The drums keep time. I survey the landscape from the top of the Razorback, the tallest hill on our ranch. The California hills have already gone camel. I empathize with their brittleness. The shaman told me that when I got here I should look for my teacher. I look at the sky and see a red tailed hawk – the one always perched on the electrical pole at the beginning of the driveway.

“Are you my teacher?” I ask, telepathically.

He just looks at me sideways and through one eye and flies off. Maybe I should have followed him. The summer sun is relentless. All around me are tall skeletons of wild oat grass and mustard plants. I’m sure there’s a snake around here somewhere but I’m not ready for her medicine. I feel exposed so I sit down.

Of course I would sit near a fire ant nest. I watch them streaming in and out, busy with whatever fire ants do. The shaman told me that this journey would take me to one of three worlds: upper, middle, or lower. In the sky, on the earth, or underground.

“Are you my teacher?” I telepathically ask no one ant in particular.

No one ant in particular replies, “No, but we will take you to your teacher.”

I follow the ants into their nest. Millions of ants building things, tearing things down, always moving, moving, and doing, doing. The group of ants I’m following gets fewer as we go deeper into the tunnels of the nest. Eventually, there is only one. I ask if he is my teacher, but he doesn’t answer. He keeps scuttling forward like ants do.

After what seems like hours and hours of walking through tunnels we come to a cave. Inside is an ant, fatter than the others, wearing a wrinkled Hawaiian print shirt and drinking through a straw out of a coconut. Other ants are lounging about on mounds of soft pillows; a record player turns out some 60’s doo-wop. I walk up to Party Ant and ask if he is my teacher.

The music stops and everyone turns to look at me. I sense I’ve ruined their fun and I’m embarrassed.

“I’m not your teacher. You are your own teacher.” He spoke like a clichéd surfer.

“But do you have a message for me, a lesson?” The shaman had told me there would be a message.

“Yeah, I do”

He puts his coconut down on a table strewn with cards and shot glasses, spent blunts and powdery white residue. I feel he is about to say something very important, tell me the secret to life and happiness. He looks me right in my soul.

“It’s OK to do what you want instead of what you think you should do.” He says with so much empathy that I start crying because I needed to hear it.

The ant that lead me to Party Ant was suddenly next to me saying we had to go. Party Ant goes back to partying and it is like I was never there. We walk back up through the endless tunnels, into the controlled chaos of the upper ant nest, and the ant that had led me suddenly picks me up and carries me back to the middle world like he is taking out the trash.

When the drums stop beating I take off the blindfold and headphones I was wearing.

“So, where did you go?”

The room smells like burned white sage. I love it. I tell her about my journey with hesitation because I’m not sure whether I had imagined the whole thing or not. It really did seem a little too contrived

“Even if you did imagine it, I think the lesson offered to you by the laid back ant is an important one for you to remember.”

I agree. She writes it down on a scrap of paper that is somewhere at the bottom of my purse.


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(Ms Pissed)

Trish Graves is a creative nonfiction writer and a US Navy veteran who lives on a grass fed cattle ranch with her husband and daughter, and dreams of becoming the salty Martha Stewart of the ranching world. She writes about her ranch and more on her blog, She is currently working on a memoir which provides perspective on military sexual assault, living with post-traumatic stress disorder, dealing with the Veterans Administration, and the impact these experiences have on every aspect of her life.