The backyard of the house I grew up in had a small rock garden that had been built into a hill to prevent erosion and for aesthetic reasons. They called it “the rockery.” As a just-turned 11-year old, I never paid it much attention except for the times I was conscripted to help with pulling weeds, a chore I found difficult due to the variety of things planted. “Is this a weed?” I would ask, followed seconds later by, “Is this a weed?”
Being too young to have a summer job, one July day I found myself wandering aimlessly in the yard and a section the rockery caught my eye. There were ants, many of them, coming and going and doing what ants do. It’s not that I’d never seen ants before, but this was quite an army.
Not content to merely observe, I focused on the small anthill that was their access point to the outside world, and using a stick opened it up the access point, just a little bit, all in the interests of science.
The colony was huge. I was mortified. I dug further. The earth gave up her ants. The visible ants were just a fraction of what lay beneath in their subterranean quarters.
I decided the authorities should be notified. Something must be done. I ran into the house where my mother was working in the kitchen and informed her that — wait for it — “The earth is being readied for a great plague.”
It’s interesting looking back that I chose apocalyptic language for my pronouncement. I guess that’s what it’s like growing up in church. I blame Moses. But it’s not nearly as interesting as something my sister-in-law once told us our nephew did one Sunday morning, as relayed by his S.S. teacher.
We’re not sure if a question had been asked or if was simply an interjection for that moment, but apparently Zach suddenly blurted out, “Casting brazen serpents into the fire.”
For years now, I’ve tried to figure out how to work “Casting brazen serpents into the fire” into song lyrics, but it never quite fits. I also thought it would be interesting to be speaking somewhere and warn people ahead of time that there is a secret word — a la Groucho Marx — and they should watch for the phrase and then add it randomly into the sermon and award a prize to the first person who jumps up.
It’s truly too good a line to waste.
But as a mature adult, looking back, and looking forward, I do believe the earth is being readied for a great plague.