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…
Sorry about all that philosophizing. I need it to feel more normal about being the host of a pest control business who says things like, “I love the earth creatures I hunt…especially roof rats, ants, and raccoons.”
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.
To be continued with the next wild warrior winner…
SOME HUMANS GO HOME TO KIDS, CHORES, AND A DESK FULL OF BILLS. OUR HUMAN HOST AND FARMER EMILY HAVE BILLS TO PAY AND CHICKENS TO FEED WHEN THEY GET HOME, BUT THEY DON’T HAVE KIDS. THEY HAVE RATS AND VOLES TO HUNT IN THE OPEN FIELD…
In the days before STORYSOLD: Pest Control, after our humans’ adventure in Eastern Oregon where Emily became Farmer Emily and Jake learned to hate The Mental Health System, our humans moved to Gresham, Oregon so Emily could play a part in some of the most meaningful programs ever created by bureaucrats.
It’s run by The Generic Thing called “East Multnomah Soil Water and Conservation District”, and they called it, The Headwaters Farm Incubator Program. Patterned off successful local food source productions like Intervale in Vermont, Headwaters is the front line of the front line for protecting our land, water, and local food systems.
Where does our human fit into this picture? For a long time, Jake felt like a Groupie, an adoring, sort of dorky fan of the serious badasses who claim the title of “Local, Organic Farmer.” And being a fan was easy for Jake. Once of his favorite lines about Organic Farmers is, “Local food is the one common good that everyone can agree on. The God-fearing, gun-slinging, end-times preparing folks get local, small scale farming because the power to grow food ranks pretty high on The Strategic Guide to Surviving The Tribulation. And the Granola Crunchers agree with conservation and the importance of developing a sustainable, local food system on principle. It’s a social thing. Like church for people who hate church.”
Farming is not at all like society thinks. It’s not “unskilled labor.” It takes mad skills to be a farmer. Not only complex strategic planning skills, but raw energy sporty skills. It takes brains and brawn, and (in Jake’s humble opinion) Farmer Emily is the Micheal Jordan of Portland’s farm world. Brian and Mary of Wild Roots and Farmer Dan of Flying Coyote are close seconds, but Brian and Mary own a tractor and Dan talks too much to be A #1 Farmer of Portland.
All that’s to say, Jake didn’t fit in that picture at all. He would rather low crawl through a rat infested crawlspace than spend all day bending over to weed and harvest. That was until he found a niche in The Action that he could fill…
It wasn’t like we baited The District into hiring Wilderness Guide to catch rats on the farm. Emily played a role in Headwaters Farm Incubator Program for five years before she graduated and moved her farm to an adjacent property owned by The District, where she leased the land and subleased to other graduates like [Former] Farmer Rick and the always engaging non-English speaking farmers known lovingly as The Russians. Throughout that storyline, we saw the rat holes. We saw the rat droppings in the barn. We listened to the rat stories spun by farmers. But it wasn’t until we took over the on-site caretaker duties formerly dutied by Farmer Rick did we become acutely aware that we were living next to an infestation.
Since the beginning of The Headwaters program, Farmer Rick’s cats had been the only rodent control on the property. Most farmers at Headwaters believed in Mother Nature’s ability to balance the rodent population without any formal system of death-dealing devised by humans. They generally believed in the ragtag band of half-wild farm cats as long as they didn’t piss on the vegetables. They believed in the Great Horned Owls, weasels, coyotes, and hawks that thrived on the property. But, when Farmer Emily and Jake became the caretakers, The District decided to take the wild farm cats off that list. They didn’t want our wild creature friend, Pip the Evergreen Jungle Cat, to kill the songbirds. Which he would, without a doubt. Like a soldier or sportsman, Pip was well fed. He could kill all day everyday, because he didn’t kill to eat.
Like they say, “All an infestation needs to grow is for good rat catchers to do nothing.” We saw the rats running to and from the compost cart at the barn at night. We saw the fresh droppings in the barn. Yet we did nothing, because why? Honestly I think it was a perverse curiosity. How long could a group of organic farms go without developing an equally “organic” poison-free system of rodent control to draw The Magic Line between their crops and all the wild creatures that feed on it.
And we answered that question. Our rough estimate was “six years.” Good job owls! Good job snakes and weasels!
Our role as the official Organic Farm Rat Catcher was triggered by 2 events: a) Brian and Mary registering a formal complaint about the rats in the barn with The District, and b) the day Rowan (Headwaters’ Manager, Visionary, and Patron Saint) turned the compost pile and saw “fifty rats running from it.”
At first we asked Rowan for an official farm title, a honorary role to play in the development of our local food system, in exchange for our killing of the rats, but that didn’t happen. Instead we settled for an hourly wage and the challenge of killing rats in a barn and the open field without the use of rodenticides.
Here’s some highlights of our first epic rat hunt at home (we live next to that barn):
We quickly learned 2 things about farm rats: 1) they don’t give 2 shits about the fancy attractants we put on the triggers of our traps, because they LOVE ORGANIC VEGETABLES and the smart rats (yes smart, not mentally ill) feed on their favorite, familiar, comfort food source like drug addicts; and 2) there were some monsters living in our farm forest that could run through our standard factory made rat traps with the ease of squirrels.
To counter that, we stuffed fresh vegetables/compost (donated by the finest farmers in Portland) in live catch squirrel traps and buried them in the compost cart. This worked very well. Guide almost smiled when Farmer Justin texted us excitedly to report that we’d caught 3 rats at once!
As any rat catcher worth their salt knows, trapping rats without doing something to exclude them and or upend their happy environments is not smart. Our exclusion project at the barn produced one of the coolest “pest devices” Wilderness Guide has ever concocted:
Hunting rats in my own backyard also gave me a chance to do some experimentation. The first “Action Cycler” didn’t do so well, but it spawned a similar chicken feed excluder that worked wonders for Donna in the Couve:
The “open field trapping” at the compost had some memorable moments. Until I finally caught him or her, one of the rats would greet us, at dusk, when I checked my traps. I’ve only met 2 vocal rats; both of which were wild farm rats. The first was my first catch at Headwaters. We named him “Tomato Badass” because he was caught raiding Farmer Emily’s tomatoes in the barn. Tomato Badass “barked” at us. He was definitely not contented by the security of a cage. The guy that greeted us at the compost pile didn’t bark. This rat “grunted” as it ran slowly away from its nest, baiting us to chase. Which we did, if only for a lark. The Grunt was one of our favorites. It was sad to see him go…
The trap that got him was no cheap industry special. It was a steel body trap with 2 springs. It was baited with a peanut and some leafy compost greens. Thanks to traps like this, I was finally nailing larger adult rats….instead of picking off juvenile after juvenile, litter after litter, like most industry rat techs do.
The First Rat Hunt at Home lasted from February to mid June 2020. The barn was the first to clear, sometime in early May. I knew it was clear once I began to catch mice and voles in my exterior traps; and discovered no hits on the free food I stocked in the Volehalla boxes set inside the barn. The compost pile took a while longer. I noticed my traps suddenly went very quiet in mid June, but it wasn’t until Rowan invited a pack of humans with rat hunting terriers to do a hunt on the farm did I know I’d won. The humans and their dogs had a good rep. They boasted that they’d killed as many as 60 rats at a chicken farm in once day! They roamed the farm in search of rats for hours. Rowan even turned the monster compost pile again, but the humans and their pack of employable terriers didn’t find a single rat. Not one.
Naturally, at the end of their hunt, I smiled at the domesticates and said, “Gee, that’s too bad. Maybe you’ll have better luck next time.” I can’t remember the last time I was so happy. It was a major victory. Tame creatures (especially lacky Disney dogs and Pet People) have no business hunting rats anyway. It’s an offense to the honor and wildness of rats.
When we finally nailed an ending to The Great Headwaters Rat Infestation, the final count was 56 rats and 84 mice.
R.I.P. Tomato Badass, Grunt, and The Monster who Rowan claimed “shook the barn” when it hit the barn door as it fled the wrath of the Headwaters Farmers. Your stories will be remembered. That’s what good rat catchers do best.
WELCOME TO STORYSOLD’S FIRST LIVE ACTION NOVEL. IT’S ABOUT BUILDING A NEW KIND OF HOMEFRONT.
Produced for Jennifer Y, Kevin B, and John D. in Lake Oswego beginning Nov 6th 2019
Chapter 1 (Nov 5th 2019): The Critter
I am Wilderness Security Guide, the Environmental Control Operator in charge of rodent services for Storysold: Pest Control. And this is the story of my service –
Over the centuries, you humans have been able to accomplish amazing feats in the expansion and defense of your home fronts. Humans built The Great Wall, constructed mighty castles to defend God, King, and Country, dug miles of trenches in the midst of bombs and gas attacks to mark The Front Line, and sailed to every corner of the earth to claim new ground for your Homelands, but humans still haven’t engineered a good way to keep rats from living under their kitchens and stinking up their Sunday brunch.
Ask your nearest human, “Where’s your Homefront?”
Is it our nation’s border with all its checkpoints?Or maybe it’s our front door?Or maybe its all those lines we drew far away in a distant lands? Even in wartime, The Homefront is a mercurial place like Camelot where the maidens in white uniforms are expected to gather in silence to dress, feed, and nurse their wounded soldiers.
Humans are funny creatures. Ask any of my wilderness creature friends to show you their home fronts. They know exactly where The Line between their burrows, nests, and dens end…and the civilized world begins.
Rats have always known where to find your homefronts.
That’s the difference between law enforcement, war, or preparations for war, and my job. Wilderness security isn’t interested in imaginary lines. My mission is clear. I mark and defend home territories from pests.
Wilderness security is about marking, defending, and maintaining a very real territorial line where the pesky critters who are not invited guests know…without a doubt…who owns that nice, dry, warm home they want to creep around and nest under.
Homes are sacred. It’s the unwritten law of nature. Most of my wilderness creature friends will respect The Line if it’s active, but they will claim it for The Queen like Columbus in a heartbeat if they’re led to believe it’s “undiscovered.” Like your neighbors undiscovered woodpile, rotting garden shed, or old car that’s been sitting in their yard for years.
And of course if the rats are hungry…and the territory control company you hired to build and defend your front stocks poisoned food around your home (that will drive them mad for days before they die)…then suddenly that water line it passed a hundred times on its way to its nest begins to look mighty refreshing. Years of routine peaceful cohabitation goes right out the window. All bets are off when the bait hits their bloodline and pumps their little brains full of the rat smack that sends them on a final Magical Mystery Tour filled with jangly guitars and jolly gurus offering them The Ultimate Unenhungerment of free peanut butter.
Humans aren’t the only ones with disorders. Environments as a whole can be extremely disordered as well. Our small team of industry rebels have begun to study what we call “environmental disorders” that effect the homes of humans and wild creatures alike.
We called our first enviro-disorder, “Entry Hole Disorder.”
The second disorder is the subject of this service story. It’s a deeply rooted environmental defect that effects homes, nations, and other land based identities. We call it: “Systemic Death Production Disorder.” In short, Systemic Death Production Disorder is an action plan undertaken by would-be home defending heroes (and other environmental control professionals like pest control operators) who believe the production of death is the best way to mark and defend their territories. The trouble is, as we know, you humans have been killing rats for centuries. And it has only made them stronger, more clever, and capable of invading human homes.
We’re new at this “science.” So new in fact we don’t even know where to classify the study of environmental disorders. I’m not big on science. I’ve always felt The Story has more explanatory power than, let’s say, running The Numbers. Who knows, maybe we’ll call it a literary exploration, or something like that.
In any case, forgive the ignorant jargon, we don’t have a “cure” or even a working “treatment” for Systemic Death Production Disorder yet. Not by a long shot. But we found a couple of humans named Jennifer and Kevin who own a beautiful old home in Lake Oswego who were tired of smelling death. The Thumbtack message came in early. We were on our way to our cast member Matt’s home, the producer of Scratcher…
STORYSOLD: Hello Jennifer. I can come out and deal with it [the death smell], but I can’t be there until around 5 tonight. I’ll know better as my day progresses.
JENNIFER: Awesome, please keep me posted. I have an event here tomorrow and need to resolve
Fifteen minutes later, we sent the following message:
STORYSOLD: I can do some creative rerouting. Is noonish better?
JENNIFER: Omg!! Yes, I love you!!
STORYSOLD: I get it. Smell is bad. See you soon
Ten minutes later, we got the following message:
JENNIFER: I’m sorry I didn’t get your name? The guy from Critter Control just showed up at door, so I’m letting him take care of it. They are the service we’ve had for years, but told me they couldn’t come today. I’m sorry to cancel on you, as I do greatly appreciate your prompt response and willingness to come out.
