave protection when danger came. And in the middle of the cave, the white bones of a large, old, grumpy bear.

One ant may be small, but never underestimate the power of millions.

No comments: