Alms For Ants

by Stephanie A. Siehr

Redwood Tree and River Textures

I lie in the shade, in my backyard in the Sierra foothills, eating lunch. In this heat, the bees nap. Even the hummingbirds rest in the shelter of an incense cedar.

I set my bowl on the ground and lean back, dreaming in the heat, dreaming of a river. She is a river of abundance, wild and scenic, wise with three heads, with massive granite boulders tumbled as in a giant’s game, a playground of rapids and deep pools. Her name is ‘uba seo, a name given by the original caregivers of this land, the Nisenan. They are still here. Those who came later call her the Yuba.

Aerial view of a flowing river

I lean back into the shade, dreaming of pools where trout swim and where dragonflies dance. Along the river’s banks, lizards sun themselves and do their pushups. Farther up the banks, butterflies visit yawning penstemon, redbud leaves make dappled shadows, and blue oaks shed some leaves, saving their strength for acorns.

In my dream, I lie against a boulder, feeling the warmth held in stone. I feel the abundance that once was home to many peoples, before the settlers, before the gold diggers, before the damage. In my dream I dip my head into the water, I give gratitude to ‘uba seo, beseeching her for rejuvenation. And then my spirit floats, floats in the dream, floats downstream.

The chatter of a scrub jay calls me back from the dream, calls me back to the heat. As I bend down to pick up my lunch bowl, I see them — so many and how tiny, appearing as if out of nowhere, feasting on the few droplets and morsels left in the bowl. I stand there and watch my tiny relatives. In these days of heat they come more often, to lunch outside and inside in the kitchen. It is only the humans’ disturbances that have pushed them from their homes.

And then my spirit floats, floats in the dream, floats downstream."

Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe

I wish them well, and I leave the bowl for them — a small gesture to make amends.

Stephanie A. Siehr is a musician, artist, and professor of environmental and energy programs at the University of San Francisco.