STORYSOLD: Just a thought. If you have had to use them a lot, maybe your home isn’t excluded properly. I’d be happy to come out another day, inspect for entry points, and give you a quote for free
JENNIFER: Sure, if you’d like to give estimate, that would be great. We’ve used them a lot, had them barrier crawl space, and subscribed to their abatement system because they said they’d guarantee coming out if we had issues. But this morning, the office staff customer service was terrible. Acted as though I was a nuisance rather than a good customer.
And so it began. The next morning we introduced ourselves to Keven and Jennifer, popped down in the crawlspace defended by Critter Control (aka the Critter), and reappeared with a phone full of pictures documenting the many entry holes and clear runways through the exclusion work they paid the Critter a lot of money for.
In the Critter’s defense, their territory was a lot harder to exclude than almost any we’ve seen yet. Only half of it a U-shaped foundation, the other half was like a big porch with sheetrock sides fixed to pillars. The Critter had made an effort to bury some mouse friendly hardware cloth (about 6 inches down), but, as I will show, that was mostly for show. It was clear to me from the beginning, the rodents of Lake Oswego had their run of the crawlspace. Signs of activity were everywhere.
Not only did I find entry holes all along the Critter’s exclusion barrier, I also found a nice, fat, ripe dead rat (and a dried up old mouse)–which I fished out of the crawlspace. After I’d stripped my jumpsuit and dusted myself off, I met with Kevin and Jennifer for a few minutes. They were busy, getting ready for their gathering. I tried to escape gracefully many times (and leave them to their preparations), but they continued to ask questions and listen to my perspective on pest control.
“What dead thing did the Critter Control guy pull out when he was here yesterday?” I asked, a little curious.
“He said he couldn’t access the whole crawlspace…too tight,” Kevin replied as we poked around just inside the hatch. “He said he pulled out a dead rat and a mouse.”
“That’s funny,” I laughed. “I pulled out a dead rat and a mouse too.”
“That explains why we were still smelling something mid kitchen.”
“Yeah,” I nodded. “I found it right where Jennifer said she was still smelling the smell. It wasn’t hard to find…right in the middle of the path leading to the back corner.”
“Do you think the bait brings them in?” Kevin asked.
“Great question,” I said, trying to contain my excitement. I love it when the humans I work with get it. “Bait not only brings them in, it makes them crazy and more likely to cause trouble before they die. It also makes it harder for me to locate…that’s why I prefer using snap traps.”
Then I told him the service story of the business owner on Hawthorne who found a dead roof rat in her waiting room. After an hour of tracking The Action, I discovered that it must have eaten the bait in the stations a few feet outside her open windows, then died feeling trapped and confused because it couldn’t think straight.
“Bait poisons have their place,” I continued to explain, “but I personally don’t see the point of drawing in rats only to kill them. It’s sort of like building a castle with holes that lead directly to a treasure room…and becoming frustrated at the cost of paying soldiers to kill all the would-be thieves who discover the open doors to the treasure.”
“I like the way you think,” Kevin said as we made our way back to the house. I liked the fact we were were talking about it.
It gave me hope. And that’s a priceless thing.
Two days later, we called a team meeting and dedicated four hours to writing an action plan for this service story. The details of the original plan are important, but not as important as the spirit of the plan. In The End, I was proposing to build a new kind of Homefront that Kevin and Jennifer could see–and do it without producing the death smell that was invading their home. After all, what’s worse? A rat nesting under your kitchen, or having to live with dead rats stinking up your kitchen?
Answer: Who cares which is worse. They’re both wrong.
Chapter 1.5: The Original Action Plan
Dear Jennifer and Kevin,
As promised, here’s my ACTION PLAN PROPOSAL:
WORKING TITLE – Building a New Homefront: Excluding the Unexcludable Home
INTRODUCTION: It was good to meet you guys yesterday. Don’t let my self-effacing nature fool you, I’m a steely eyed rat killer at heart.
To begin, I’d like to tell you a little about my experience. I like to talk a lot about bait free trapping on my wife’s organic farm (it’s a good way to talk about the industry’s obsession with chemical insecticides and rodenticide poisons), but I’ve worked for two of the biggest names in Portland: Ecolab and Pioneer Pest Management, where I spent years learning how to trap and control rodents and wildlife as well. The exclusion-centered and or preventative based pest control service I’m now able to provide my customers has not risen from inspiration, but my bearing witness to the many ways The Industry fails their customers.
THE OVERVIEW – my action plan will have five acts:
1) complete the exclusion work Critter Control began
2) create a clear “DMZ,” or what I call a Homefront around the perimeter of your home: two to three feet of clean, open ground just inside the foundation and crawlspace areas.
3) replace bait stations with five of my “Volehalla” rodent trapping boxes, which will be set around the exterior and used to trap, distract, and most importantly, to monitor activity around your new Homefront.
4) monitor activity periodically using an on-going service story, which I will write for your Homefront. The service story will be used like medical records are used in the heathcare industry, a way of tracking activity for pest control professionals and homeowners alike.
5) work together to reach The End. Theoretically, if the wild creatures of your neighborhood test your new Homefront enough times and don’t get the “open for business” sign of weakness, they will move into your neighbors open crawlspace, abandoned shed, or back into whatever wildspace they can find in the area, where they will have to work a lot harder to fend off natures pest control operators: hawks, owls, etc.
THE DETAILS OF ACT ONE:
Aside from Critter Controls use of bait stations, notoriously horrible customer service, general inattentiveness, inability to fit in tight crawl spaces, their use of hardware cloth that’s has holes big enough for mice to enter, and all the entry points they left open—your money was well spent on the exclusion work they did do.
I can build off of what they began. Here’s photos of the entry points (not including the burrowing I found under Critter’s effort) I found in the short time I was down there:
ENTRY #1 (where joists meet foundation = classic rat hole):
ENTRY #2 (both the space where the open crawl meets the foundation have gaps that need to be excluded):
ENTRY #3 (no hardware cloth on other side):
ENTRY #4 (the siding there is very fragile, no effort was made to reinforce it or barricade the outside):
ENTRY #5 (same areas as below):
ENTRY #6 (more of same):
POSSIBLE ENTRY #7 (found in back of foundation area beyond the dead Norway rat I fished out):
What will it take to finish the job?Answer: (a) trench the fragile unexcluded area (deeper than Critter’s effort), fix hardware cloth with holes small enough to exclude mice, and then cover it with dirt (b) foam gaps between joists and foundation (c) use hardware cloth, metal flashing, foam, and wood to exclude as needed. I always find more as I go.
DETAILS OF ACT THREE:
As you know, burrowing is an issue. Honestly, it would be better to remove all the work the Critter did, replace the hardware cloth, and bury the new wire deeper than 6 inches. It’s possible that the dirt becomes too hard to dig six inches from the surface, I don’t know. But, a full foot or two would be better. That would be expensive (but doable) undertaking, which I will assume you don’t wish to do. Instead, I propose Plan B…
(a) clean clear two to three feet of open ground just around the inside of the crawlspace.
(b) fill the current tunnel runways and other weak spots in the Critter’s cloth with gravel, to make them at least work for it. The current tunnels are super easy pickings: an edge that gives and a short 6 inch dig.
(c) pin back the black moisture barrier using farm stakes to made the inner edge of the new Homefront.
(d) repair any rodent holes in moisture barrier with duct tape (take it from a farm husband: rodents LOVE to tunnel under black plastic) for purposes of monitoring the space. That way, if any new holes open…we’ll know we have activity we need to deal with.
(e) leave any space not covered by black plastic open ground.
(f) make an effort to do the same in foundation area, even though I know this will be hard. It gets tight in there, but I can fit.
THE DETAILS OF ACT TWO:
I believe you understand first hand why using bait along your home is not always the best plan, unless you’re fighting off a mass infestation of rabid zombie rats bent on gnawing their way into your home. It’s sort of like using a howitzer to do a sniper’s job.
My Volehalla boxes are also good because:
(a) they only have rat traps in them, so you don’t have to lock them. A simple screw can be used to keep pets out.
(b) shelter is the attractant, so no food lures are needed…but can be used very effectively if the activity levels around home increase.
(c) they draw the focus of the rodents in the neighborhood. The rats explore everything looking for food, water, and shelter, always looking for the same thing: “Is this a hole leading to shelter, no. Is this a hole, no. Is this a hole, yes.” Pest control guys like to talk about how neophobic rats are, but the flip side of all neophobic creatures is curiosity. Eventually, they will explore everything in their environment. The rub is, if they explore it and it fails their test (because it’s not new), they will avoid it forever. I’ve seen bait and traps rats have walked around in homes and especially restaurants for years.
(d) they look cool. And you’re neighbors will be super jealous. I can paint them with rats, mice, or not paint them at all.
Volahalla rodent system in action at an Airbandb, which is also a very difficult place to exclude. The activity has now flipped from activity inside to activity in boxes. I caught four in one box last month.
I hunted “Momma Roof Rat” for a month. After I picked off her six teenagers, it was a Volehalla box that got her.
DETAILS FOR ACT FOUR:
I’m collecting a database of service stories I write for the customers who inspire me. In your case, a service story/report will really come in handy. Inspection and attention to detail is the most effective pest control tool at our disposal. If hired, I will write a chapter (with proof of work photos) for every service I perform for you. You will join the story as “producers,” and we will be able to both reference your service story (like doctors and nurses do) in order to track and know with more intamacy your local, urban wilderness.
Your story will be yours. I am a writer (with an unpublished novel and one full page article sold to Willamette Week) and I would, of course, love to publish your story on my website, but that’s 100% up to you.
Ecolab tries to do a log book and “partnership” with its commerical accounts, but no one takes the log book, because Ecolab undermines its own efforts by sending a new tech/writer out everytime.
My long term business goal is to stay small. I believe is as hard as getting big, because nothing is geared for small scale business owners. In any case, what that means for you (and the future owner of the home) is, you get a long term commitment with only one person to deal with…
DETAILS FOR ACT FIVE:
I imagine, once I get your new Homefront up and operational, the regular monitoring services will begin every few weeks, at first, and then—once we become more confident in our terrirotial line—those services will be spaced further and further apart. Checking the Homefont once a year would be a great benchmark goal to set for a theoretical ending! That, or handing the whole system over to you, or the new homeowners to do yourself.
[And then I listed the estimated costs for building their New Homefront. I excluded that from this story because it’s still a prototypical system]
Chapter 2: Act 1 and 2 – The Exclusion Work (Nov 11 and 13th)
My teammate Bookmaker Jake and I don’t always see eye to eye, but I like one of his classic lines. He says writing is like life, “Plans are great for kindling the courage that’s needed to face The Blank Page, but the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry the moment The Action hits.” He always uses that quote to justify his appetite for chaos, but I’m not a mouse or a man. And I believe in plans, or more specifically I believe in the importance of drafts, especially when everything goes to shit.
After an hour of digging out the soft dirt around the perimeter of the porch side of the crawlspace, I discovered a tunnel that ran almost all the way under the Critter’s wire exclusion cloth. Intermittently, along this highway, runways popped up under the plastic inside the crawlspace.
It was then that I realized I was not going to be able to out dig the rats any more than trying to hold the line with endless trenching worked for you humans in World War I. Engaging wild creatures in an epic power/death struggle might make a great Marvel Avengers movie, but I’m half wild myself. I know what it that kind of engagement means to rats. All it tell them is, “Hey look. We built something here in this quiet, warm, inactive, undiscovered, unclaimed place…feel free to burrow under it.”
I built a homemade rodent nest trap device from buckets and plastic pipes once and buried it in Farmer Emily’s field once in hopes of encouraging the voles to nest in it. A few of them ate the free food I left in the buckets (warm with nesting material), but most of them just burrowed under it. The lesson learned: a bucket full of nesting material works just as good as a roof as it does a house, especially if the bucket has food to forage from…
“Ha!” Bookmaker laughed while I dug. “What are you going to do now Guide? Anything short of trenching deep enough for a new foundation is pointless…and you saw that drainage at the edge of the property with all those nice big rocks…It’s perfect rodent habitat. Sewer access, rock harborage, and plenty of neighborhood trash to forage from at night!”
“I’m not sure…” I replied, continuing to dig. “I wanted to drop a ton of gravel around the inside of the perimeter, but you’re right…I’m not prepared to build a castle wall deep enough to match this kind of activity.”
“Can you say that again?” Bookmaker sneered.
“That part about me being right.”
“You are right,” I replied clinically from The 3rd Person/Bird’s Eye Perspective. “Now what are you prepared to do about it?”
“Cue the righteous revenge plot and kill em’ all?”
