When I was a kid, I heard of an old Maine man who dressed in rags and used the broken end of a peavey for a cane as he walked through the woods.

People who didn’t know the raggedy old man shuddered and hoped that they wouldn’t end up like he did. But people who knew that he owned a sawmill and hundreds of acres of tall timber chuckled to themselves.

If you live in Maine, you know that it is infested with wealthy old natives who live in shabby little houses and drive rusted-out pickup trucks. If you are kind to these people when they are in nursing homes, they have been known to forget their lifetime friends, change their wills and leave everything to you. Within a year after they die there is usually a wicked court fight over “who gets it.”

And then there are wealthy people who own several houses and drive expensive cars – although why anyone would bother to drive an expensive car today escapes me. In 2019 a bottom-of-the-line Honda with no floor mats and four squirrels on a treadmill under the hood can’t be distinguished from a Cadillac, BMW or Mercedes.

Why do some people enjoy being wealthy and looking poor? And why do others need to flaunt their wealth? Or even try to look a lot richer than they really are?

I know a man who bought a $2 tennis racket at the dump store and put it in the rear window above the backseat of his Mercedes. Anyone seeing that tennis racket in the Mercedes parked on a downtown Camden street would automatically figure he was worth about half a million more than he really was.


Wearing shorts, high white socks and sneakers on raw, rainy days in June can create the same impression.

On the coast of Maine, a hot-top driveway is not necessarily a manifestation of wealth. The driveway’s owner might have saved his bottle deposit money for years and gone without heating oil to pay for it. Every winter the snowplow pushed most of the gravel in his driveway out on the lawn, and he simply couldn’t deal with it anymore.

In St. George, where I live, the bumpiest and most rutted driveways might lead you to the modest oceanfront homes of internationally known people who enjoy their anonymity. If it weren’t for the occasional Dauphin Eurocopter rising up out of the alders, you’d never know that they were there.

You might be surprised to learn that I would like to have a hot-top driveway. It has nothing to do with status or piles of gravel snowplowed onto my lawn. A hot-top driveway would give me a platform on which I could use behavior modification to teach ants to spell.

If you check your social media on a daily basis you are already familiar with this story, so please correct me if I leave out any of the important steps.

You must first attract the eager ant scholars. Dumping a cup of your basic off-the-shelf corn syrup on your hot-top driveway every morning for three days should generate a modicum of interest. Don’t be discouraged if only a few ants show up. Word gets out in the ant community quickly and you’ll have more later.


It has yet to be determined if ants learn quicker when reinforced with $53-a-gallon Vermont maple syrup. Or if any ants now have medical problems from too much high-fructose corn syrup, a daily staple for many of us, with its preservatives, artificial colors and flavoring.

In a clean and dry nearby area, use the syrup to write out the letters to simple words or sentences on the hot top. In only a matter of minutes you will see ants gather in the shape of the letters.

Don’t be disappointed if ants seem to be a bit slow in catching on. Be consistent with your positive reinforcement and you’ll walk out there some morning and discover that they’ve already spelled out several words that they know. Chomping at the bit, as it were.

According to social media, behavior modification facilitates language learning on even the lowest levels. One man writes on Facebook that within two weeks he taught a colony of ants to spell 13 words. Had he but world enough and time, he claims they could learn the entire works of Andrew Marvell. A Texas woman says that her ants have a proclivity for Spanish scatology.

The only aberration to date is a colony of fire ants that can’t seem to get past, “I am a genius.”

The humble Farmer can be heard Friday nights at 7 on WHPW (97.3 FM) and visited at:


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