Reckling: The rodents among us
I’m not one to make a mountain out of a molehill, but last week the snow-covered fields, their snowpack dissolved by the sunny warmth of spring, unveiled an amazing sight. A vast metropolis of serpentine networks could be seen throughout the main pasture, evidenced by rich, earthy mounds that were left behind by subterranean digging. An enormous amount of activity had taken place beneath the deep snow throughout the winter months. The burrowing of pocket gophers and moles had created a beautiful, labyrinthine design across the surface of the land.
What a busy city they have maintained beneath the icy layers of snow, a secret life but for the occasional audible detection heard only by my dog. On our winter walks, she suddenly will snow dive and force her head into the inner depths of frozen snow, snorting for the heavenly scent of the scurrying, squeaking rodents below.
In the small mudroom of my cabin, I maintain a line of mousetraps, their gangplanks heavily slathered with peanut butter, making them so delectable that even the savviest mouse finds the creamy nuttiness simply irresistible. Whenever the temperature plummets, I usually score a trifecta (three occupied traps) in one night. Mice do not discriminate when it comes to winter; they shack up in old houses like mine or the $15 million swankiendas. They believe in equal-opportunity housing.
I keep a pair of “mouse gloves” handy in my mudroom; they are specifically designated for the job of releasing the trapped mice and tossing them by the tail to my newfound friends the magpies. The jar of Jif peanut butter also is kept tightly shut and labeled “MOUSE TRAPS ONLY!” so that I, and my innocent guests, don’t get confused and accidentally use it on their PB&J sandwiches. I use my right pinky to dip into the jar and reload the trigger of the trap with fresh butter before each reset.
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My first few months in Woody Creek were spent cleaning and learning the nuances of the place, but my underlying mission became the pursuit of the pack rat. He, or (God forbid) an expectant she, had set up shop in the basement of the old ranch house and would study me calmly with those dark, beady eyes whenever I’d climb into the earthen chamber. It became a daunting challenge, and I began to feel like Bill Murray in his “Caddyshack” role as the desperate groundskeeper in pursuit of that rampaging, dancing gopher.
My interactions with the pack rat evolved into a love-hate relationship. I didn’t want the large rat to become a permanent tenant, but I also gained respect for this small creature’s ability to outsmart me. One of my friends would call and start singing Michael Jackson’s ode to the beloved rat, “Ben”:
“Ben, the two of us need look no more.
We both found what we’ve been looking for.
With a friend to call my own,
I’ll never be alone, and you, my friend, will see,
You’ve got a friend in me.”
And yes, this love song to a rat may be early confirmation that Jackson was a bit “off.”
The big, gray rat began to unravel the shiny, foiled ventilation duct that ran through the basement and proceeded to decorate his nest with the gleaming material. Inside the nest were all kinds of treasures he had collected — bottle caps, an old keychain, an elk tooth — and it was downright luxurious. I began to worry about offspring and the potential for more than one pack rat.
One of my neighbors convinced me that I had to offer poison to the furry mastermind. Finally, one June morning, two days after I put a tiny tray of d-Con next to the grand nest, he was gone.
As the months have rolled by, I have observed other rodents at work. Fortunately, these creatures aren’t interested in living in the house with me. Beavers, porcupines, muskrats and pocket gophers prefer the outdoor life and the clever hideaways they so industriously create.
Yes, rodents are undesirable due to their ability to multiply and their propensity to carry and spread virulent diseases. We should, however, respect their presence in our world. They play a vital role in the food chain and are a food source for a myriad wildlife, including coyotes, bobcats, foxes, birds and snakes.
In a discussion with a local trapper, he declared, “Yes ma’am, when all is said and done, we humans will blow ourselves to smithereens, and dem little critters’ll outlast us all!”
To this day, whenever I descend the narrow staircase into the basement and flip on the lights, I still half expect to see the large rat poised on the top shelf, next to its fantastic home, those shining black eyes bravely fixed on mine.
Margaret Reckling lives in Woody Creek and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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