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The ants are worse this year. Sweet poisoner, I dollop out the food they will imbibe and carry to their babies. They gather around, vying for place, like stitches encircling a surgical incision. And another. Another.

It is June. Scott and I are soon to leave for a cruise in Alaska. A cordon streams out. I worry that while we are gone, the ants, already a science-fiction movie, will take over. No telling how many more are beneath the tiles.

Panicked by stern instructions from the ship's "literature" on garb for formal night, I buy a wicked long black dress (you can't go wrong with black), another bottle of ant poison, and nine ant traps - cozy dwellings with three grand entrances in each.

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The traps have allergy notices: "Warning! Contains peanut butter." I try on my dress, walk like a model. By our return, will the ants have climbed from the first floor to the second? I see one skitter up a tiled wall. I know it's going home to ignorant pupa, agent of their deaths, but I can't help it. Hundreds of ants march purposefully along the grout lines, turn, go in another direction.

Scott and I depart (rather, embark). The stateroom, promised by the promo to have generous proportions, looks smaller than an ant trap. We go up a few decks, black with thronging people. Chattering, bumping, vying for space. Colossal feeding stations.

Seasickness overtakes me. I feel like death, wish for death. I remember how ants revere their dead.

First port of call, Ketchikan. We are one of four cruise ships. On land, it becomes difficult to see the charm. Fellow cruisers from assorted lines loll and look. Couples in matching jackets and jewellery gape. It is slightly less crowded over a prolonged noon when people board the ships for feeding.

On our floor at home were pairs of ants. Dragging bodies of dead compatriots? Or copulating? Procreating, dying, eating: the central trinity. Birth must occur, but elsewhere, subterranean.

On board, it's very clean. Carpet sweepers (who must sleep somewhere far below) around every corner. A chemical fug, subtle, the absence of fresh air. I become a sucker for stateroom attendant service - a cleaning of the closet crypt (rather, stateroom) early in the day and then a tidy while we're eating dinner.

Then, I forget about the ants, about their insistent instinct that looks like intelligence but may be stupidity. Our dinner companions are charming. Our conversation is lively. The food is plentiful, delectable. The table is circular, but no black interstices of ants around this watering hole.

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Five courses; I have every one. My methodical jaws grow a mind of their own. I am all digestive tract. Jim, a tablemate, asks cheerfully for peanut butter ice cream every night and is cheerfully denied. Why no such ice cream? Pat mentions instances of anaphylactic shock with peanut allergy. (The ant traps back home with their sweet, epileptic lure.) I nod and chew.

It turns out that Alaska is not so different from British Columbia - green, wet coast - West Coast, there's just more of it. And snow, and icebergs with that surreal blue.

The ship stops in front of the Hubbard Glacier, about 14 kilometres away. On the intercom, the captain congratulates us on the wonderful afternoon we are having. In an oily voice, he tells us what to think, narrates our experience.

Five cruise ships in Juneau. We funnel off and on, orderly. Voices of the bejewelled, hair-sprayed Americans grow louder. Tourists from abroad exclaim over rhododendrons, skunk cabbages. I yawn. Not a novelty.

What do the ants see through their globular compound eyes? Does our sofa rise glacial blue? Does each see the hindquarters of the ant in front? The ship has 11 decks, several passages.

I go to a shipboard art talk. As a lecturer, the speaker makes a good art auctioneer. To be charitable, the venue is poor, the centre of a shopping mecca. People throng on each side. How do they decide which path to take, only to meet up in the middle on the other side? It seems choreographed, relentless. A mystery. My brain contracts. Soon it will be the size of a pea or a glossy thorax. Is that the smallest part of an ant? Their bodies are segmented, right? They come in threes, right?

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Globes of hand sanitizer everywhere, poison to any bacterium foolish enough to stick. I mix up the names for antibacterial and insecticidal soap. Shipboard injunctions to wash hands frequently, even outside the fancy dining room.

Lowest common denominator meets high class. My thoughts become cruiser-inconsequential. I enjoy wearing my black dress.

Last port of call is Icy Strait Point. Its draw: pristine wilderness behind the tourist façade of cannery, faux nativeness, and only one cruise ship a day. From shore, I look out to the virgin seascape and see the mountain shapes of our ship. Behemoth. Incongruous, ugly, the beginnings of an infestation.

Scott and I get home. With trepidation, we walk over the threshold. What of the ants? Dead, all dead. Crepuscular corpses likely in the ant traps. I pick one up.

On the floor, I see an errant ant. Souvenir can of Ketchikan smoked salmon in my other hand, I neatly smush it.

Crystal Hurdle lives in North

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Vancouver. She is the author of

After Ted & Sylvia: Poems.


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