“Wrong,” I smiled inside. “We’re going to do what any proper wilderness predator would do. We’re going to get to know our prey.”
“What?” Bookmaker chuckled. “Like knock on the front door of their burrows with a plate full of Betty Crocker?”
“Not exactly. I’m thinking more like ‘learn the herd,’ so I don’t have to work as hard to hunt them when I’m hungry. Good predators waste all their time running around killing prey every time they’re hungry. They ration their stock of walking meat like you do beers in a fridge.”
“That’s a good one, Guide,” Bookmaker replied less boisterously. “If you haven’t noticed, I’m not drinking beer these days…”
“Oh I’ve noticed…” I smiled halfheartedly. “Now why don’t you shut your cake hole and help us cut this hardware cloth.”
In the span of two days and roughly nine hours of crawling around in the dirt and darkness, our team finished our exclusion work. Instead of burying the runways around the perimeter, we fixed hardware cloth over the edge of the inner perimeter (about 6 inches) to be like our open battlefield instead of a castle wall.
Next we filled all the structural, unburrowed entry holes the Critter missed with concrete, foam, metal, and hardware cloth. At the end of the second day, we inspected our exclusion work and found no entry points. Even the holes on either side of the side door had been found (thanks to Jennifer) and blocked off. Now the only way for the rats to enter was by dirt and tunnel under our very visible, knowable, new Homefront.
Even Bookmaker was satisfied with the work. “Can I show it?” he asked like a mischievous kid.
“Why?” I replied, knowing all too well what he meant.
“Oh you know,” Bookmaker grinned. “In the future, humans won’t only measure their work scenes in time and money.”
“Don’t do it…”
“Too late,” Bookmaker laughed as he posted his proof of work photo. “This exclusion was a One Gallon Work Scene!”
“You’re disgusting,” I said, as I tried not to laugh. “Next time we need to make sure our human drinks more water.”
Chapter 3: Act 3 – The Action Tracking System (Nov 25 and 27)
Humans are so geared to win, they often miss the strategic value of losing sometimes. Especially if you mean to lose on purpose.
Rats are very good at hiding. In most cases, humans sleep mere feet away from rats and never know it, for years, until the rat population becomes infested and they loose control of their ability to be stealthy.
Yes, you read that right. Infestations are what happen when the rats lose control of their own governance. Free food and predator free shelter tends to do that to any earth creature, because it’s hard to stay wild, free, and responsible for one’s own actions when it’s so comforting to live large, cared for and secure under some kind human’s home.
Trouble is, humans aren’t being kind. A snap trap is the perfect metaphor for ungoverned rats. No wild, smart, neophobic rat would take free food from a cup. No matter how tasty. And I have plenty of great examples of wild rats who live a lot longer because they steer clear of free food. But I have a lot more examples of what awaits rats when they leave the wilderness, find open holes in human homes, and become fat and happy feeding off tasty crumbs, dropped popcorn, and the pet food of creatures who have long lost their ability to act independently.
All that’s to say, I want to know where and when those rats cross our New Homefront, so I can adjust, reenforce, and build a better system. All pests help us in that way. They show us our weaknesses.
To do that, we spent 2 days and about eight hours staking the hardware cloth DMZ down, pinning the plastic back, and placing ten Volehalla rodent boxes in and outside the Homefront.
We armed the Volehallas outside with rat traps. We stuffed newspaper in the holes of the ones inside, and then set them with unarmed rat traps and mice traps for monitors. But I did not put any bait, or any form of attractant, anywhere on the property. The plan was to limit the amount of “treasure” in hopes that our rodent friends living in the rocks and drainage have less of a reason to storm the castle. And besides, baiting the creatures we’re trying to keep away just doesn’t seem very honorable. We’re clearly the larger, more powerful species here. It wouldn’t hurt to act a little more like we’re not out to kill every wild thing that breathes air.
In the spirit of that last comment, at the end of our second day building The Action Tracking System, we unveiled our bright new idea.
“Gypsum,” I announced to our team proudly.
“Gypsum?” we all cringed, fearful of yet another untested plan.
“Yes,” I replied, standing my ground. “Use a bulb duster to blanket the Homefront in gypsum powder.”
Pest Predator had been quiet throughout much of this service story, but he’d been paying attention, as always, and doing his part to help.
“I get it,” he said without emotion. “It’s like snow…that we control.”
“Bingo,” I smiled. “As soon as they cross The Magic Line between wilderness and civilization we’ll be able to track them.”
“And kill them…” Pest Predator. “Speaking of which, I’m hungry.”
“Or,” I sighed. “We can use the information to build a better Homefront.” In a whisper I added, “And begin the quest to find a cure, or at least a treatment, for Systemic Death Production Disorder…”
“Finally, all the hard work is done!” Bookmaker beamed as we packed up our gear and headed for the truck and a hamburger. “Now it’s my turn to go to work, wave my magic pen, and make our story more real!”
“Yes,” I said, eyeing the crawlspace warily as I shut the hatch. “It’s the rats turn for sure. Now we wait and see.”
“That’s not what I meant!”
“Oh, I know.”
Chapter 4: Act 4 (A Dream Come True)
Merry Christmas guys,
I had a big smile on my face after I inspected your new Homefront this morning. No signs of rodent activity anywhere! The chalk is amazing…I could even read where moisture was l dripping on it.
No signs of activity in the boxes outside either. I took the last of the rat traps out of the crawl and added paper to monitor activity:
And the best of all, I published and posted the world’s first “live action novel” (the story of your rodent service) in your crawlspace. It may seem like a small thing, but it was a dream come true for many reasons. Thank you so much for producing it!
Best to you and yours this holiday season. I’ll check the Homefront in a month or so and add another chapter to your book!
Warmest, Bookmaker Jake
Chapter 5: The Mystery of the Drop Dead Rat
A month or so later, we scheduled and performed our first routine read of The New Homefront. After a nice long crawl around the crawlspace, it was clear that Jennifer’s Homefront was fully operational. No new signs of rodent or wildlife activity in the chalk, boxes, or outside traps. Everything looked great, so I dragged a few buckets of gravel in…to make it even greater.
It felt good to discover no new drama. Boring stories are good pest control stories, but in any other service story “boring” usually signaled The End was near. In this case, we’d implemented a new idea and it was going to need to be boring for a lot, lot longer before we reached The End.
For the time being, we were thankful for little victories. And that first routine read of Jennifer’s Homefront certainly nice and boring. We all drove away that day feeling victorious.
Little did we know, the rats of Lake Oswego were not going to fade from the scene gracefully.
A week or so later, our human host/receptionist received a text from Jennifer. Her gardener had found a dead rat next to the AC unit just outside our Homefront. She asked what he should do with it. Not fully understanding the need for a clear course of action, I advised many options.
As a result, I (Wilderness Security Guide) was called to save the day.
None of my traps had been tripped, and there was no bait anywhere on the property. I concluded that the rat must have died of “natural causes.” My most natural leading cause was the family dog. That or a hawk with a finicky taste in rats.
Whatever the mystery, I delighted in the fact that I hadn’t killed it. I loved the idea that the rat had run around The New Homefront looking for entry holes, doing its routine Wilderness Security Test. Finding none, it fell easy prey for a neighborhood predator it never had to face until now.
Chapter 6 (March 25th 2020): Long is Wrong
After spending years, decades (or months in my case) building a mighty castle Homefront, what could possibly make the kings and queens of that castle suddenly abandon their post? I could see if the farms and fields in the surrounding peasantry were suddenly struck with a drought, or the wind suddenly began to blow the topsoil away after too many years of industrial farming practices, resulting in a famine that caused everyone to pack their bags and plod the open road in search of food. I could also see them abandoning their protective, rodent free Homefront if a wicked dragon began to roost on its roof and scorched everything in sight. So the right answers for deciding to move away were : A) famine B) dragon, or maybe C) pandemic. Yet Jennifer was still planning to sell and move from her home that had now finally become free of the death smell.
That reality became more real when Jennifer texted our human host (receptionist) asking if we’d be comfortable prepping her home for sale.
Apparently the home inspector had found evidence of rodent activity and advised Jennifer to “evaluate and remediate” the situation. Home inspectors always do that. They see droppings in a crawlspace and they advise things like that. My guess is that, because their authority of their Home Inspector role, is the only thing they do, in The Action of the urban wilds, to put food in their mouths–they dole out advice whenever (and as often) they can. I would blame them for not taking the proper classes in pest control to be that character capable of doing a pest inspection, but it’s not their fault. Even though pest control has been with us since The Beginning (like ancient Egypt), it’s still a joke science that doesn’t have any academic support. Not even an associates degree at the local community college.
As a result, Jennifer and I had to jump the hoop. The inspector indicated that she found signs of activity in the attic, storage space, and the crawl. I dropped by and followed her inspection. In the attic, I found no signs of nesting, droppings, or grooves (tracks) in the blown insulation made by animals who live in attic crawlspaces. Tracking animals in blown insulation is like tracking in the snow. It’s pretty obvious if they’re there, or not. I did, however, find the source of her worry. The Critter Control had also failed to inspect the attic property, and set a rat trap (in Lake Oswego…where I’ve never found roof rats) with no attractant just beyond the hatch. Why, I couldn’t tell you. The Critter strikes again!
Long story short, the storage space had some old evidence of mice from when the crawlspace was accessible to all God’s creation. There’s a rodent highway running from roughly mid crawl, around the chimney area, up through the house to the attic. Situation normal. It doesn’t matter, so long as there isn’t any entry holes around the exterior. If you’ve been reading this novel, you know what kind of activity I found in the crawlspace. Other than that, Jennifer reported an increase of activity around her wonderful garden. She suspected rats, I suspected voles or field mice.
A few weeks after my inspection, I returned to remediate. If I’d been a good hustler I would have advised Jennifer to do another full crawlspace clean out (she had the Critter do one recently), but that wasn’t needed. What was needed was a thorough cleaning and disinfection of the rodent activity that happened after the Critter failed to keep the wilderness out.
After I cleaned and disinfected the storage area, I dragged my Ghostbuster-style backpack vacuum down into the crawlspace and spent a few hours cleaning the hard-to-reach spaces in the back corner where the rats had set up shop.
Then I widened my read of the property, and went searching for rodent burrows. I found many along the nearby urban wild’s version of a babbling brook. In an attempt to remediate the rodent activity outside, I confidently pulled all my Volehalla boxes from the crawlspace and set them in strategic positions around the yard.
Any proper cliffhanger reintroduces The Action by reintroducing the villain. What will our soon-to-be errant hero’s boxes flesh out? Voles, field mice, or rats? Oh my.
In any case, we were thankful to Jennifer, once again, for her advice. She showed our human an example of the invoice report that the HVAC guys left, explaining (with great tact) that a novel length report wasn’t necessary. I immediately picked up what she was putting down.
“Long is wrong,” our human said, smiling when he got it. “That’s what my Editor and Chief Farmer Emily always says when she edits my writings.”
Maybe owning homes follows the same math. Long is wrong. Writing long jangled, conflict riddled live action stories about homeownership in one time and place just isn’t as profitable as keeping it short and sweet. Got to rush through this to get to that. There’s always a greener story that’s ripe for a new beginning somewhere…
Chapter 7 (June 18th): The New Beginning Begins
After a few email exchanges, John the new owner of our New Homefront agreed to give Storysold: Pest Control a shot. A week later, a day before their big move in, I met our live action novel’s newest character. Our first impressions of John were as following: A) Bookmaker liked him, because he seemed kind and controllable; B) Guide flew a little higher and realized that John’s character delivered a drumbeat of good, pointed questions, which meant (to her) that the friendly “weakness” her teammate was detecting was not the classic Labrador-style friendliness that would yield easy manipulations; C) Predator made note that he was willing to spend a lot of time and money reenforcing the structure of his new home to protect his children in case an earthquake ever struck, and that act of 2nd person perspective empathy impressed our teammate Predator greatly. By the end of our first chapter with him, it was our best collective guess that John’s main, workaday character was a vet, dentist, or some other kind of professional. We never asked him.
He could be a gumshoe detective for all we know. First impressions are fun…
In any case, after a brief intro we got to work. First on our list was an ant hunt, especially for carpenter ants. Here’s The Action from our first chapter with John:
A) Predator applied an ant-killing non-repellant around foundation. While he sprayed, he checked the siding for signs of carpenter ant activity. He didn’t find any trails coming out from under siding, but lots of carpenter ants climbing the house along the gutters and vines. He baited all the active trails he could find: vines in back, gutter line and above garage door in front, and along the back porch area. Plus he applied granular bait all around the perimeter, because he found wandering/scouting carpenter ants all around the house.
