The Ants and the Fire – A True Story from my Woodshop

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Blog entry by Mark A. DeCou posted 04-11-2009 09:22 PM 6794 reads 0 times favorited 20 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This Blog entry has nothing to do with woodworking, other than it involves firewood, my woodshop woodstove, and my thoughts as a woodworker looking for some heat this week, and ultimately expresses a better understanding of another Woodworker’s life.

I guess that counts, so I hope you’ll stick with me to the end, this is a true story, I didn’t make this up.

This week we’ve had some unusually cold weather, and then warm, and then cold again. I was able to put up six pickup truck loads of firewood this year, so I have enough to warm the shop, even in the middle of April, for crying out loud.

This time of year, I have to be pretty careful though, digging through the firewood pile. Spiders, centipedes, cockroaches, ants, wasps, wood boring bees, and other scary things are coming back around ready for Spring. One misplaced finger carrying a pile of wood in that condition, and it can mean certain pain from a sting, or bite. So, I’m careful.

This week I was carefully picking through the woodpile, getting the proper mix of species to start quickly, yet hold some heat.

I’ve learned to prepare my wood stove sort of like how Master Chef Emeril Lagasse goes to the Grocery Market. “A little of this, some of that, oh that looks good, need some of that, oh that’ll be good….”

Each time to the pile, I discover things that I can use for more valuable purposes than heat, sometimes it is some nice spalted areas, or burled knotty areas, things like that.

So, you get the point, I look over the wood carefully.

For some reason, I didn’t notice this though.

As I loaded up the wood stove, and started the kindling, and sat on my little fire-meditation stool enjoying my careful work, and the resulting heat, I noticed something new this time.

Huddled all together in a little “pile” was a colony of ants, all nestled down in the crevice of the bark on one log.

These aren’t mean ones, just little black and red ones.

We don’t have many scary ants in Kansas. Not like other places.

I thought that maybe this little pile of ants had all huddled up together to live out their last moments before death from winter, and it was sort of interesting to think about how they all “went-out” together.

I told you that it is a fire-meditation stool. Sometimes, as I sit on the little stool I even read from a leather bound book I keep in the shop. As much as I hate cutting and hauling firewood, I do enjoy the heat it provides, and the Stool time each day. Once Spring arrives with it’s warmth, I seem not to take time for that meditation. I guess it really is one of the only reasons I can admit that I like about winter.

Peaceful, thought provoking, quiet.

My wife thinks I spend too much time alone, so it could be that also. She is tired of my excited little stories I try to tell during my lunch, or office work breaks. You know, the type of things I think up working in the shop alone so many hours with nobody to talk to. I do a lot of praying, and thinking, and worrying, and all kinds of things that I was unable to do when I worked in a fast-paced Corporate office with the phone ringing, and bosses yelling, and co-workers telling weekend stories, etc. Which is just another reason I like being alone in the Shop I guess.

When I was first contemplating starting up my little woodworking business again, one of my close friends drove out to my place 90 miles to deliver a message. “It couldn’t be God’s will for me to start the woodshop up as a business, since I’m a ‘non-stop-talker’, and I would not be able to interact with people and be who I am really created to be.”

I contemplated his message for a little while and replied, “I think God wants me to shut up for once, and learn to listen”

Enough said, I started up the woodworking business again the next month. I appreciate the timely visits from close friends and family, but I don’t always follow their loving advice. I have a Higher Calling, at least that’s what I tell myself.

Some years have passed now, and I’m learning to listen better and shut my mouth, so I’m progressing.

So, here I sit, quietly watching the warming flames move around the wood in the stove, and I notice a little stirring of the ant pile. First, it was just a few legs moving. Then, it was a few bodies moving.

As the wood stove warmed, the entire ant pile all came unglued from each other, and they started scurrying around trying to figure out what to do. It was obvious that they were alerted to danger, and they were right.

Now, you may not have known this, but I’m a bit of an environmentalist, and a conversationalist, a greenie, and tree hugger, and a lot of other things, and I never have enjoyed killing, or watching something die, even little black and red ants. I’ll do what must be done, but I never enjoy the process. I guess that explains why I don’t enjoy fishing or hunting, but I don’t push that off on someone else, it’s just my hang up.

Just a side note, I’m a tree hugger that is true, and I love to make things from them.

My “greenie” side, only applies to using things with a purpose, conserving resources, and watching what we do with waste, and chemicals. However, I don’t like anyone forcing it on me. I do it because I feel it is the right thing to do. That’s it, and I don’t want to force anyone else to do what is right.

So, I’m sitting on the stool watching these little ants, and I’m getting sort of sad.

I start to imagine what they are thinking. I know, it is crazy, but commit me them.

