Monday, August 17, 2009

Country Living #7, or Eat a Peach?

As regular readers know, Eberle & I spent several years together in a rather ramshackle farmhouse that still stands just a stone’s throw from our new house. We had lots of adventures in that old house—some of them kind of unsettling at the time, but now recalled more fondly than not.

One thing: it could never be said that we didn’t share our space in that house with others of God’s creatures. Mice (everywhere), frogs (a “fixture” around the old bathtub), the occasional starling that would mistakenly fly down
the chimney (always, in May, during nest building season I suppose), even a “pet” black widow spider that lived in the bathroom (out of reach) the better part of one autumn—as far as insect life goes, wasps were also frequent visitors. Skunks, raccoons & feral cats lived under the house, but to the best of my knowledge none of these found a point of ingress.

Despite this fact, there is no question but that the house was quite permeable; both Eberle & I have described it as living in a large wooden tent. In retrospect, I realize just how devoted our city friends were to come & stay with us there, given the veritable wild kingdom that existed inside those walls.

There’s one story in particular I have in mind, & it also took place in the summer, too—but a much hotter summer than this one has been, & made hotter by the fact that our only source of cooling in the old house was a rather dilapidated old swamp cooler. In fact, the swamp cooler figures in this story not simply because it wasn’t working well enough at the time to dispel the heat…. but more on that.

At the time our story opens I had a telecommuting job for a “major US consumer good manufacturer” that involved starting to work at the rather early (or late) hour of 3:30 a.m.—long story as to why; & I still work for them, but thankfully not on a schedule like that! Our old house is a bit less than 1,000 square feet, so thankfully I did not have far to go from the bedroom to the front room where my computer was located.

There I sat, in the computer light; I remember the stifling heat. & not long after I got up, I heard footfalls in the living room. Wow, I thought, Eberle sure is up early—maybe she can’t sleep for this heat….

However, despite the sound of footfalls coming intermittently for the next couple of minutes, Eberle neither called out Good morning, nor came into the front room to see me. I thought this was odd, so I decided to go meet here & headed off thru the galley kitchen….

at which point, a rather large b
ushy tailed rodent launched itself off the counter that separated the living room & kitchen, & where (not coincidentally) Eberle had placed a large bowl of ripe peaches just the day before.

As you folks who are familiar with the U.S. West may have guessed, our visitor was a pack rat—Neotoma lepida, I suspect, tho there are a number of sub-species—& he’d been rolling said peaches off the counter the better to stash them in his various caches—it was the falling peaches that had sounded like footfalls.

An investigation in the daylight confirmed that the pack rat may have entered thru a new hole in the wall near the swamp cooler—a hole of ample dimensions for Mr Pack Rat, which I stopped up with plywood. Guessing that the pack rat had fled the premises when I accosted him, I hoped this was the end of the story.

Of course, the pack rat was back the next night, re-arranging his far-flung peaches & whatever else caught his eye. The next day I scrounged thru the loft in our shop building, amongst the various kick-knacks & sundries & pulled out the rat size live trap (the raccoon-sized one being way too big for our purposes. But that night Mr Pack Rat again had the run of the house as Eberle & I lay in bed, kept awake by the stifling heat & the various nocturnal bumps & rustlings.

It was just about 2:00 a.m. on the next night when a loud rattling told us that our guest had made his way into the trap—it was baited with peach of course. For a few minutes we both lay in bed—I remember it was a weekend, so it wasn’t as if I had to be up soon to work. Realizing that we weren’t going to get any sleep under the circumstances. we decided to repatriate our bushy-tailed friend.

It has been our experience that if you want to ensure that an unwanted wild critter not turn around & follow you straight back to your home, you’d best take it a ways away. So we headed for Fruitvale, a sparsely settled area north of Council—& a good 30-minute drive in the middle of the night. There, on a dirt road (& far from any houses), we let the Pack Rat strike out on his own, peachless but otherwise unscathed. & we were able to get to sleep when we got back home.

The rest of the story? I won’t say how long we continued to find the stashed peaches!

More joys of country living.

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  1. I loved this. I always liked Country Living Magazine, but this is more my speed - the authentic tale.

    On a sidenote, I bet that rat like the poetry of Li Young Le (Peaches). hahahaha!

  2. At least you set him out in Fruitvale...gotta be something there.
    We have cashew loving squirrels in our neck of the woods...

    Peace - Rene

  3. Hi Jen & Rene:

    Jen: I bet you're right! Thanks.

    Rene: I had a squirel invade my apartment once while I lived in Virginia--don't know if he liked cashews, tho! Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Nice story John. I don't think we have Pack rats over here - or at least I hope we don't.

  5. LOVE this story!!! too too funny and amazingly familiar as i have renovated a number of old spirits myself, and lived in them during the time of renovation - one in particular which had sat empty for several years - great story showing great strength of character - for all of you!!!

  6. oh my! I'm surprised at the abundance of creatures that called your place home. I would have moved, being a city slicker myself, rather than share space with any of those 'friends'. Wow, the mere mention of any of those near my bed and I would not be able to sleep. Shivers! How did you do it?

  7. Hi Alan, Jenean & Chris:

    Alan: No, they are a North American critter. Interesting tho--their nests (or "middens") have been known to remain intact for 40,000 years & as such are of great help to scientists such as paleobiologists.

    Jenean: Yes, it's different living in one of those old houses!

    Chris: You get used to it. I think the worst was one morning when Eberle put her foot in a boot only to be greeted by a mouse who'd thought the boot a likely residence.

  8. Nope Alan,no Pack Rats in Hebden Bridge either!
    John, whats a Swamp Cooler again?
    Have A Fine Week John.

  9. How appropriate to leave him in Fruitvale! Of course, I've heard of pack rats, but I didn't know from where the term came. Delightful story!

  10. Hi Tony & Karen:

    Tony: A swamp cooler is a sort of boxy device that consists of a pump & a large fan, & panels covered with what looks like shredded plastic. The water is pumped up & then drips down over the panels, & the action of the fan takes this moist air & cools it. When a swamp cooler is in good working order, it's a fairly effective device. When not--well, that's another matter.

    Karen: Glad you liked it. I'm sure the pack rat found lots of good stuff in Fruitvale, but hopefully not in anyone's house!

  11. Great story, John. I enjoyed reading it. :-)

  12. did you make sure mr. pack rat wasn't hanging onto the bumper of the car when you turned tail to head home!! hard to give up good peaches!!

    I just read the other comments, we won't burst chris' balloon and tell him about how many critters live in urban habitats!!!!

  13. Hi Mouse:

    Thanks for stopping by! No, the Pack Rat scurried as far from us as he could get. Good point about the urban wildlife!

  14. If it hadn't been for JenX, I'd not have seen this riotous post! I truly did guffaw out loud at the rat rolling the peaches off the counter. Reminds me of one of my favourite comedies, "Mouse Hunt".
    I think I could have coped with all of your invaders, er friends, save the wasps and the Black Widow. Yikes!

    Great post John. I loved it!


  15. Hi Kat:

    That was super of Jen to post about thi. Glad you enjoyed it--yes, from what I've read about you & bugs, I think the wasps would have been a big problem!


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