B) Guide checked her Volehalla rodent boxes. We kept telling John that it’d been a month since we checked, but later we realized it had been almost three (time flies when your catching rats). Speaking of which, the boxes next to the garden we set with the hope of catching voles…didn’t catch anything. It seems very clearly that the rodent (non mole) holes in yard are the work of rats. Guide filled 2 new rat holes in yard with home, and cleared one adult rat from her honey spot:
C) We checked our New Homefront. We didn’t find any signs of tunneling under The Line or tracks in our chalk, but John showed us a place where he found a new tunnel. That was not good, but Guide was quick to remind us that it was better that we could see any place in the Homefront were our work failed the wilderness security test, than not. So we added another layer of chalk, reset our Volehalla boxes outside, and geared up for new rat activity.
Strangely enough, three days later, we were reminded of what happens when we try to out-dig rats along a week, mostly indefensible, unexcludible front. Guide had to retrench her trench line after the rats of The Chicken Loving Neighbor, a service story in Woodstock, dug under her hardware cloth, concrete, and foam. That story has many insane variables The New Homefront doesn’t have, but it was still a good reminder. If rats have the motivation to dig deep, they can and will…and like it was in The Chicken Loving Neighbor, those tunnels can go undetected for days, weeks, months, without notice.
So the big question still reminds to be answered: when faced with an unexcludible Homefront (like a mobile home or a home on pillars), is it better to gear it for visibility/the open field and information, or is it better to try to out dig the rats? And more to the point, if we try to out dig the rats in service stories of this kind, do we formally recommend that it’s better to hire a contractor to build a proper foundation? We don’t know.
What we do know is: we have some carpenter ants to kill. And it won’t hurt to add a few more buckets of gravel to our New Homefront next time we come to kill the ants.
That seems to be the story here: rats and carpenter ants have crossed The Magic Line between the wilderness and civilization and threatened the security of John’s new home.
Guide is quick to remind us that nature doesn’t work on our clocks, but we still think it would have been nice if the rat and ants gave John a few months to settle in before they started testing his Homefront. Great golly geez!
Chapter 8 (July 13th): Breach!
Universal truths, maxims, dictums, and other laws are great. They’re comforting constants in a chaotic world, and they make awesome bumperstickers. Bookmaker Jake especially likes universal truths because they make him sound like a real tweed loving, college lecturing Author. You know, a real whiskey sipping Asshole who says things like, “It’s not worth saying if it fits on a sticker.” Well anyway, here’s the one he wrote at The End of this service:
“For every King who gathers his army outside their enemy’s castle in search of a breech; there’s an army of mice back home who are already feasting on the King’s cheese.”
The compulsive need to find weakness to exploit is an action the wilderness and civilization can both agree on. Ask any playground bully, and then ask every now-grown bullied kid how to beat bullies in The Great Game. So long as you’re not a bully (from the bully class), they might sip their whiskey and tell you how it’s done.
This chapter began with an email to our receptionist:
Hi Jake, We are having some work done at the house and the contractors found some rodent activity in the floor that they pulled up under the stairs (see attached)
They found droppings in the area between the plywood and the insulation and on top of the plywood flooring. That said, I’ve no idea if this is new or old activity – but thought i would pass it along to see if you have any thoughts on how to best address this.
Many thanks in advance, John
To which we replied:
My usual plan of action for rodent activity is pretty straightforward:
A) find any dime-sized or bigger entry holes into your home, especially around foundation/vents. Also check for any open holes along foundation that might lead under foundation. If you do find holes, then check to see if they continue into crawlspace.
B) mark the holes temporarily with plastic bags
C) set some traps in the dark “wild spaces” of your home. If you kill some, keep killing them until your traps go quiet.
D) seal up the holes…and presto your home is made safe again
Hope that helps! 🙂 STORYSOLD
A few moment after I sent that email, Guide cast her bird’s eye perspective on our human’s reply.
“Why did you write that?” Guide asked quizzically. “You know what he meant…”
“I know,” Jake replied sheepishly. “I get it NOW…but I…uh…”
“I…uh…what?” Bookmaker chimed in.
“I forgot who John Dwight was for a moment there…so I wrote a generic reply.”
“You! Receptionist and human host for Storysold: Pest Control,” Bookmaker thundered, “wrote a generic reply to one of our supporting cast members!”
Guide pulled Bookmaker aside and whispered something in his “ear.” Bookmaker returned and said, “Yeah ok. Guide says memory loss, insomnia, and mania are all signs of chronic exposure to neurotoxins.”
“Wait a minute!?” Jake replied in shocked. “Are you saying its ‘ok’ because I’m losing my mind?”
“We knew you wouldn’t last forever…” Bookmaker said, trying to sound reassuring. “After all you’re only human.”
“You’re not losing your mind,” Guide added, “but you should write John back and give him a proper reply.”
“But that’s embarrassing,” Jake whined. “Can’t I just cover it up my mistake…like old people do?”
“Do what you like,” Guide smiled. “You’re our human host, not our employee. We can’t really fire you.”
Here’s the email our receptionist sent instead of confessing the truth:
Hello again John,
I just realized that maybe you’re asking a different question then how I address rodent issues.
I think the answer to your question is, “No, there’s no new mice activity in your home.”
If you’re worried, I can test the exclusion work again by putting out a bunch of attractants and traps in crawlspace. I know it would be a good idea to do another carpenter ant hunt in the next week or so, I could do both and check the outside rat traps.
A week later we performed The Action of Chapter 8 and Jake wrote the following report:
Hi John, I spend about an hour and half: 1) checking and resetting the rat traps outside; 2) moving 3 stations inside and loading them with 5 mouse traps each; 3) checking the entire inner perimeter for breaches and reenforcing the few I found; 4) inspecting property for Carpenter ants and using my new brand of carpenter ant bait in hot spots and around exterior. Here’s what I found:
1) MICE: Yes I ate my words, there’s some activity. I found a few mice tunnels and one freshly dead mouse in my trap in the far back of the crawlspace near where you did the remodeling work.
2) MOLES: I found and blocked one mole tunnel running a few inches under my wire. It was the same area you showed me last time 3) RATS: I didn’t find any new burrows or tunnels. I had a few tripped traps in stations, but I didn’t find the rat in my honey spot. Did you clear it for me? 4) ANTS: I was amazed. I didn’t find any carpenter ants and only a few house ants on my hunt. I don’t believe them, so I baited the exterior anyway. I placed a lot of mouse traps in the crawl, so if I find a bunch of dead mice in there next time then I know it wasn’t just a few slipping through.
I also put your last chapter in the book, and I’m fully planning to write you a proper chapter (complete with crazy theories to explain why) sometime this week. If you have time to answer this, I’m curious about the remodel…if I understand right…you’re planning to construct a proper foundation for the weak side of the house to keep the house secure in case of an earthquake? In any case, I hope you’re enjoying the sun! It looks like it might actually stick around for a while!
That evening John replied with this email:
Hi Jake,Thanks for the thorough update. I really appreciate you taking the time to explain everything you found during your visit. My wife insisted I clear the rat at the honey pot for ya because it started to smell. Hopefully we can get new mice issue under control. 😬 I’ll let you know if we notice and new activity. Yes we’re going to reinforce the foundation on the south side of the house so its seismically more secure. That project won’t break ground for a few more weeks. Please let me know what I owe you for this service and I’ll send you a payment via Venmo or PayPal (whichever you prefer). Thanks again.
And so it goes. The Wilderness exploits the weaknesses in our Homefronts forcing us to build them stronger.
Hopefully, in The End, we’ll be stronger for our efforts.
Chapter 9 (Aug 3rd): The Death Smell Returns
JOHN (via email): Hope this note finds you well. I wanted to see if you could come by sooner than later to do another service. We’re currently not home, but our contractor found 50+ carpenter (or what appears to be carpenter) ants in our master bedroom. Yikes! In addition he mentioned there is a smell permeating throughout the house, which I’m assuming is a decomposing rat or mouse. He said he could give you access to the interior if need be. Let me know what you think.
STORYSOLD (via phone from annual backpacking trip): We will be there Monday for sure!
JOHN (via email): Great, thanks! Here’s some pics of where the ants were spotted:
[ Exterior of master ]
[ Interior Master ]
STORYSOLD (via phone from Mt. Hood wilderness): Well we found the route for sure, from wisteria to some yet to be determined spot. Do you have any qualms about me doing some cutting to see that area better?
JOHN (via email): Its a good place to check first for sure. I cut it back quite a bit this afternoon and would prefer not to cut much more per wife’s request. But if you need extra clearance when you’re there, call me and we can chat about it.
STORYSOLD (via phone from Mt. Hood): Ok I won’t cut it. I should be able to find the entry without cutting. I’ll give you a full report on Monday 🙂
JOHN (via email): Sounds great! Your current view isn’t too shabby. Is that a hawk flying by??
[ And that’s when we lost power to my phone ]
STORYSOLD (via email from civilization): I had to take another look at that photo. How cool, I somehow managed to get a bird in the shot too! I’m guessing it was one of the yellow hooded guys who kept me company Sat night. How’s this for a sunset shot? So beautiful!
Today’s service went well. I spent a solid 2.5 hours producing the following service story:
I met the painter guys and Eric. We had a nice long chat about lots of things, but we touched on the exclusion situation. Honestly I still don’t know if doing the classic trench with hardware cloth and gravel lined like a J is better than the open field/monitoring exclusion idea where we make it hard for them to get in, but don’t encourage them to dig deep tunnels by digging deep tunnels for them to dig under. For me, the debate continues…I’m still fighting the Digging Rats of Woodstock and Vancouver in 2 similarly hard, “unexcludable” homefronts like yours.
Speaking of rodents, if there was a decaying rat big enough to stink up the house I couldn’t find it. I inspected the entire crawlspace and it smelled as normal. I did, however, find 2 shrews and 1 small mouse in my traps. No new signs of big tunnels (from moles or otherwise), but I found a few very small gaps that could be used by small mice. I marked them. I also reset the traps and set out more equipment in the spirt of making sure your home is rodent free. Outside, I reset the traps with new attractant and moved one closer to the rocks, but I didn’t have any new signs of our neighborhood rats.
On the carpenter ant front, Eric explained that he suddenly saw the ants about a week after I set the bait around their trail area. He also confirmed what I saw when I was there (without prompting) that they looked “lethargic” and “not doing so well.” I found a number of non-squished dead ones, which leads me to believe that my bait had an effect.
Since you guys weren’t home (and the painters were done for the day) I took the opportunity to do a baseboard spray upstairs. I also baited the roof area around the chimney inside and out, did another full foundation/exterior application, and did a heavy sugar and granular bait under the wisteria. I didn’t find any trails outside…which is a good sign. Oh and I also treated the shed and that gnarled dead tree behind it. No activity was found there either.
Chapter 10 (Dec 2020) – Our Holiday Email Montage
After a long break and the holidays on the way, I contacted John with one horrifying image in mind. It was still 2020, and if I knew that vile wind (and I think I did!)…it would wait until Christmas or New Year Day to release the next chapter of its master plan to subvert all things civilized. The goose would be cut, the gifts would be unwrapped, the holiday cheer would be bright and merry, and then The Death Smell would loft in from the rat that died under the home.
All because the rat catcher didn’t do his job. Ha, if only we were that important!
Anyway, here’s Our Holiday Email Montage >
STORYSOLD: Happy holidays! The rain sucks (and so does 2020), but we’re doing our best not to let it get us down.
How’s the Homefront? Any signs of the rats? Or carpenter ants?
JOHN: Happy holidays to you as well. Appreciate you reaching out – I was actually going to contact you next week to see if you could pop by for a rat service. In the last week I have cleared a few boxes and filled multiple tunnels, so needless to say, they are active.
Our foundation project has been completed for a couple months and the contractor appears to have done decent job resealing the crawl space, but I would love for you to inspect it and ensure it’s critter free and that the perimeter is as secure as possible.
On another note, I’m happy to announce there have been no signs of carpenter ants! The areas that you treated have held up, only bummer is the spray poison stained the siding. Hopefully it will wash off over time. Let me know what your schedule looks like in the upcoming week.
STORYSOLD: I’m curious to see what your Homefront looks like now! I’ll definitely do a full inspection! As for the stain, where is it? I’ll check it out. The only outdoor application I did other than the classic foundation treatment (a product called Termador, which everyone uses) was a heavy dose of granular and liquid bait. The liquid bait is Tarro (like the stuff you can buy at Safeway). It’s a mix of sugar/syrup and boric acid, and the acid is supposed to be non-staining. All that’s to say, there’s a good chance I can simply wash off the crusty old syrup. Which I’ll gladly do.