I can’t help but imagine myself being in their place. Me, my family, my close friends, my neighbors, my whole community, scurrying around frantically trying to find a way out of the mess we are in.

Some ants head North, others head South, some of the ants just sit and sort of twirl in a circle waiting for a rescue. I know people like that, isn’t that interesting?

It is quick to see that some ants really work hard at finding a solution, while others just sit and spin in a circle. There has to be some good lessons from that alone, but that’s another story.

As I start to feel sad for the ants, I start to ponder a rescue.

Reaching in and removing the piece of firewood is pretty risky. It is already burning on the ends, and the bottom, and it has other firewood on top of it. I really can’t figure out how to remove the log without causing a potential fire hazard to my livelihood. After all, it is my workspace in that little shop, and besides myself, three others eat because I work in there.

As I watch, some of the ants start to find holes and voids in the bark, and they sort of wiggle into the openings to escape the heat. I’m sure they thought that they were safe, but they don’t see what I can see from my unique, larger perspective.

I can see that eventhough they burrow into the bark, eventually that whole log is going to burn, and they can’t see that.

The ants that are highly active keep scurrying around the edges of the log, peering over the edge, and turning back, moving a little farther, and peering over the edge again. They seem to be in a hopeless path of finding nothing but certain death from jumping into the coals. Yet, I respect their effort.

It’s like I can see their frustration and fear.

I start to think about how they all thought it would be a good place to wait out the winter, just huddled all together in that firewood pile, the lower part of the pile that I normally don’t get to each winter. But, this winter was different, and now all their planning has brought them nothing but certain death. What used to work, didn’t this time.

Think, think, think….what can I do?

Then, I get an idea…..Build a Bridge.

I start looking for a suitable stick, that I can lay up on the log, where the other end will extend out of the woodstove.

I imagine that with my Bridge, the ants can just all walk in a line across my bridge, where I’ll catch them in a plastic Cool Whip container, and release them to the outside.

I really like that idea, and so I picked out a stick from the kindling pile, and set up the little bridge and wait…and watch.

The flames get higher, and the situation is getting to the point of no return.

“Hurry Up Boys, cross the bridge!” I seem to be screaming to myself.

A couple of the outlying ants try out the edge of my bridge. They start to walk across it. “Yes, they will be saved!” I think.

I’ve seen enough nature shows, that I’m sure they are going to drop a scent and lead the whole colony to safety. The ants that are twirling in a circle are surely depending on one of their own to find a way out and lead them to safety.

I watch, as time after time, the Leaders get scared and turn back.

I can’t get even one ant to crawl out on the bridge. They are just too paralyzed with Fear. Could be another story in that analogy alone, but not this time.

I start thinking to myself, if I could only Speak “Ant Language” I could yell at them, “Over here, follow me, I’ll show you the way, I’ve made a bridge, follow me…please listen to me….”

But, of course, I don’t speak Ant.

From my unique and bigger perspective, I can see the path to safety, but the ants don’t, and I can’t communicate to them.

Then, I start to imagine that if I made myself an Ant, I could go down there and walk across the bridge, start laying chemical scents and lead them all to safety across the little stick bridge. They’d lift me up on the backs and carry me in a parade of jubilation, “He’s our hero!” I imagine them saying after the rescue.

But, of course, I can’t become an Ant. And even if I could become an Ant, I’m not sure I’d be enough of a hero to try the rescue. That would take a huge amount of Courage, that I may not have.

As the heat builds, and the flames grow, some of the little ants are starting to roll over on their backs and die, and it seems to be the ones that twirled in a circle. Isn’t that odd? The Ants that are out looking for their own path to safety are outliving the ones who just stayed in one place were it seemed safe. Another story could come out of that for sure.

It is really sad, but at that point I’ve exhausted my ability to come up with a workable plan to save them, without sacrificing my own safety.

I start to seriously count the cost of pulling out that burning log. First, I’ll burn my fingers, and then smoke will get all over the shop, and as I run to the door with the log, some of the hot coals will fall out on the floor into the unswept wood dust. Too much risk to save a bunch of silly Ants.

I think through how I’d take the risk and do it for a furry little animal, but not an insect, especially not a silly red and black ant.

So, I just sit there and watch them die, and wish for a different outcome.

Unable to lead them safety, nor willing to pay the cost for saving them, I watch them all die.

I contemplate whether to pick a few of the “hard workers” to save, letting others perish. In the end, I decided that even their hard work wasn’t enough to justify them being saved while the others weren’t.

So, they all died.

See why my wife thinks I’m looney?

