– INTRO TO THE WILD WARRIOR AWARDS –
By Jake the fully embodied Human Host of Storysold: Pest Control
Most humans learn about wild earth creatures in books and movies long before they experience them. It’s common for people to believe they’re learning something about The Wilderness around them when they study domesticated versions of wild creatures in labs, or own them as pets.
Don’t take this emotionally, but most humans have a schizophrenic relationship with The Urban Wilderness by default. Disney rats (and or pet/lab rats) are more real to most humans than real rats. Disney ants (marching like human soldiers) are more real than the real ants they experience in their homes. Even most pest control customers haven’t experienced, let’s say, a rat infestation large enough to really learn anything about rats. And honestly, the same goes for most pest control professionals. Most techs don’t directly engage the rats, ants, wildlife, and bedbugs they “treat.” They follow generic storylines that feature devices like refilling bait stations with rodenticides, or spraying foundations regularly without inspecting for the bugs they’re “treating,” and that’s why generic pest control technicians tell the most entertaining/bullshit stories about pests. They simply have no idea what the natural call and response of hunting rats, ants, or bedbugs feels like…
I don’t host any tough guy hunter characters in my stock of working characters. I’m no Bungalow Bill, but I’ve learned a great many things by hunting pests (vs. treating them) and engaging them in the classic tradition of a predator/prey relationship. This post is dedicated to what I believe is the most interesting part of my relationship with the wild earth creatures I hunt and kill in order to draw a clearer territorial line around my customers’ Homefronts. That most interesting part is the natural respect a hunter develops for their prey over time.
Jesus is no genius. I call him my “Captain Obvious” character, but most humans understand that he stood somewhere in Israel a long time ago (with long flowing Germanic blonde hair and blue eyes) and said something about loving your enemies. I’m not exactly sure what he was really saying for real (like in some sort of strange theological sense), but I don’t think he delivered that line like a commandment. I think it’s a normal for a hunter, or soldier, to feel respect (if not love) for their prey. Once again, it’s not something you can read about in a book. It’s part of the human experience of hunting for food or killing to defend their territorial Homefront.
I like to imagine wolves feel a deep sense of satisfaction after running down and catching an especially wily rat. A wolf will remember that meal longer than they will remember the scrap of meat a human throws at them in a zoo. More than that, I imagine that wolf (like a good rat catcher) will use that wily rats story to develop a model or character for hunting rats in their mind. In that way, all good hunters host a character of their prey. The feeling of an especially good catch, or meal, is nature’s form positive reenforcement.
I know it’s a stretch, but it isn’t hard to watch the predator/prey relationship being played out in The Real World everyday in the Stockholm syndrome-like action of co-dependent relationships. In fact, it explains a lot about how we humans often are willing to trade our freedom and responsibility for self for the security a predator can provide. Is it fair to call that feeling of security (from being of use, or having a directed role to play in the predator’s story) “love” in the modern romantic sense? Probably not, but it’s certainly a trackable part of the human experience…
A FIRST FEW WILD WARRIOR AWARDS – “Mother Roof Rats (In General)”
In rat world, “dads” might be good at ruling the colony and fighting off other male rats (like humans do who rule corporations or nations), but I’ve discovered that “mom” is often the most formidable warrior of her most immediate family “homefront” nest. She would rather eat her young and feed them to her living children, then take the bait she knows is bait…
I should have started The Wild Warrior Awards a long time ago, but I did write one full length story about Momma Roof Rat. Here’s the link: https://storybank.live/2019/10/04/18-2/
The other story about mother rats is a part of a longer unwritten story I call, “The Mean Girls of Mt. Tabor.”