After the service was complete, we sent John a report which we titled, “It’s a 2 Parter!“
STORYSOLD: Overall the Homefront looks good. Meaning, I only found a few signs of activity:
A) one very small dead shrew caught in a trap, but only one. All the other traps were still set. B) had some signs of feeding from my monitors C) one rat hole was found near the new wall There a few spots where I’m going to patch, but overall my Homefront is still in tact. I marked the rat hole and added fresh attractant to my traps. I’d like to return before Christmas to do more scrubbing (the bait comes off with effort), patch up the Homefront, and see if the rat hole is active, or just a rat who wandered in during construction and dug his way out. I’m going to count these 2 services as one, because I didn’t schedule enough time to get all the scrubbing and patchwork done.
JOHN: Sounds good. We’re not home at the moment, so please take your time. Thanks Jake!
STORYSOLD: Good news. That entry hole I found doesn’t appear to be active (no new digging on inside or out). My guess is that something got trapped in there during construction, and then dug its way out. The traps outside were ALL tripped after adding the attractant. That tells me…you’re in squirrel territory (only very large rats can do that). So I reset the traps again in the hope that the squirrels learned their lesson. All in all, I’m feeling good about your Homefront. I took a nice long break, and even with the construction it’s looking solid…a little action, but not a lot.
Here’s a list of today’s actions: A) I spent another hour scrubbing my sugar bait marks off your home B) reset traps inside and outside. Inside traps are geared for mice. Outside traps are geared for rats. C) inspected for entry holes inside and outside crawlspace D) repaired a few new weak spots with foam and wire.
I’m really sorry about the marks on your home. This Chapter’s on me. I hope you guys have a very Merry Christmas!
JOHN: Sincerely appreciate the thorough inspection and follow up report. Your word that things are looking sound means a lot to us. Curious, do you have a Venmo account? My wife and I would like to send you a little something for helping us out this year. Hope you have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Many thanks, John and Kyleen
We had a moment there where we felt so bad about the bait stains that we wanted, very much, to punish our human host for his blunder and deny his reward of payment. You know, whatever the equivalent of “making him eat beans” is for a human who loves his wife’s beans. Maybe “make him eat factory processed hot dogs?” or those got-damned flavorless frozen peas Big Ag keeps cranking out. In The End, we accepted John and Kyleen’s offer. It was a good lesson. Sometimes it’s harder to accept a gift we don’t feel we deserve, than give one.
Chapter 11 (2/10/2021) – The Mid Winter Rat Hole
2020 was the year of The Rat, and The Rat was supposed to concede its reign over our fortunes to The Ox, but (not too unlike our former President) The Rats of Portland were making it clear that they weren’t going to humbly huddle in their burrows and make room for the bellowing, endless feeding and shitting, and social herding order of The Ox. At least not without a fight.
Most days it seemed like I was living in rat infested crawlspaces, attics, and backyards. “Paranoia” would be a good word to describe the feeling I had as I emailed John to schedule a mid winter trap check. Then again, in the words of the immortal Joseph Heller, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”
Days later, an hour or so after I bagged my ninth baby rat of The Birthing Center at Jackie’s NE Portland home, I was wedging myself through the guts of John’s crawlspace checking my traps for signs of activity.
And do you know what?
We didn’t find any. No tripped traps or signs of feeding from the many free rat food piles in the crawlspace; no new tunnels inside or out, and only a few tripped traps in Volehalla boxes on the periphery of the property.
And just like that…my fears of rats breaching John’s Homefront cooled, and I felt a little more confident in our team’s ability to engage The Action as we ventured further into our mid-winter rat hole.
Chapter 11 (6/4/2021) – Anticipating The Villains
For months later, I felt it would be a good time to check in. I was worried about the rats, as always, but I was also worried about going on my annual backpacking trip in July–and leaving John and his family without support again.
Professional villains always wait to strike until the hero goes on vacation. Which, in John’s case, would look something like a rat (or a team of rats) tunneling under his Homefront like The Great Escape, or a resurgence of carpenter ants.
I arrived mid route in the middle of a gorgeous day. After a brief greeting, John filled me in on The Action. He showed me five or so new holes in bushes along front walkway as well as a few holes near the chicken coop, which now had a live chicken in it. He also reported that he’d cleared a few rats from the outside stations since February, including one in my honey hole behind the AC unit. Then he returned to his business and left me to mine.
Foam gun in hand, I checked and filled all the holes. The holes along the shrubbery lined walkway and sidewalk were all shallow like “starter holes” made by exploring rats or food hoarding squirrels. They didn’t appear to be worn, or used more than once or twice. The hole next to the chicken coop was deeper. It may have been a new burrow, or a new attempt at digging a new burrow, but it was hard to say. In any case, I foamed it.
“No, no here,” the foam says to the rats. “Even if you redig this hole, I will know…and if I know…you will not be safe.”
I know it’s a little woo-woo, but I believe that rats (like humans) generally prefer to maintain 100% percent control over their homes. And they can’t feel like they have 100% control of their homes if I foam, or fill in, their burrows every time I see them. Can you imagine waking up every morning to find that some villain had left a Big Mac wrapper in your backyard? For some, it would be a call for alarm if it only happened once. If it happened a dozen times, or more, most homeowners would be horrified…and likely want to put a plan in action to catch the Mystery Midnight Burger Eater.
After I added some fresh attractant (peanut butter and my rat food mix) to all my traps, I suited up for the main event. It’d been 4 months, and I was curious to see what if anything had breached John’s Homefront.
Fifteen minutes later I had my answer. None of the 4 food monitors had been touched, none of the mouse or rat traps in the 4 stations had been tripped, none of the traps I set along the inner walls had been tripped, and I found no signs of tunnels anywhere along the perimeter, but ALACK! two of the world’s cutest (and smallest) shrews were caught in traps in the back corner of the crawl. How they got in, I have no idea.
Then I did a funny thing. Instead of simply being happy with the news that John’s Homefront was secure, I added 4 more rat food monitors (little zip lock baggies) to my lineup.
After I gave John some ant bait on my way out, our team debriefed on the drive to our next Homefront. “The inactivity only means they’re rebuilding their forces for a major strike on John’s Homefront,” Bookmaker said. “Villains always wait until the heroes have their guard down…take a day off, or go on vacation.”
“Why can’t you accept the win?” I countered. “And enjoy the victory?”
“What, and rest on our laurels?”
“That’s a horrible idea,” Bookmaker laughed. “If we let our guard down, for even a moment, we’ll open the door for another infestation.”
I thought about that one for a few moments while our human cranked his playlist in an attempt to drown us out. And then I said, “Infestations are natural. We can’t kill every rat in Lake Oswego. That’s no way to spend our lives, even for rat catchers.”
“We should try,” Bookmaker laughed again. “Just think of all the fun we could have methodically inspecting every Homefront in the city…no doubt The Mother of All Rats is lurking in her Super Mega Burrow somewhere very near to John’s Homefront.”
“Why are all your arch villains women?”
“They aren’t! I’m simply acknowledging the fact that mother rats are smarter and harder to catch than the dumb males. Even if they eat their young sometimes.”
“You’re so full of shit,” I laughed and turned to the 3rd character on our team. “What do you think about all this Pest Predator?”
There was a long silence. Then Predator said, “I think we should dump five bags of dog food around John’s Homefront, and then spend the rest of the summer destroying the infestation we created. Creating the infestation is the only way to truly control it.”
By that time we were nearing our next customer’s Homefront. “Can we please table this very interesting conversation for later?” Jake asked almost nicely.
The characters on his team didn’t listen. They continue to discuss the best way to prevent an infestation. “Should we offer to close and secure all the garbage cans, in all the homes, in all the restaurants, in all the businesses in Lake Oswego?”
“That sounds like an amazing waste of life,” Predator replied. “Maybe it makes more sense to enjoy our victory…and wait for The Urban Wild to trigger the next hunt.”
“Classically,” Bookmaker nodded, “the only difference between the hero and villain, however similar, is the simple fact that the hero didn’t throw the first punch…”
“So we should wait to do something until the rats tunnel under John’s Homefront?!”
“Our human is right,” I smiled. “We shouldn’t get bogged down in What Ifs. We have another very real infestation that needs our attention.”
What good can come from trying to anticipate what the villains will do next?
Chapter 13 (11/2/2021) – TheRelentless Wilderness
The backpacking trip in July was a wildly successful 260 mile thru hike of The John Muir Trail in California. What better way for a rat catcher to study rodent infestations than standing at the edge of an alpine meadow…snow capped mountains in the distance, canteen cup full of coffee in hand…watching the “good rats” dart to and from their burrows knowing well that the “infestation” I was watching was natural?
Five months later Jake was running off to The Wilderness again, this time our human was adventuring to Death Valley (and the wilds of Hollywood to visit Brother Steve) with Farmer Emily. That fact, combined with abnormally high rat activity around the city ever since the first freeze, prompted us to send a “Fall Check In” email to John.
Days later I was suiting up for another inspection of The Unexcludable Homefront. At first glance I was encouraged by the untouched marker I set near the main hatch…
That feeling of encouragement continued as I checked the untripped traps along the right side of the crawlspace (facing in from the main hatch). The bag of birdseed I set in the center of John’s home and the traps I set around the new wall next to the sump pump were all also untouched. And then I reached the bag of birdseed I set next to the new hatch…
There was a very small mouse sized hole in the bag.
I crushed the bag in my fist and cried, “Cut me do I not bleed?!” through our human’s respirator. “How dare you breach this Homefront!”
I thought about following that classic line with “Fe, fi, fo, fum! I smell the blood of a very small mouse (and or a very large shrew)!” but I didn’t. Instead I ventured onward to the tightest most adventurous part of the Homefront. There I was presented with 2 mummified very small mice caught in my traps. Two feet from their remains, I found my marker (birdseed and bait in a zip lock bag) untouched.
I’m no Columbo, but the signs were telling me there was a breach in The Homefront somewhere very near. I found no evidence of tunneling, so I turned off my headlamp and performed “the light test” to see if I was missing something. Sure enough I saw light pouring through a gap in the new crawlspace door.
The first thought that entered my mind was, “If you want something done, do it yourself.” I cruised by that door before without much inspection because I assumed that the builder would have made the same effort I would have to make it fit right. A quarter of an inch gap doesn’t mean much in construction world, but any rat catcher worth their pay knows that a quarter inch gap in a Homefront located within a few inches of the ground = possible mouse infestation. I can’t count how many of the mouse infestations I’ve cleared and excluded began with a quarter inch gap in a broken vent or section of foundation.
My pest control solution to the construction problem was a piece of metal flashing I fixed to the door to block the gap. After I did that, I moved all the traps in the crawlspace to the area near the breach just in case there were more very small mice my traps hadn’t already killed off. And then I cleaned out the cobwebs in the outside stations and added a little peanut butter to the traps, just to see how smart squirrels really are…
All in all, I’d have to say that I was pleased. John’s Homefront resembled what I expect to find when we adventure to Death Valley. But who knows?
I guess we’ll just have to see what happens next…
Chapter 14 (1/17/2022) – “Making Them Work for It.”
After a few months of snow and heavy rains in Portland, John contacted us with ill tidings of more mice in the crawlspace.
After my usual spin around The Inexcludable Homefront, I found 6 mice caught in the traps around the sump pump. I also found two mouse sized holes. One was next to the sump pump and the hole Joe showed me outside. The other was also under the foundation in back, coming in from the street side of the home.
“After all this time,” I wondered, “is this the first real tunnel breach?”
I tried to remember if I’d seen a tunnel under foundation before as I dug out the hole next to the sump pump.
The hole didn’t lead directly under the foundation. In fact, I dug out at least three feet of it and it didn’t seem to lead anywhere…but along the side of the foundation. It’s possible that our mouse friends were trying to dig their way out?
There was no ambiguity about the hole on the other side of the home. It was clearly a tunnel.
Any breach in a Homefront is bad news, but I was heartened by the fact that all the activity I tracked told a plausible story. The traps in the very back were untouched. The traps in the middle were untouched, and the monitor near the main hatch was also untouched…
If I read the signs right, the mice tunneled under the foundation from the street-side, got lost (or couldn’t find their hole again), tried and failed to dig their way out, and then, after suffering extreme hunger, they went for the attractant in my traps.
Either that, or they’re both tunnels and my traps did their job.
Chapter 15 (5/31/2021) – “The Moles”
Sometimes there’s not a meaningful difference between vigilance and paranoia. Spring of 2022 has been rain followed by rain followed by more rain. And the rain was pushing the wilderness in, drowning out the ratholes and pinning the ants who’ve been waiting for their great migration outside, inside. I had more calls for possible breaches in my Homefronts this spring than ever before. That’s why I contacted John to schedule an ant hunt and inspection of his Homefront.
