IN a field one summer’s day a Grasshopper was hopping about, chirping and singing to its heart’s content. An Ant passed by, bearing along with great toil an ear of corn he was taking to the nest.
“Why not come and chat with me,” said the Grasshopper, “instead of toiling and moiling in that way?”
“I am helping to lay up food for the winter,” said the Ant, “and recommend you to do the same.”
“Why bother about winter?” said the Grasshopper; “we have got plenty of food at present. What we don’t have is a guarantee of good weather like this.”
But the Ant went on its way and continued its toil. When the winter came the Grasshopper had no food, and found itself dying of hunger, while it saw the ants distributing every day corn and grain from the stores they had collected in the summer.
He begged food from the ants, but they refused to give him any because he had not worked for it.
The Grasshopper died alone, in the cold. He remembered his days spent fishing on lakes so big they reached all the way to where the sun rose. He thought of his friends who had died already, even while summer’s sun still shone. They had shared what food and beer they had, when they had it, and added their music to his own. At the last, he did not regret spending his all his life that way, but only that winter had come and brought death with it.
The ants waited until he had drawn his last breathe and then added his cold body to their stores. Some ants died of cold or old age or sickness–in any case, grateful for the rest–and their bodies, too, were eaten.
That winter lasted longer than any other previous winter and the ants’ stores grew smaller and smaller.
“We will eat less,” said the leaders of the ants. “Everyone will eat less and keep working, and this way we will survive until the spring.”
“What will we do in the spring?” asked the newest ant. She had only known the cold of winter and hunger in the hours she had been alive.
“In the spring, we will work harder than ever so that we have more to eat and more to store,” said an ambitious ant.
“In this way, will we live forever?” she asked.
“No, child,” said the hardworking ant. “But we will live longer and we will not die of hunger. Now get back to work.”
The young ant repeated what she had learned to her friends. The ambitious ant’s words were repeated and debated until there was a rift in the colony between the ants who wished to spend their days in toil and moil in order to survive until the spring and through the winters to come, and the ants who believed that hard work only generated more hard work and a life spent carrying crumbs and carcasses and organizing stores of food was not a life that needed to continue indefinitely.
“We’re here for a good time, not a long time,” said the latter. The next morning, they left the dark warmth of the anthill in time to watch the sun rise bright over the clean white snow.
“This is the most beauty I have ever seen,” said the young ant. Everyone agreed with her. As the sun traveled overhead, some ants in their leisure were inspired to lift their voices up in song and move their bodies as though they intended to dance. The boldest among them challenged each other to dive headfirst into the freezing water from higher and higher heights.
But by the time the sun was setting, some of the ants had tired of the cold and being hungry. Many decided to return to the colony.
“I have seen and learned many things today,” said one. “But it is better to work for food than die of hunger in the snow at night.”
“I don’t think you will be happy there anymore,” said the young ant.
“Perhaps you are right,” the other ant said. “But I would rather be full and dry.”
The ants who elected to stay outside said farewell to their brothers and sisters. When they arrived back at the anthill, they were allowed back in, but only grudgingly, by those who had never abandoned their posts.
The remaining ants walked with the idea of finding some kind of shelter even if they did not have anything to eat. After everything had become dark and quiet all around them, they heard cheerful noises and saw a flicker of light ahead. They approached it and found many bugs dancing in the light of a fire, which they had never seen before. Grasshoppers and crickets made music with their legs. Spiders beat out a rhythm on snails’ shells. Tantalizingly close to the many tongues of the fire, butterflies and moths whirled and twirled.
A corpulent beetle with a pearly green shell waved the ants toward the party.
“Don’t remember ever seeing ants at one of these things, but everyone’s welcome!” he bellowed. “Get yourself some mead while it lasts! That’s the last of it, and when it’s gone, that’ll be the last of us!”
“What do you mean?” asked the young ant.
“Well, the food’s gone, isn’t it?” said the beetle. “And we’ve made it this far, but this winter isn’t going to end before we do. Well, we’re not going to starve in the cold, either.”
“Just the opposite,” said a dragonfly who had stumbled over to the ants. “We’re going to get hot, hot, hot!”
“Before this night is over, we’re all gonna join the moths in the flames,” said the beetle. “Tonight we celebrate all we’ve had in the life, and then we say goodbye!”
“Die?” whispered the ants among themselves.
“Look, little ones, without food and shelter, you’re gonna die out here anyway. This way, we go out when we want, the way we want, in an explosion of light and beauty. I can’t see a better way.”
The ants talked it over and many decided to try to find their way back to the anthill even though they were weak with hunger and it was dark and cold.
“It is better to try to live,” they said. “Even if we die trying. Even if we succeed and we are unhappy for the rest of our lives.”
“I would never presume to tell you what is best,” said the young ant. “But for me, not every life is worth living, and no matter what, we will all die, sooner or later. If there is no hope, I will not wait for death to come and drag me away when I am too weak to fight him off. I will go to him, on my feet.”
The ants embraced their brothers and sisters, and with the tears in their eyes freezing on their cheeks, walked into the darkness away from the light of the fire.
The young ant and the ants who remained with her rejoined the party. They drank mead until they were wildly drunk and full of love and kindness for everyone there.
When they heard shouting and laughing and frenzied yelps, they knew the mead was gone. It was time for everyone to be united together with the flame.
“I don’t know if we’re crazy or brave,” said the beetle. “We’re just doing the best we can.”
The beetles, the butterflies, the moths, the snails, the spiders, the dragonflies, the worms, the centipedes, and the last of the ants all joined hands. On the count of three, they ran into the flames.