Guide still tell this part to new customers every so often. She usually say something like, “I’m not sneaky. I respect rats enough to know I’m not tricking them. Effective trapping uses the rats’ character against them. For example, a mother and sometimes father rat will trip my traps to protect their litter. I have many examples of this, but none so dramatic as the mother rat I met in a crawlspace in Mt. Tabor. It’d been trapping the infestation on the periphery for many months before my customer Angela helped me identity the source, which turned out to be a neighboring duplex owned by a landlord who needed some help understanding his predicament. On the day of my set up service I identified and marked at least 15-20 entry holes around the duplex’s cavernous crawlspace, and then I went to work–belly crawling around–setting my usual variety of snap traps. After I’d already set five or so traps, I crawled into a tight corner of an add-on space where a well-worn entry hole gave easy access to the fence line bordering Angela’s garage, which I excluded and enrolled as an honorary member of The Garage Liberation Front (https://storybank.live/2019/11/07/34/). No sooner had I set my first trap, I watched two baby rats the size of large mice pop up from the fallen insulation where they were nesting, run along the side of the exterior wall, and then pop down through an interior runway hole between the add-on and the main crawlspace. ‘Ah ha!’ I said aloud. ‘Got you!’ I was smiling through my respirator as I set three traps along what I was certain was their runway. No sooner had I set the traps and turned away to set more, I heard another rustle from the large mess of insulation. I spun around in time to watch a large adult rat pop from the nest, and then (to my amazement!) hit the runway at full speed and pounced on my traps (landing straight down on them) like a cat–pop, pop, pop–tripping all three of them before she followed her children’s path into the main crawlspace. Fascinated I followed them. First I found another tripped trap. It was the same easy set style as the other three I’d set along the runway. Then I found momma. She tried a different move with a different style of trap, a classic Victor. The bar had hit her square in the head, but she was still able to pull her head out of the trap. Stunned, in shock, half dead, unable to move, she looked at me with her big rat eyes, breathing heavily, as I looked at her. She was a beautiful Tabor Rat for sure. I watched her for a few moments in disbelief, half expecting her to spring back into action. And then I found a brick and beat her to death.”
THE WILD WARRIOR AWARD FOR FEBRUARY 2022 – “The Cooler King”
All tough guys like The Great Escape starring one of Steve McQueen’s most celebrated characters, The Cooler King. What makes that character so great isn’t the classic heroism of “protecting the innocence of women and children and killing the bad guys.” It’s the character’s mental toughness, defiance, and absolute refusal to buy the reality of a storyline he’s being forced to buy by overwhelming odds. I believe that kind of defiance is rare, and vastly under appreciated, and a whole lot more valuable to any heroic warrior than the power to slaughter bad guys by the bushels. After all, in The End, that kind of defiance (willingness to resist in mind and body) is the real agent of change, not the tough guys with big muscles, killing machines, mouse traps, and guns…
I met the Cooler King in The Rural Wilderness outside Cascade Locks. It was the third chapter of Kat and Jake’s rat and mouse infestation. Up until that point, I was calling their service story, “The Wood Rat with a Heart” because I’d trapped a large wood rat in the crawlspace on the first service, and then discovered that the territory was also home to a good sized mouse infestation. Strictly speaking, rats don’t share territories with mice. Rats kill mice for the same reason homeowners kill them. Mice usually lurk around the periphery of rat territory until the rats leave (or are killed off), and then they begin to trickle in. Not so much in this story. The mice were clearly sharing the crawlspace with at least one wood rat. My guess was that there was enough resources around to limit the need for too much competitiveness.
In any case, I was suited up (as Wilderness Security Guide) in my blue jumpsuit, backwards Red Sox hat, respirator, and headlamp belly crawling through the space checking my 30+ mouse traps. The carnage was great. I think I caught 9 mice that day. In spite of what many of my customer’s think, 5-10 mice is the average size of most mouse infestations.
The Cooler King was sitting on a pillar surrounded by three traps. He was happily munching on some Cocoa Krispies that had fallen off one of the sprung traps. I thought for sure he would bound away to safety, but he continued to eat like I wasn’t shining a big ass light in his eyes. Curious, I put my gloves on and reached out…
Still he didn’t move. So I picked him up by the scruff and put him in my Death Bucket. When I emerged from the darkness, I picked him up again and inspected him for wounds. I was sure he was in shock or something. Sure enough, the end of his tail had been taken off by a rat trap, once again affirming the need to set traps the right size for my targets (I blamed the wood rat for that one).