After a nice chat with John, he showed me a few places around the Homefront where the moles had been active. Then I checked my traps and monitors in the crawlspace and the stations outside. No signs of rats or mice in the crawlspace, or in the traps outside, but I did find two mole tunnels near the new side crawlspace door and along the front porch to the left of front door. Then I checked the property for ant trails, and I didn’t find any active trails either.
All in all I was pleased with my hunt. John’s Homefront was looking good!
Moles do wander in and out of crawlspaces (and they often follow deeper tree roots like mice and rats), but they don’t infest the space. They hunt for bugs in the ground, and they move on to buggier pastures when they exhaust their supply of bugs. I suppose that makes them ideal pest control operators. They also do a good job aerating soil, a job that mice and rats do as well.
The downside of moles is they’re too good at their job. The holes they make in the soil are not pleasing to the eye, and they can, on occasion, break ground for mice and rats to breach our Homefronts.
Honestly I’m not sure when trapping moles becomes necessary to protect a Homefront (vs. protecting a lawn), but I do know mice and rats. They follow walls, scampering around our Homefronts at night, constantly doing what I call The Wilderness Test…looking for easy ins, exploring their territory. If they don’t know there’s a “pink paradise” (insulation to nest in) on the other side of the wall, then they won’t dig there. And they’d have to dig to find the mole tunnels. So I suppose the theory goes, the mice and rats would have to have a better reason than “it’s fun to follow mole tunnels” to follow mole tunnels and breach our Homefronts. Usually that reason is a bird feeder, or other food source, set next to the foundation. In that case, the mice and rats will dig along the foundation to make burrows (next to their new awesome food source), and then discover the pink paradise by accident. Then again, a breach is a breach.
Argh, why can’t they go live in a nature park or something?
Chapter 16 (1/11/2023) – “The Remediation?”
In the middle of winter, after six plus months from the last service, the Valhalla boxes were ghost towns and I found no signs of mice or rats in the crawlspace. Yet the moles and shrews continued to dig their tunnels.
JOHN: Thanks Jake! Appreciate you coming by to check up on the things. Curious if you found any activity in crawl – lemme know!
STORYSOLD: Just moles and shrews 🙂
JOHN: lovely – is that something you could help remediate?
STORYSOLD: Mean can I keep the moles out, or kill them?
JOHN: Both? Keep them from coming in and removing the ones that are already in the crawl.
STORYSOLD: I’ll ponder that and get back to you soon.
I knew the moles or shews weren’t living in the crawlspace. They’re both non-infesting pests. Yet they have established a regular pattern of wandering in and out of the crawlspace in their hunts for bugs, which breaches the Homefront each time and opens the possibility for a rat or a mouse to follow the trail cut by moles.
At first I was kicking myself. Why didn’t I redo what the shitty exclusion work Critter Control (aka the Critter) did and trench around the open part of the crawlspace? And bury mesh deep enough for even the moles to dig under?
I did have a theory, which I wrote about back in Chapter 7: “So the big question still reminds to be answered: when faced with an unexcludible Homefront (like a mobile home or a home on pillars), is it better to gear it for visibility/the open field and information, or is it better to try to out dig the rats? And more to the point, if we try to out dig the rats in service stories of this kind, do we formally recommend that it’s better to hire a contractor to build a proper foundation? We don’t know.”
With three plus years of experience digging mesh barriers, I can now say without a doubt it’s better to try to out dig the rats with a mesh barrier or a new foundation.
I still was kicking myself, because I thought it was my choice to go with the mesh barrier inside (which has had a positive effect). In doubt, I took advantage of Bookmaker’s live action novel here and reread the beginning. Here’ the line that stuck out: “As you know, burrowing is an issue. Honestly, it would be better to remove all the work the Critter did, replace the hardware cloth, and bury the new wire deeper than 6 inches. It’s possible that the dirt becomes too hard to dig six inches from the surface, I don’t know. But, a full foot or two would be better. That would be expensive (but doable) undertaking, which I will assume you don’t wish to do. Instead, I propose Plan B…”
Plan B was what happened, because Jennifer didn’t choose Plan A.
I feel like I have an unhealthy need to be right, but I also have a tenancy to take the blame for stuff that I didn’t do.
In any case, that’s my answer. I propose waiting until late spring or summer, then write the chapter that might move The Inexcludable Homefront into the excludable category.
Hi there. I’m Wilderness Security Guide the Environmental Control Operator in charge of rodent services for Storysold: Pest Control. And this is one of my favorite service stories about why effective rat control comes down to finding entry holes…
Pre-industrial revolution, no one welcomed a rat catcher into their home, farm, or bustling mid-city factory and expected him to stay long. And why would they?
The reoccurring rodent service hadn’t been invented yet.
Certainly no one expected to house, feed, and entertain a rat catcher while he battled rats on their property for two years, or longer.
Try to imagine that scene. “So, how many rats did you catch today?” A homeowner might ask as they watch their rat catcher slurp all their farm-to-folk soup and guzzle all their local organic beer. The rat catcher would probably mutter something between slurps about, “That Big Egg Thieving Bastard in the barn,” which he’d follow with a rage filled monologue about cleanliness and godliness followed by a long calm discussion about why no rat catcher should ever use only one style of trap. As usual, the only thing the homeowner really wants to know is how soon they can feel secure again: How soon will all the rats be dead? When can we get back to business as usual at the farm? How much longer do we have to feed this rat catcher?
All good questions, no doubt. Our homes should make us feel safe and secure.
Disney would have us all believe that rat catchers are comical characters. I hate to admit it, but I think that’s partly true. The Fool in Shakespeare’s plays always has the best lines, but The Fool lacks one very important trait that the other more respectable characters possess. In a word that’s “civility.” The best rat catchers lack civility in more ways than one, because we have to navigate the borderlands between wilderness and civilization every day. It takes a rat to catch a rat. For those who might think that’s an insult to rat catchers, it isn’t. Rats are admirable creatures, and it takes a wilder kind of human to catch them.
And that’s why you should never trust a rat catcher who shows up in a white clean shirt.
No matter, my point is that we may be unintelligible and comical at times, but rat catchers understand The Math of owning and building a home, better than most. Pests are uninvited guests. They are the creatures who eat at our table longer than we’d like. And that’s why, I strongly believe no one should feed their rat catchers longer than they would provide food, water, and shelter for their friendly neighborhood rats. If we were part of the civil corporate world, we might call, “Don’t Feed The Rat Catchers!” our mission statement. But we’re not civil, so don’t buy a bumpersticker or T-shirt with that shit written on it. Like our prey, rat catchers crave safety, security, food, water, shelter, and money too. Can’t build a proper home infestation without it.
These were the thoughts that flashed through my mind when Richard told me that my old employers—Pioneer Pest Management (now PURCOR)—had been trying to rid his rental of rats for two years.
“Two years is a long time to live with rats!” I thought as I talked with Richard for the first time.
I listened as Richard explained that the rats were in the walls. His tenants never saw rats, but they heard the rats all the time. He asked if I could kill them without using bait.
Not knowing what I was getting into, I said, “You bet. I’m an old fashioned rat catcher who’s good with my traps. Using bait poison is usually more trouble than it’s worth.”
A week later, I was on set doing my usual initial rodent service (inspect and find and mark the entry holes, set traps to determine level of activity, and write a custom action plan). I started with the one truth about rats I hold dear: THEY HAVE TO LEAVE THE HOUSE SOMETIME. And I was going to find where that somewhere place was, and trap it. After poking around the exterior (up and down on my ladder a half a dozen times) I found a large gap along the gutter line, leading directly into the attic.
“This has to be it!” I thought as I marked the entry hole with plastic bags and set a bunch of traps in the gutter. I was so excited. All I could think about was the moment when I sent Pioneer Pest Management a copy of the story of how I’d found the entry hole they couldn’t find in two years.
I was so excited I called Richard and told him I’d found “the rat highway.” I also told Tyree, the kind tenant who lived upstairs. She asked me to set some traps inside, so I did.
CHAPTER 2: A New Hope
I returned a week later to check my traps. No signs of activity from the rat highway. No signs of activity from the traps I set in Tyree’s kitchen.
Frustrated, I poked around the attic a while looking for more entry holes. It was weird. I had found a monster entry hole, yet the attic had no droppings, trails in insulation, or urine smell…and the traps and bait packs Pioneer had set everywhere had been gathering dust for what looked to be about 2 years.
I was about to call it a day when I instinctively knelt beside the old chimney in the center of the attic to take a closer look. As I contemplated the chimney and its relationship to the rest of the house, I happened to catch a whiff of a smell that was all too familiar.
“I smell a rat!” I cried aloud to no one but myself, then I crouched down to get a better whiff of the chimney. Sure enough, the smell got stronger. I had no idea how they were getting down there, but I didn’t care. This was the best lead I had yet, so I sent a box full of dog food and traps down the hole to “fish” for activity.
Next up, I decided it would be smart to gather more story from Tyree. She was busy taking care of her kids when I walked in, so I chatted up her brother. I wasn’t expecting him to know much. I was just doing my thing where I pretend to be social (and like humans) when I’m nervous. Turns out, Tyree’s brother was tracking the story too. He was a large amiable guy who smelled heavily of weed, so I didn’t take his story about the “reoccurring rat hole outside” too seriously at first. Honestly I thought he was high or crazy or both. But I listened, because that’s what I do. I listen to humans, because they know their homes better than I do.
I asked him to show me. We walked outside to the strip of earth between the driveway and the foundation. He pointed in front of one of the downspouts, and said, “That’s the hole.”
“It’s probably a mole,” I replied, knowing well that moles don’t make open holes. I didn’t expect to find Tyree’s brother still there after I returned from my van with a shovel, but he was still there, smoking a cigarette. I liked that he was interested in this story as much as I was. He watched as I dug down about a foot and found a nice fat hole leading under the sidewalk. For shits-and-giggles, I set a mole trap along the tunnel. Then I filled in the hole, and then did my thing and made a plan with Tyree for the next service.
I puzzled over that reoccurring hole all week. “If the gap I found under the back stairs, the rat highway along the gutter line, or the reappearing hole aren’t the winners, then what next?” I thought as I ran my route around Portland working lesser rat huts. “Could the sewer be a possibility?” I don’t know. All I know is, I want to be the rat catcher that catches the rats and leaves the table for his next meal in another part of town.
CHAPTER 2: First Contact (Yes like Star Trek)
[ The following was based on an email we sent to Richard ]
STORYSOLD: I stopped by today to check traps. The large gutter gaps to attic are clearly not the rat highway I thought they were, so I downsized my blockade. Next, I checked the gap under the stairs. The plastic bag markers I stuffed up there were still in place. Strike two for the Would Be Rat Catcher. Then I went into the attic to check the “fishing trap” I sent down the old chimney.
“Fuckers!” I cried aloud when I saw what they’d done…
The rats had managed to jump into my little box, trip all my traps, and eat every scrap of dog food in the box. I’ve seen a lot of crazy rat shenanigans, but this one took the cake!
If I didn’t know better, I’d think someone was messing with me. But I had seen this before. It reminded me of the rat we (Ecolab) cornered in the dog food aisle in Safeway. He danced around every trap and piece of bait we set for months. When we came to check the traps, we knew where to find Big Rat Balls (that’s what we called him), or “Balls” for short. We could see him hanging like a sports fan in his little man cave under the pet food aisle. He had fresh water from a cooler leak a few feet away. He had all the pet food he could eat (the cleaning folk pushed spilled pet food into his cave all the time). We could see him, but it didn’t matter. He would simply stare back at us with his dead “fuck you” patriarchal rat eyes.
Sorry about the side thought. The good news for today is, “I made first contact.”
You know, like Star Trek. But instead of real aliens, I mean the rats in your rental who might as well be aliens based on Pioneer Pest Management’s previous efforts. They’re down there! Now I have to find a way to get them. To step my game up, I filled the box with glue boards and sent it back down the hole. We’ll see what they have to say about that.
STORYSOLD: All the failure aside, the real whammy discovery today was this:
That’s not a mole hole, and it’s not a burrow hole either. That’s an exit hole. Which means, either they use the runways I blocked and decided to dig there way out for food, or this simply is the main entry point. I dug down where I put the mole trap (which mysteriously wasn’t there) for a while without luck. My guess is, if I get serious and dig down to where the sewer line enters the home, we might find our entry point. Tyree’s brother’s story from the beginning was, “There’s a hole that keeps appearing there.” I have no idea how far down that pipe is, and I don’t feel comfortable digging too deep without your permission, but I’ll give it a shot if you like. It might be worth it. Something has to explain why you’ve been struggling with rats for years. It might yield another clue. The other thing is the food and water question. I think there’s a good chance that they’ve become uninvited household pets, sneaking a bite or two of dog food and water when the house is quiet. That’s why I added another slightly trickier live trap behind the dog dish (I put the dog food bag in the trap to cover the trigger). I explained my plot to Tyree, and let her know that I would come out to clear the trap if we caught one. She seemed happy to know that. The live catch cage is a new idea, so it may take some time to work. The last time I used one it didn’t kick in for three weeks. I know it means more waiting, but waiting is what wise old rats do best. And they’re not going to explore something new until they’ve checked it from every angle before they go in. All in all, I’m feeling optimistic. I have succeeded in making contact.
