They could be props from the apothecary scene in Romeo and Juliet.
But they aren't. Even though the Elizabethans would have instinctively appreciated the array and their purpose.
These are my tools of the trade to play defense against the leaf cutter ants. Who, if left untended, would have my pleasant garden stripped of any Voltairean allure.
When old François-Marie told us: "We must cultivate our own garden," he had the advantage of living in Champagne. Where the leaf cutters are as rare as California bubbly.
Not so here. To cultivate our garden, we need more shields than even the strategic defense initiative can provide. Thus the table of lethality.
The skull is merely a keepsake. The weapons are the can of Raid and the cottage cheese container of a powdery ant poison that bears the distinctive perfume of DDT. Each night I walk the property to discover new ant holes disgorging more troops than Chinese soldiers crossing the Yalu.
If I can find the hole, I powder it -- effectively blocking it for a day or two.
And the Raid? It is simply my way of wiping out the ants that have foolishly attacked the shrubbery. I suspect the effectiveness of the Raid is nil; but I certainly derive a good deal of psychological pleasure seeing immediate results.
And why do I do all this? Spend the time and the money to commit a bit of ecological terrorism?
Anyone who has attempted to maintain a garden in the tropics knows the answer. The photograph above is of one of my favorite flowering shrubs in the garden. When the blood-throated hibiscus is in full bloom, it reminds me that there are rewards for effort on this planet.
Since November, I have been back and forth to Oregon. At some point, the ants had their way with the garden. Here is what the hibiscus looks like now. A bunch of sticks.
The ants were thick enough to remove every leaf from a large Flamboyant tree.
One of the miracles of growth is that plants will usually recover from being stripped bare by the ants. But only if I can keep the ants off while the new growth is establishing itself. Cultivating my garden in a very practical sense.
I mentioned the ant-tattered bougainvillea yesterday. Given their way, the ants would strip the thorny stems of their leaves and keep them bare until the plant suffocated. Ironically, if it is allowed to recover, it will be bushier and greener than it was before the ant pruners hedged their way through.
Maybe that is what Voltaire had in mind. If we cultivate our own garden, we will learn the wisdom of being joyful and content -- and have surplus to share with others.