My unofficial company policy for wounded mice caught live is to treat them like a sacrifice to the gods. I put them in a cage for a few days, give them a last meal (to get their strength back, or die), and then feed them to the many owls, hawks, and coyotes outside my house. It’s mostly a curtesy I do to my friendly neighborhood predators who don’t have a taste for The Dead.
The cage I used was a mechanical “repeater” trap, which I supplied with more Cocoa Krispies and water.
Next I left Kat and Jeff’s beautiful wilderness Homefront, drove to Corbett, and worked on The Epic Skunk Adventures (https://storybank.live/2022/02/16/epicskunk/) for an hour, did some exclusion work and checked traps at Bentley’s (very cool boat upholstery shop), then I drove to Brightwood (on the way to Mt. Hood) and began my third bedbug hunt in a tiny home that seemed to have been built for breeding bedbugs, when I suddenly slipped on some tiny stairs and landed, square on my back, knocking the wind out of me.
It was scary. I couldn’t breathe right for 2 hours. I couldn’t sleep in a bed for 5 days.
Meanwhile, The Cooler King was still in the cooler…still “bouncing his baseball” in the mechanical trap in the back of my van. Almost a week had gone by before I remembered him. I thought for sure he was dead, but no! The Cooler King was still there, huddled in the corner of the trap.
Honestly, at that point, I really fell in love with the guy. I moved him from the trap to a fancy pet cage with a wheel, water bottle, and all the oats, dried corn, birdseed, and Cocoa Krispies he could eat.
Most wild creatures don’t take to cages. They don’t figure out the water bottle. They tear at the walls, don’t eat, and die within a few days. Not the Cooler King. He figured out the water situation right away and pretty much ate everything I fed him. I didn’t want to torture my cat (with the promise of a hunt), so I put him in our back room where he stayed for a week. I could tell our guy was still alive because the water level continued to drop.
Typically I hate (yes really hate) the idea of owning a pet. I understand the need to domesticate animals and plants for food, but I simply don’t get the desire to own a living earth creature for entertainment purposes only. My wife, Farmer Emily, and I go around about this all the time. She’s still holding out that Pip the Evergreen Jungle Cat (our pet) will be put to use once we own a farm (he’s a better hunter than I am) and no longer have to keep Pip inside to protect the songbirds and or our landlord The East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District’s sensibilities about The Nature. She says Pip’s fur is soft and it gives her comfort to pet it.
The photo was taken when I still worked in The Industry. It featured in my front page Willamette Week article: https://www.wweek.com/news/2016/06/01/kill-em-all-a-portland-exterminators-experiences-at-the-intersection-of-wilderness-and-civilization/ about The Industry. Hence the sunglasses. They didn’t work. After it was published, one of my coworkers at Pioneer Pest Management (now Purcor) cornered me after a team meeting to tell me, in no uncertain terms, that “if I was in charge, I would fire you for writing that.”
That’s all to say, I really hate pets. Especially dogs. They’re like walking/slobbering/barking affirmations for the general goodness of domestication and the civilization it breeds. Yet I was walking back to the pet cage in my back room, on my last day of rest before returning to my rat holes, prepared to clean the cage and make it more livable for my Cooler King. Five minutes into my cleaning efforts, I realized I’d been had…
THE COOLER KING HAD ESCAPED! Where I had no idea. Somewhere free in my house.
Months later, I still haven’t found any signs of him. No offerings on the carpet from Pip.
All I know is, for a moment there I was ready to own a pet. It was like that got-damned little bastard put a spell on me, and then escaped back to The Urban Wilderness laughing all the way.
I believe that victory should have its plunder, and I hope this winner of The Wild Warrior Award enjoys a long life living and working from somewhere under our double wide caretaker’s trailer. I know it sounds crazy, but some nights I think I can still hear his laughter.