CHAPTER 3: The Subterranean Exclusion
Richard agreed to my plan to dig. I planned to do The Dig the following Saturday, but I had a few other stops in the area on Wednesday, so I stopped by to check my fishing hole.
When I pulled my fishing box from the chimney and saw that the rats had once again made off with my lure, rage no longer felt like appropriate expression. What I felt at that moment was beyond rage. It was the cool, calm, calculated, psychopathic feeling that precedes the revenge plots we humans love to feature in so many of our action movies. I don’t love dogs like John Wick (he’s a psychopath), but I feel strongly that the stealing of dog food should be grounds for the launching of a revenge plot (yes, I’m also a psychopath). No matter. I shined my light down the old chimney and did The Math: they had cleared two traps and three glue boards in the confines of a little box! It could have happened “by instinct,” but it sure as hell looked like they tore the edges of the cardboard box, tossed the torn pieces on the glue, and used it to walk on. If they muscled their way out of the glue, there’d be a lot more hair…
Yes sir! I read The Action, and The Earth Show now read that The Rat’s “it’s so crazy it just might work” good guy revenge plot worked better than mine!
Of course I met Richard on site the day of my defeat. We talked, and I was sure he could see the shame and humiliation in my eyes. Who could miss it?
As I drove away, I hit PLAY on my moody indie rat catcher’s playlist on Spotify: The Rat by The Walkmen, Rats by Pearl Jam, The Funeral by Band of Horses, How It Ends by DeVotchka, and The Poor Places by Wilco. Then I moodily processed The Action as I drove to my next rat catching adventure: Clearly the rats had the traps figured out, but it was the effort they expended to get at that dog food that was the real tell. Why would they work so hard to get at my lure if the rats at the bottom of my fishing hole were fat and happy? Then some new questions flashed in my mind, “Maybe no one has been able to put traps or bait/poison in the right place? Maybe The Action wasn’t happening in the kitchen like I’d imagined?”
Rat catching is a relationship. Done well, it’s a “call and response” like jazz.
I know The Industry has trained their customers to believe that a given product can offer a better, guilt free way of killing rats. That’s not true. I work hard to produce the best kills possible for my prey, but it’s still killing…and killing isn’t always clean.
And I have to say, my response to having my traps robbed for a second time was rolling with The Action. I’d pre-baited the rats with the dog food. I knew they liked dog food, and I could have set my traps with dog food again and hoped for better results, but I didn’t do that. I reset the traps to make it look like more lure, mixed up a feast of dog food, added two kinds of bait poison, and then I sent it back down the fishing hole.
Three days later, I pulled into Tyree’s driveway with our farm truck half full of the gravel. I’d used it earlier that morning at another job, and I had every intention of using it if I unearthed a rat hole. After I gently repotted the thyme plant that was growing beside the reoccurring hole, I started to dig. It didn’t take me long before I set the shovel aside and began to dig out my first object of interest with my hands. As I suspected, I’d found the point where a pipe made its entry through the concrete foundation.
It looked like it was a good candidate, until I got down with my flashlight and checked all the way around it. “Damn,” I sighed. “That’s not it. I feel concrete all the way around.” I was thinking about calling it a day when the downstairs tenant opened the door and walked by. I introduced myself and asked him if he had a few minutes to answer some questions. He said he did, so I asked him if he’d been hearing noises around the excavation site. “Yeah,” he replied. “I heard them around here.” He pointed down where I was digging, to the left of my dig, and explained that the scratching sounds sounded like they were lower than where I was digging. He said it was at knee level from inside his apartment. “How often do you hear them?” I asked curiously.
“Oh, about every day.” I thanked him for taking the time, and then I continued to dig. It didn’t take long before I found my second object of interest.
What I found was an uncapped pipe that lead down somewhere. I stuck a metal rod down it, and it was open for at least a foot past its opening. The pipe was right below the reoccurring exit hole I’d found the week before, but it wasn’t the answer I was looking for. I mean, if they’re using it to travel in: where does it exit? They still have to get into the house somehow! I’ve never done a subterranean exclusion before, but the first thing I’d do if I wanted to test a possible entry point would be to mark it. So I searched my truck and found an old piece of dried foam, and did just that.
Then I pushed the dirt back into the hole. The plan was, if the pipe has a function (and needs to be unblocked) the foam can be removed easily. If it leads to some mysterious underground lair, then we will know it was the entry point if (a) the hole doesn’t return (b) the behavior of the rats inside suddenly change dramatically. Or it’s possible that it’s just an old pipe, and the burrows are still six feet below it like we talked about on the phone.
I would have checked my fishing hole during this service too, but I didn’t have my ladder. Instead I drove home, unloaded the gravel, and wondered what the competition was doing with my new box full of bait. To win, they have to trip my two traps, eat all the dog food, and leave both kinds of bait uneaten in the box. We’ll find out when I return on Thursday.
Chapter 4: Rats 2, Rat catcher 2
After my Saturday of digging I wrote the following email:
STORYSOLD: Good morning Rich, Did some research yesterday. It’s possible the pipe is an uncapped disconnected drainpipe. I’m not sure why homeowners in Portland have been disconnecting them from their downspouts (one person said something about a charge from the city), but it’s a thing. In any case, if it’s a disconnected drainpipe, it would lead to the sewers.
This discovery was a revelation for me. Why would any homeowner want an entry hole from the sewers to anywhere on their property? Sure it was too small for alligators, but mice and rats could use it?
I suppose I never thought about it, because I don’t own a home. But now that I am thinking about it, I want to sound the alarm like Paul Revere and ride around town to check everyone’s drainpipes. In your case, it looks like a new pipe was installed at some point, but the old one wasn’t capped. I can only imagine how many homes suffer the same situation… No wonder Portland is overrun by rats. The good news is, on Thursday Oct 17th I checked the bait I send down the chimney hole and found this:
Every scrap of bait and dog food had been picked clean. Encouraged by the promise of death, I scooped up all the bait packs Pioneer had left scattered about, added some of my own, and then sent it down the chimney hole with two armed snap traps for old time sake. A week later, I returned to check my offering of bait.
My trusty box had been torn to shreds, bait ripped open and overturned, and one my traps had disappeared into the mysterious shadow land at the bottom of the chimney hole. As you can see, some of the bait had not been eaten for some reason. My guess is, it was the brand Pioneer used… I like to think the rats preferred mine.
“That was one of my fancy American made traps, rats!” I hollered down the hole quietly so I didn’t disturb the tenants below. “You’ll pay for that!”
“Whatever you say, rat catcher,” the rats laughed back. “Your traps don’t work on us!”
I’ve only been after these rats for a month. I’ve battled meaner rats for a lot longer than this, but these sewer swimming, sneaky tunnel-digging cowards at the bottom of Rich’s chimney hole were really pissing me off. “Do you know what the worst thing you can do to someone is?” I asked the rats as I reworked my fishing line. “The worst thing you can do to someone is willingly feed them their own brand of ignorance.” With that I fixed a trap directly to my line and fed it down the hole lured with my new berry brand rodent attractant.
Then I rigged 2 more of my better traps the same way, and set them gently at the bottom of the hole.
“See rats,” I snickered to myself in silence. “All I want to know from these traps is…are you still alive? Because, I have to say, it sure smells a lot like death down there.”
And I’m going to count that as (at least) 2 wins for me.
CHAPTER 5: Don’t Rush Off Now! There’s Dessert!
The following was taken from live email and text correspondence:
STORYSOLD: I think we’re winning…I checked the hole Thursday and today and no signs of activity from the hole, not even a nibble on what I would consider to be a real rat feast. I also talked with Tyree’s mother and she said they haven’t hear anything in a while. I’m not celebrating yet, but that’s all good news.
That’s what we wrote Rich, but a week later Farmer Emily and our human host Jake were celebrating. It wasn’t the death of the rats they were celebrating. It was their annual post farm season vacation celebrating the end of another bountiful year at Full Cellar Farm (www.fullcellarfarmoregon.com). This year’s vacation was a road trip to visit their farmer friends Katie and Dallas in Kalamath Falls. On the way, they explored the tide pools along the southern Oregon coast, hiked in the Redwoods, climbed Mt. Elijah near the Oregon Caves, and watched the stars through the skylights in an off-grid hippie Airbnb in Cave Junction.
While we were hiking gleefully out of cell phone range, Richard replied to my email.
RICHARD: Great. I entered the basement last week and noticed heavy dead rat smell throughout unit, but more pronounced in living room area. Same today as cleaners are in there with heat on. Have you been by to check on bait since 11.6.19? Do you have any recommendations to eliminate odor? I am researching a company called NoOdor which sells pouches of a natural substance they claim attracts the odor molecules and traps them in the material. Need about one $15 pouch for every 150 sq. ft. Has good reviews for what that is worth.
STORYSOLD: Thanks for being patient with me. We snuck out of town for our annual post farm season trip. Here’s the rat report from my last service on October 15th: 1) I messaged Tyree and she’s still hearing scratching around her bathroom and bedroom/chimney area, which has been her story every time. 2) The bait I left on my last service had an effect. It was half eaten. Still no way to know how many I’ve killed, or how many are left…
3) I checked out the basement apartment. I didn’t notice a smell, but I still smelled it in the chimney. I was hoping for some inspiration, but all I found was 2 inactive entry points and Pioneer’s old mouse traps. Speaking of which, I am still collecting all their old equipment with the intention of mailing it or dropping it off next time I’m in Vancouver. 4) I removed the ineffective live catch traps from inside the kitchen. Tyree and her mom reported they haven’t seen a rat inside in a long time. 5) I devised yet another original chimney trap made from a live trap, a snap trap, and a bag of dog food. I have hight hopes…
6) The reoccurring hole has yet to reappear, so that’s good news. Moving forward, I’m going to go back to weekly trap checks and check ins. I’ll send you the full report/service story soon.
RICHARD: Thanks Jake. Referring to item 2 in your report: when did you leave that bait there? I was in the bottom apartment yesterday and the strong dead rat smell was gone, but did notice an unidentified odor. Maybe the last remnants of the dead rat odor?
STORYSOLD: I smelled it too, but I thought it was the stuff the odor guy you hired used. At that time, I was checking our rat fishing hole twice a week. Here’s my text exchange with her: STORYSOLD: Hey sorry to bother you Tyree. I saw that you were busy when I stopped by, but I was wondering if you could give me an update? Have you heard more or less scratching this week? TYREE: So far the only thing is the smell. I haven’t seen them or heard them. It’s jus the smell STORYSOLD: Ok, I had no sign of activity in hole this week, but I’m not giving up. I put some water down to see if they drink it…I’ll be back next Monday. Thanks for your help 🙂 TYREE: You’re welcome we will get them
And here’s the next report I sent to Richard:
STORYSOLD: I checked the traps again on Dec 2nd. My live trap/bait mix showed no signs of activity, so I send a bottle of water down with a few traps and bait in the hope of getting some sign, one way or another, to ascertain if they’re still down there. I texted Tyree as well. She said she’s still smelling the smell, but no signs of activity this week. I’m planning to check traps again on Monday.
RICHARD: Thanks for update, Jake. What is the bottle of water for?
STORYSOLD: The water is bit of a stretch. I know the rats need 2oz of water per day, and I thought if they’ve become “bait shy” at least they’ll drink the water and we know they’re still down there. The box below has a new flavor of bait and a couple of snap traps.
RICHARD: You wiley clever guy…
As promised, on Monday, I checked in again:
STORYSOLD: I’m stopping by to check my hole. Have you had any signs of activity last week? TYREE: Nope nothing. STORYSOLD: Good sign, I’ll check in again next week TYREE: Ok coo
A week later I checked in again:
STORYSOLD: Hello! Just a heads up. I’m going to drop by in about a half an hour. Any signs of activity since last time? TYREE: No nothing so far jus the smell STORYSOLD: Looking good on my end 🙂 happy holidays! TYREE: [thumbs up] happy holidays
STORYSOLD: [to Richard] We’re on a roll. 3 weeks no signs of activity in fishing hole or reports of activity from Tyree. RICHARD: Wonderful….it’s a Christmas storysold And that’s how our service wrapped up. Just in time for Christmas. There was only one more scene I needed to perform to make our story complete:
Mailing the traps back to Pioneer was gloating, for sure. But it was also a reminder for us, as well as all our fellow rat catchers, that we should never be too comfortable eating at our customers’ tables. Two years is way, way too long to be living with rats.
