My parents have known Afton Fawcett for over four decades. He contacted them in the late 60's when he read an article in the Daily Herald about their gift business called, The Naturalist and how they used pressed flowers in different products that they sold. He was a geologist by trade but wanted to learn how to press flowers. My parents gave him his very first plant press. Now he presses thousands of flowers and sells them (along with rocks and fossils) through his online business - Fawcett Hobby Shop.
They have maintained contact with him over the years because of something else he sells - ants. He was collecting and selling ants long before he met my parents but when they found out - they immediately designed an ant farm made of wood and glass to sell at their gift shop. Afton Fawcett supplied the ants. He has been a legend in our family ever since.
Afton has been featured in many magazine articles over the years for his curious craft of ant collecting and was even invited to be on the Johnny Carson show! (He didn't end up going but he showed us the invitation.) Afton Fawcett is over 80 years old now and his sons run most of the business for him. They are the main harvester ant supplier in the nation - mostly to Uncle Milton's Ant Farms - that can be purchased at most local toy and hobby stores.
My dad made arrangements with Afton for our family to go on an ant collecting excursion. His son-in-law was our tour guide for the day. Before we headed out into the field, he wanted to show us how they prepare the ants for shipping. Their techniques involve everyday items used in very creative and clever ways.
Isaac is eating his shirt?
This one vial of ants is ready to be shipped to a customer - anywhere in the world - and is filled with enough ants to start an ant farm.
Afton's basement is a makeshift ant factory but is also filled with thousands of rocks, fossils and pressed flowers.
He gave each person a piece of petrified wood.
Then we headed to the field to start the collecting. Our destination - Hildale, UT. (Hildale, UT and it's twin city, Colorado City, AZ are polygamous hubs and home to members of FLDS and Centennial Park. More on that later.) Brad took us to an area where there were dozens and dozens of harvester ant hills.
He has his pants tucked into his shoes for a reason!
He immediately got to work!
Don't worry - he is blowing through the metal straw - not sucking! Ants (red harvester ants sting and bite!) were crawling all over this shoes and pants. He said he has only been stung a few times.
After the first hill - he had filled almost 1/4 of the pint jar.
Off to the next hill! He was so swift and efficient with the collecting - you could tell he had done this many, many times before.
Some hills were duds - with not enough ants to collect. But overall - we stopped at close to 10 ant hills total.
Wes even got to try the method. It was harder than it looked! And he had to keep stamping his feet to keep the ants from crawling up his legs!
We collected 1 pint jar of red harvester ants - close to 4,000 ants.
Two old friends reminiscing about days gone by.
We were having such a good time - we hardly noticed the heat!
After the ant collecting excursion we all had lunch at The Merry Wives Cafe - owned and operated by the polygamous groups. The food was good and it was an interesting cultural experience. Our waitress, who dressed in regular clothes, was very friendly and open about her lifestyle. She was 16 or 17 years old and belonged to Centennial Park - a break-off from the FLDS group. She told us it is up to the women to decide who they are to marry - not the men. She has already picked her husband but according to church practice and law - she will not marry until she is 18 years old.
After our interesting lunch we drove around Colorado City where we saw many multifamily homes under construction and more of the traditionally dressed women (long dresses) in polygamous marriages. We also saw what looked to be some sort of large compound surrounded by a 12 foot cement wall. We wondered if it was Warren Jeff's house or some other FLDS structure. We heard they were in the process of building a temple down there.
Post-reunion note (the saga continues!): Without divulging too much information - right after we returned home from our reunion, Wes was contacted by someone who has connections with teenagers (mostly boys) trying to escape the FLDS church in Colorado City. One of them was in a pretty bad accident and had received several lacerations that required stitches. This young man was not living with his parents and had no health insurance so Wes ended up treating him. The kid couldn't believe that Wes had just been down to "the crick" just a few days earlier! He gave Wes an earful of what life is like down there. What a coincidence!