The Ants in Winter

We're definitely ants around here.

The Ant and the Grasshopper From ''The Æsop for Children'', by Æsop Project Gutenberg etext 19994

You know, the hardworking ones who spend their summer storing up grain for winter while the grasshopper plays and sings in the sunshine. That grasshopper always seems to be the star of the show in that fable, even though at the end he's shivering and starving and has to beg for some food that he was too lazy to put up for himself. In the illustration, the grasshopper seems far more human than the conformist ants, who literally look up to him, even though they stick to the task at hand. It's like they can't help but admire that grasshopper in spite of themselves.

In the mean, old-fashioned version of story, the ants tell the grasshopper to get lost and go dancing to keep himself warm. We're not meant to really like those ants, even though they're right.

In the newer, nicer versions, the ants appreciate the grasshopper's oh-so-unique gifts, and invite him to come play music for them while he eats all the food they worked for.

Like I said, they just can't help loving that grasshopper. 

It's an American preference, I think, to identify with the grasshopper. He's big, he's talented, he rejects conventional wisdom, and he's having fun. No one wants to be one of those ants that all look alike and (gasp!) work together for the common good.

I think this is because we assume that the ants don't enjoy their work. But they're out in the sunshine, too, and get to work alongside their friends. Manual labor isn't more or less inherently enjoyable or valuable than playing the fiddle — although there is a difference between being enjoyable and enjoyed, and being valuable and valued.

Anyway, I have always been an ant, and I've always been irritated not so much by the joie de vivre of the grasshoppers of the world, but rather much more irritated by their insistence that the ants are unhappy. 


There's joy to be had in competence. In having a vision of the future, planning how to get there, learning the skills to make that happen, and laboring to get it done. Work, by your own hand, is satisfying in a way that few other things can be. 

To wit:

No fair-weather grasshopper ever had the imagination to envision a bowl of strawberry ice cream in January. 

Only an ant would water and weed the strawberry patch all spring, set aside some of the juiciest strawberries of summer for freezing, then vow not eat all of the homemade ice cream right away, but instead keep just one small box in deep freeze for later.

If you can imagine how delicious this rare and precious bite of summer will taste when the leaves have blown away and the ground is iron-hard and the sky is steely gray, then you are an ant at heart.

If you can hold that image of future joy in your head while the grasshopper whistles and fiddles and belittles your work, then you are an ant, my friend.

Embrace it.

The grasshoppers don't know what they're missing.


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