Tales of a rat-hunting man
Column by Hal Walter
Mountain Life – October 2005 – Colorado Central Magazine
THERE’S A PACK RAT that’s been hanging around the house lately. And I’ve decided this rodent must go.
I originally took a live-and-let-the-cat-take-care- of-it approach, figuring it was only a matter of time. After all, our cat lives pretty much on the front porch, and is a natural born killer, often preferring “game” much larger than mice. Surely he would see to the matter one evening when he was not busy strangling baby rabbits or torturing gophers.
But then the rat’s behavior took a turn for the worse. It built a nest, resembling a small brush pile, but also containing shreds of plastic and other man-made garbage, under the front porch, just below the bedroom window. A musky, almost skunk-like smell began to lightly exude. The cat, seemingly, could not care less. Neither could the dog, a rat terrier.
Then, the rodent began to crop flowers from the planters and flowerbed and deposit them, symbolically I guess, just below the cat’s food bowl, which rests on a small table. Since I had actually found rat pellets in and around the cat’s bowl, I began to believe the rat had placed some sort of spell over “the cat,” who has remained nameless for years because having a name seems to be a death sentence for cats around here. This is important when you consider this black-and-white feline has survived nearly a decade of predators, tapeworms, rattlesnakes and ill-mannered neighbors with firearms.
The final straw came one night when I was awakened as the rat tried to scratch and chew its way through the screen of the bedroom window. With a toddler in the house, a night of unbroken sleep is a precious commodity, so the racket was actually more disturbing than the thought of this rodent gnawing and entering.
The rat, simply, had to be sent away.
However, in the midst of this decision it occurred to me that a pesky rodent is a minor inconvenience compared to the troubles some are facing this fall. There’s a certain comfort these days to living several thousand feet above sea level as the images of death and destruction from Hurricane Katrina are beamed thousands of miles through the air so that we might view the devastation from our island of safety here at 8,800 feet.
Also disturbing are the visages of pundits and politicians croaking about not “politicizing” the disaster. So … what are they doing on TV, then? It’s occurred to me that even bringing up the subject of Katrina in this regional magazine, distributed in a region where the sky has taken on the autumn-blue hue and the aspens have begun to turn their seasonal gold, could qualify a writer for an entry in the banality sweepstakes.
THIS IS NOT TO SAY that we are immune from natural disasters here. Earlier this summer hundreds of residents in the nearby Wetmore and Beulah areas were evacuated due to an 11,000-acre wildfire that in one day marched nearly six miles and sent a plume of smoke resembling an atomic mushroom cloud high into the atmosphere. And just a few weeks ago an earthquake was recorded in northern New Mexico, with shock waves reaching to not all that far south of here.
In March 2003, a blizzard of near epic proportions — probably a 100-year storm — squatted upon the Wet Mountains for several days, burying the landscape in 6 to 7 feet of incredibly wet, heavy snow. Hundreds of people were stranded and several unoccupied buildings collapsed. I am still amazed that nobody died as a result of this snowstorm. We were stranded for five days as road crews worked nonstop to clear area roads.
When we finally got out I remember seeing an entire herd of pronghorns that had perished in the drifts. Ravens were picking at the carcasses. One of the antelope, a buck, was still alive, lying in the snow with its still head up, surveying the bright white landscape and waiting for the eventuality of dehydration, starvation or a pack of coyotes.
This and other things I have seen have left me to ponder whether Nature is cruel, or, rather, if Nature just is.
Still, our mountain disasters thus far have been a far cry from thousands of humans dead, 90,000 square miles of total devastation, a Super Dome that became “Thunderdome” and acres and acres of putrid water roiling with disease, plagues of mosquitoes, poisonous snakes and God knows what else.
Up the road from here is the ranch that I caretake. In the barn live two cats. One is overtly friendly to the point that I must roll up my truck windows to keep him from trying to ride home with me. The other is so skittish that she is rarely seen, and even then only as a long-haired calico blur headed for the hay. I feed these cats in a large rubber dog bowl that sits upon an old freezer.
RECENTLY IT OCCURRED to me that the cat food in this barn had been disappearing at an alarming rate. Then I realized that I hadn’t seen the orange cat in several days, or the calico blur either for that matter. One day I found the cat food had been replaced with small stones. This reminded me of the flowers placed near my own cat’s bowl. Later, the orange cat turned up at a neighbor’s house, apparently a refugee displaced by something more hungry.
Years ago, my writer friend Patrick, who has since designated his Custer County abode a “second home,” took his Toyota pickup to Pueblo because it was running roughly. As he tells it, the mechanic quickly found the chewed wiring that was causing the trouble. While he was still investigating, however, a large rat leaped out of the engine and hit the floor running. It made a lap around the service bay before returning to his vehicle and running up the tire and back into the mechanical guts.
Patrick drove back to the mountains with new spark-plug wires, a can of spray rodent repellant for his engine, and also his stow-away rat. He said the color had finally returned to the mechanic’s face not long before he drove away. Patrick went on to have further adventures with pack rats in his wood pile, dryer vent, and toilet.
As I have stated, the attempted gnawing-and-entry means that I can no longer trust these matters to my cat or dog. I have made the purchase of a big spring-loaded black plastic rat trap ($4.99) from a ranch-supply store. One night soon, when I feel the time is right, I may set it, though a friend has offered a “live-catch” trap. We’ll see.
Sometimes Nature, cruel or not, is what it is, right on your own front porch.
Hal Walter writes from 35 acres, shared with burros and rodents, in the Wet Mountains.
Tales of a Rat Hunting Man is a book by David Brian Plummer about the sport of “ratting,” or hunting rats with terrier dogs and ferrets, in Great Britain. For more information, go to http://www.ferretexpert.info/stuff-1558215956.html
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