The War on Packrats

The Absurd NaturalistAN Transparent

How did it come to this? I never intended for it go  this far. And now, with the war turning badly, I fear  the worst.

When we first moved into our little cabin in the hills, there was no hint of the troubles ahead. Yes, there were a few skirmishes with the local javelina and rabbit tribes, but it was nothing we couldn’t handle. Then we started noticing stuff: mysterious droppings and urine spots on the patio; piles of twigs and cones under every shrub and boulder; and inexplicable chew marks on the siding of our cabin.

As I recall, it was when I discovered that one of our car’s front headlamps was out that things turned ominous. When I brought the car in for repair, I was in for a double shock. The mechanic informed me that the wires to the headlamp had been neatly severed, most likely by a packrat, which was apparently in the process of building a nest there. Then he handed me a bill for $200.

I tried my best to take this philosophically, but when it happened again I knew the tiny gauntlet had been thrown down. When later I discovered a ziggurat-sized packrat nest behind our cabin, I knew there was no turning back. I must stand and fight.

You wouldn’t think a creature with such a cute name—we even apply it to certain humans who can’t throw anything away—could be so much trouble. OK, so technically they’re rats—wood rats, to be exact—but unlike those nasty Norway rats which live in sewers, subways, and other dark places, these guys just live out in the woods and deserts. They have long hairy tails and big ears, and the way they look at you with those dark liquid eyes you’d swear they belong in a Disney movie. Hard working little critters, they build huge nests that can be occupied for a thousand years or more by generations of rats. Scientists just love these nests, by the way, because in addition to their tasteful furnishings of cans, glass, cartridge cases, jewelry and assorted objets d’art, they also contain gobs of plant debris and pollen that can provide clues of past changes in plant communities. Nature writers wax eloquently about how packrats have adapted to survival in the harsh desert environment, investing them with a certain charm and cachet.

But don’t be fooled. They are ruthless and will stop at nothing. They will invade your castle. They will construct nests within your car and rip out your wiring and upholstery. They will chew up your siding and steal anything not nailed down. And they will leave behind them a trail of urine, feces, kissing bugs, and even Bubonic Plague.

Normally I’m a peaceful guy, but this was war. It was either them or me.

Over the next few years, as I experimented with various lethal devices, I became expert at trapping them. Considering the number of hours I now devote to this task, it has grown from a mere hobby to a sacred mission. I am fully convinced that, if not for my efforts, this seething rodent swarm would quickly overrun my neighborhood and the world.

I have lost track of the number of rats I have killed. I started notching them on the wall in the kitchen until my wife put a stop to it. Having destroyed every hint of a nest on our five acres, I diligently patrol our property each week on search and destroy missions. At the first hint of telltale droppings or nest building, I set out new traps. Like fur trappers of old, every morning I go out and inspect my trap lines. I must be ever vigilant, for I know they are out there planning their next attack.

Lately there have been some new developments. Despite my best efforts, I have been discovering nests such as I have never seen before. Unlike the previous ones, these are more sturdy structures, complete with tile or asphalt roofs, little wooden doors, and reinforced walls. Whenever I manage to demolish one, I find paneling, insulation, and other undeniable signs of remodeling, as well as scraps of diagrams, metal and plastic scattered about, as if they were constructing some device.

Then, one day, as I performed my usual patrol, I saw it. It was right next to my favorite rock outcrop—a place where I often go to sit. About five feet long, it seems to be made of some sort of hard black plastic, with a little tray in the middle. Call me mad, but I swear it looks just like a huge trap…baited with brie cheese and a bottle of chardonnay.
©Gene Twaronite 2014

Originally published in 5enses October 2014   http://www.5ensesmag.com/tag/gene-twaronite/