Now, the Moral of the Story:
As I watched this Ant Massacre unfold before me, I couldn’t help seeing the parallels to Easter, and the work of One Man, a Master Woodworker, who was willing to leave his Unique Bigger Perspective, to become an “Ant” and communicate to us other ants. Then, He was actually willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice to save us “Ants”. Did He get a parade after the rescue? Well, at first, but then a week later, it was a Cross and a borrowed grave. Unlike the ants, He did rise from that Grave. So, you can see that Easter has an even more special meaning for me this weekend as I contemplate the Ants and the Fire. I hope you’ll think about it also.

Thanks for reading along,
Mark DeCou

(This text is protected by copyright 2009 by the Author, M.A. DeCou, all rights and privileges reserved.)

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

20 comments so far

View MsDebbieP's profile


18619 posts in 5321 days

#1 posted 04-11-2009 09:51 PM

but.. but.. but… but…. not one ant??!!!


The topic of today’s Sunrise Gathering (an event that I host each month) was about seeing the messages presented by nature and by our inner Spirit (you know – the gut feeling, the hair standing up on your neck, seemingly random thoughts that cross your mind…). Anyway, we talked about the messages/lessons that are given to us through animals (etc). If we are aware, if we pay attention, we are given insights that will head us towards our greatest potential—if we choose to listen and to act on the information.

Your story is a perfect example of a lesson waiting for our intuitiveness to kick in. Thanks for sharing!

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View Karson's profile


35276 posts in 5561 days

#2 posted 04-11-2009 10:33 PM

mark: Thanks for the insite into your firepile and your life.

God bless and Happy Resurrection Sunday

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

View ZachM's profile


83 posts in 4866 days

#3 posted 04-11-2009 10:45 PM

Interesting story until it got all preachy at the end.

View 8iowa's profile


1591 posts in 4922 days

#4 posted 04-11-2009 10:54 PM

You are indeed a sensitive guy – a rarity in an increasingly insensitive world.

-- "Heaven is North of the Bridge"

View mmh's profile


3689 posts in 4883 days

#5 posted 04-11-2009 11:27 PM

I think you’re more Buddhist than you realize.

-- "They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night." ~ Edgar Allan Poe

View scott shangraw's profile

scott shangraw

514 posts in 5230 days

#6 posted 04-11-2009 11:33 PM

Mark you are such a great writer maybe you should consider a side job in it.I’m glad I’m not the only one that gets a little”loopy” after being alone in the shop all day !!!!!Next time have a bucket of water handy!!You and your family have a blessed Easter Sunday.

-- Scott NM,

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 5475 days

#7 posted 04-11-2009 11:45 PM

Did you consider stuffing the stove with $1000.00 dollar bills till the fire was smothered?

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 5460 days

#8 posted 04-11-2009 11:50 PM

Thanks for the great story Mark, & have a Happy Easter.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View David Eaton's profile

David Eaton

8 posts in 4804 days

#9 posted 04-12-2009 12:11 AM


So very true. You are as gifted a writer as you are a woodworker. God bless you and your family.


View kiwi1969's profile


608 posts in 4603 days

#10 posted 04-12-2009 02:03 AM

must get me one of them meditation stools.

-- if the hand is not working it is not a pure hand

View Woodwrecker's profile


4240 posts in 4736 days

#11 posted 04-12-2009 02:18 AM

I had a stool but it had termites, not ants….....timberrrrrrrrrrrr

(only kidding man, excellent story. Happy Easter)

View jockmike2's profile


10635 posts in 5407 days

#12 posted 04-12-2009 02:41 AM

Great story Mark as always you manage to come up with a great tale at the right time. You should be a preacher you know. My heart is with you and your family on this holy of holiest days of the year. Lets give thanks for he who has died for us, and rejoice that he has risen. Yours in Christ, m

-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27249 posts in 4983 days

#13 posted 04-12-2009 03:04 AM

Mark, thanks for the story. It is a rarity that we give such a glimpse of our inner persona. But I enjoyed your story and wish you and your family a Happy Easter.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View clieb91's profile


4262 posts in 5096 days

#14 posted 04-12-2009 03:20 AM

Mark, A great story. I know what you mean by thye time alone, coming back up on mowing season for the park and will be spending a lot of time with that dull hum and thoughts in my head.
Happy Easter to you and your family.


-- Chris L. "Don't Dream it, Be it."- (Purveyors of Portable Fun and Fidgets)

View oldwoodman's profile


137 posts in 4559 days

#15 posted 04-12-2009 05:47 AM


As I began reading your story, I thought to myself, “I wonder if this guy knows what a great illustration this is.” You did. Thanks for taking the time to write your story down, and for the courage to put it on the Internet. I don’t think it “was preachy.” There is more to life than what we actually see with our eyes, feel with our hands, and hear with our ears. Have a happy resurrection day!!

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