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12 June, 2011

Ratified Treaty?

Last year, as the season of seeds filled out, I wrote of rats. I haven't been seeing so many lately, but Olympians unafraid to broach subjects rodential confirm that our fair burg continues to have an issue. My last conversation with the pest control guy (yeah, "control," because they don't even pretend to be able to exterminate the population on even a local basis) revealed that the population is booming. The big Norwegian rats have only advanced a little way uphill from the downtown and waterfront, but black rats (a.k.a. roof rats and maybe some other names, Rattus rattus suggesting that scientists saw this kind first, or worship them as the archetype) are everywhere, moving beyond our neighborhoods and into the woods. Roof rats are smaller than their viking cousins, and maybe less berserk, so I was a little relieved to know that what inhabited my neighborhood, although I'd have been happier with kangaroo rats, which are not really rats, but a desert creature, or maybe just a denizen of old Warner Brothers cartoons.

Initially, I signed a non-aggression pact. As long as they refrained from giving me and my family the black death, I'd leave them be. Other than compost (comprised primarily of fresh-ish veggie scraps that they don't really like anyway), I was not obligated to provide aid of any sort. They would aerate the soil, do some clean-up (my yard would be a thicket of hazel otherwise), and stay in their territory, which is to say the Outside. 

But one of their number, whether rat bastard or dirty rat I cannot say, started cheating, and before long they were chewing holes under the bathroom, living in the attic, and finally deciding that they should come through the wallboard and into our home. 


I killed a couple, and hired rat guy to get some more. We hardened the defensive perimeter. Rats are smart enough not to want to work too hard, or to risk their lives, and they kept out. Michael Pollan wrote about the Omnivore's Dilemma, but the Opportunity of rats and every other omnivore is that when denied one thing (the bacon on my kitchen counter), they make do with something else (the calendula seeds in my garden). I tried to avoid setting out a buffet by keeping the dog's food inside (even though Mr. Crow would not share much with rats anyway) and canceling plans for the backyard granary. 

The truce seems to have held, and I see fewer rats than I used to. Maybe they are in a downward trend for a while. Populations of rapid breeders tend to have booms and busts, and even though the winter was not that bad, we're still a few months away from the abundance of late summer and fall, when seeds and nuts will be everywhere. More likely, the rodents are underground. 

Literally. Lots of tunnel activity evident lately. I only hope that they are just trying to avoid being seen, afraid of being picked off by humans and hawks. My fear is that they're using the truce to breed an army (rat mammas can pump out ten in a litter, several times a year for about three years), or breach the perimeter surreptitiously in advance of a massive assault, or bring in explosives under the house foundation. 

For the time being, though, hope trumps fear, and I continue to make offerings of compost (and they continue to drag it into their tunnels, transforming it into soil), and have not killed any this year. Once the house was clear, I un-hired the rat guy and stopped setting traps. We'll see if that works, or if this is just another scam like Hitler's non-aggression pact with Russia. (Ew, bad comparison. I don't wanna be Stalin.)

No doubt there will be more to this story. The sickly hairless tale of rats and humans will continue to co-evolve. We're stuck with each other.

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