And that was the scene I wrote when I was a hopeful hearted rat catcher. It was the rats turn to write next.
What wrote made “hope” look like a word that was only good for hooking suckers.
CHAPTER 6: Hope Isn’t Always a Good Thing
Many months later, like a monster in a horror film, the rats returned to stir the pot of action again. The new tenants in the downstairs unit reported hearing scratching in their ceiling and walls near the door right outside the once open drain pipe leading to the sewer. That activity was followed by the presence of flies outside their door and the smell of death.
Long story short, I checked my rat fishing hole. The water had evaporated from my Powerade bottle, but everything in my little box of tricks was as I left it. And Tyree said she hadn’t heard or seen any new signs of activity. How that rat (or whatever) happened to roar suddenly to life like a nearly beaten monster from the depths of the sewer only to die trapped somewhere underground was beyond my powers to understand. The good news was, it prompted us to not only do a more permanent exclusion on the once open drain, but the still open attic spaces as well.
Here’s some proof-of-work shots from those exclusion adventures:
So, now, as of July 18th 2020 the home I’ve dubbed “Old Pioneer” in honor of the 2 years Pioneer Pest Management freshened the bait in the stations like snake oil salesmen every so often, is once again sheltering humans without the aid of a rat catcher. I know many of you readers must be wondering, “How can we afford to turn our backs on this story? Obviously the rats are going to rally and try to cross The Line again! Wouldn’t it make sense to pay a rat catcher to, at least, check The Line every month or two?” If you’re one of those readers, our answer is still “No.” Don’t feed the rat catchers. They will never catch the rats if you do.
Did that last paragraph still sound hopeful to you? It should, because I really thought that was The End again.
CHAPTER 7 – The Rats Strike Back! (The 2 Year Anniversary)
Today’s date is 1/23/2022. I started this service story in the spring of 2019. Using the skills I’d developed fishing for rats in the chimney, I cleared the rats featured in the previous chapters and enjoyed a nice long break. After all my many trials and errors learning to fish for rats in a chimney, the best trap set up proved to be a large body trap fixed to a 2×4 lowered on a rope down into my rat hole.
I was proud of my newfound rat fishing skill, because it meant that I was meeting my customer’s expectation. I was clearing the rats from what I now call a “wall infestation” without the use of bait poisons. And I was doing it well.
Trouble was, there were always more rats. Right on cue (days before we took our annual post farm season vacation in 2020), the rats rose from the sewer again to reclaim their warm spots on the building’s heating ducts.
You would think that I would have made the connection a long time ago. We were on the same schedule as these got-damned sewer rats. Farmers don’t get vacations in the summer. There’s too much work. Got to “make hay when the sun shines” or some shit like that. The rats were doing the same thing. They were free to harvest The Urban Wilderness, digging their burrows outdoors close to food sources like humans who are nomadic or homeless, migrating from one fruit tree and bird feeder to the next…until their endless summer finally ends when Fall reminds us that Winter is on its way. Apparently farmers and rats both seek warmer climates in November. Only twist on that idea was, in 2020 we didn’t travel south to backpack in Grand Canyon or Zion, or float the Great River in Moab. This year we were facing COVID, so we spent a week in a yurt in Wallowa Lake State Park where we responsibility visited our friends who live in the area.
When I returned from our annual warmth seeking adventure, I returned to my rat hole and fished the ratonauts (rats who explore new territories) from the chimney one by one until the scratching inside was no longer heard. Then I enjoyed another nice long break.
Until next year, right on cue, we about to head off on our annual post farm vacation when Richard emailed to let me know his new tenants (three youthful transplants from Ohio named Claire, Abby, and Debbie) had been hearing scratching in the walls again.
This year’s adventure was the warmest warm scene we could find, a place humans call “Death Valley.”
The wilderness ghetto (aka national park) was far from a lifeless moon colony. Death Valley was full of life at every turn. We even saw a kit fox! It was the first fox our humans had engaged in the wild ever.
CHAPTER 8 – Capped! (You Have to Be Freaking Kidding Me)
I should have seen What Happened Next coming, but I didn’t see It Coming any more than any sucker member of The Audience.
A few days after our adventure to Death Valley, I walked on stage like Disney’s Goofy prepared to fish the rats from the walls like normal. I set my ladder up in the back, opened the door to the attic, and walked in ready to lower my trap line and catch the rats.
“Gosh!” I exclaimed when I saw that my chimney hole had been capped with plywood. “Someone has sealed off my only access to trapping the rats in this confounded duplex!”
I understand why homeowners exclude The Urban Wilderness from their homes (every wild creature on earth draws a line around their homes), but this was the first time I’d experienced a homeowner who had made an environmental change to exclude their rat catcher from their ability to catch the rats infesting their home.
In that moment, I could hear it. The laughter in Portlands’ sewers could be heard for miles around.
After I took a deep breath, I walked into the upstairs unit where a contractor was working in the kitchen. Tyree was no longer there. She’d moved on; hopefully somewhere where she didn’t have to pay the high price of Portland rent AND listen to the rats scratching through the walls every night too.
I took one look at the contractor and it all made perfect sense. Why hadn’t I seen it sooner?
“It’s the got-damned Californians again!”
He was more of a Classic Bro than a Californian, but clearly he was working for the Great State of California in the kitchen of a home that any loyal Portland native would describe as a “colony.” Before you rush to judgment, please allow me to tell the story…
Since the 80s, Californians have been moving to Portland, buying up “cheap” real estate, and driving up our cost of living. Over the years, the BMWs invaded Oregon in waves. To maximize the effect of their invasion, they also established colonies in Washington, especially in Seattle. The trademark Californian move was to buy property with the intent to sell it at a profit. Californians aren’t homemakers. They sell their homes which are worth a lot more in California, then they buy many properties with their earnings in Oregon. They live in one of the properties, then rent out the rest…and make their small fortunes as landlords and or property managers. In the 90s, native Oregonians began to notice an influx of other prospectors moving in from other parts of the country: New York, Boston, Cleveland Ohio. Oregonians couldn’t afford to buy homes from Californians. The new people were the people the Californians were selling their investments at a profit to.
Our human Jake likes to joke, “I can’t even make jokes about Californians anymore. There’s not enough Oregonians around to laugh at them. Finding a native Oregonian in Portland is like finding a unicorn in a field…they’re like wildlife, always on the run from the next bump in rent.”
From the perspective of a native Oregonian, NE Portland today is unrecognizable as the neighborhood we knew. Instead of an endless parade of fancy coffee houses, bars, restaurants, and ergonomic office spaces (complete with yoga studios), there used to be small businesses in Portland that produced things. The Pearl and Water Ave used to be the industrial part of town. Alberta St. used to have an array of small businesses that weren’t only bars, coffee houses, and restaurants. Henry’s used to brew beer on Burnside St! in a huge beer factory that was amazing. Now it’s just a restaurant called Henry’s. Columbia sportswear used to have sewing factories in town before Girt sold out. And Columbia used to have competitors like White Stag and Foresters who also had factories in town. In fact, the now iconic Portland neon sign with the stag in it…was White Stag’s sign.
These days it’s not okay to hate groups of people, even home invading Californians. It’s not politically correct.
I suppose that makes sense, but America goes to war with other countries for invading and occupying the homes of innocent, freedom-loving peoples all the time. I also suppose it’s way, way too late for Oregon to go to war with California. That epic battle never happened. California and their fellow Home Investors from around the country won a long time ago. For the native Oregonian, Portland will forever be known for what it has become, “Little California.”
Whether or not you believe we’re horribly bigoted is beside the point. The reason why I told that story was, “conquest has its consequences.”
When we talk to customers we don’t call that story The Great Californian Invasion. We gave it a nice comfort-loving soft name. We call it, The Portland Makeover. And The Portland Makeover has made the rat catchers of Portland a lot of money over the last few decades.
The general storyline of The Portland Makeover reads like this: a) a Californian buys a home in an old redline district or up-and-coming poor part of town; b) they immediately begin to remodel it (like the remodel project that closed off my chimney hole!) and the home begins to grow strange add on living spaces like nurse logs grow new trees; c) like the pioneers who deforested The West, what they don’t do is take the history of the home into account, and c) instead of taking a long look at the way the creatures (human and animal alike) used the house in The Past, they reshape it in their own image.
The rats might have respected the new environmental territories produced by The Portland Makeover if the Californians had bothered to do the one thing I do everyday: inspect the Homefront, find where the rats are/were running and nesting, discover all the entry holes, and then secure them with heavy mesh or metal flashing. But that didn’t happen. Symptoms of The Portland Makeover include: large gaps between new roof sheathing and old gutter line, new add on crawlspaces with no access hatches, spray foam insulation installed in attics where the squirrel holes were left open (see our service story The Foam Cave), old uncapped chimneys that lead into the guts of the home, uncapped sewer drains in basements, attic spaces that were turned into living spaces without first securing entry holes (thus turning a routine exclusion into a difficult wall infestation), and of course our before mentioned uncapped rainwater drains.
It’s not that the folks who lived in NE Portland before The Portland Makeover did a better job of excluding entry holes. Our human worked with a lot of NE Portland customers before they were displaced by mural art. It was a poorer part of town, but that didn’t mean they didn’t have good pest control. Like farmers (not hobby farmers) who are also usually poor, rat catching was a normal part of their daily homemaking story. In fact, we met a talented rat catcher in NE Portland named Marvin (when our human was selling his story to Pioneer Pest Management) who gave us a few pointers we use now everyday like the importance of hooking the rats on our food source. Farmers are the same. They all have their own unique (usually highly entertaining) methods for keeping the rats away. In both cases, it’s not that farmers and poor people don’t have the time or money to invest in exclusion work. I blame the genocidal killing based method of rodent control on American culture (and English colonialism before that), especially strange notions of manhood. It’s like in every Marvel super hero you can watch on TV. “Death is the only thing that can stop The Bad Guys (and Pests), because they’re so Bad that no one can ever change their characters.” That of course is total nonsense…and I blame The Pest Control Industry in part for perpetuating that myth.
Anyway, I didn’t talk with the contractor in the kitchen long. Once I realized that my rat fishing hole had been capped because they were remodeling the upstairs unit, I contact Richard about the need to have somewhere to trap the rats in the walls. Throughout this adventure, Richard and I had been in communication about the elephant in the room. Where the hell are the rats getting in?
For some reason, Richard was hopeful that the capping of the chimney combined with some plumbing work he had done would put an end to the never ending wall infestation.
It was less than a week before the youthful transplants from Ohio contacted Richard with more reports of scratching in walls.
Richard asked me what he should do. I said, “Cut a hole in the wall, so I can trap them.”
And that’s exactly what he did:
That was my first set up. The good news is that it caught a rat.
CHAPTER 9 – This Story Goes from Bad to Worse
I should have seen this coming. In my defense, I’ve never had to open a wall in a home to trap rats before. The idea behind the expanded aluminum metal mesh you see in the photo above was my usual thing: do something to change the environment and force the rats into the traps. I have no illusions. Rats aren’t dumb. They know a trap is a trap. Good rat catchers all use what I euphemistically call “environmental pressure” to encourage, push, force, and starve the rats into trying their luck with a trap.
A week after Richard opened the wall, the Ohioans reported that they smelled something death-like. Once again, I put on my Goofy character on and walked in expecting to simply clear and reset my two wall traps.
I noticed that the metal had moved. What I didn’t notice was the bare electrical wire for the heater it was resting on.
“Gosh!” I said as I reached for the metal. “What’re these rats up to now?”
The moment I moved it, I saw a spark. Then I saw a flame burst and fade in a puff of black smoke before my eyes.
Luckily, the maidens I was there to rescue from the rats were there to save me.
“Huh,” Abby said. “Do you want me to turn the power off?”
“Yes please,” I said, still standing with the metal in my hand trying to figure out why I hadn’t been electrocuted. After I made a halfhearted attempt to save face, I peered into the hole in the wall. Sure enough, the wire had been worn bare by years of rats running over it.
Someone in Ohio must have raised these youths right, because the first question they asked was, “Are we in danger of a fire? I mean, are there other wires like that in the walls?”
As our hero borrowed some electrical tape from the maidens and wrapped the bare wire, I did my best not to play prophet and make any kind of dramatic statement about their safety in the future. I did write an email to Richard.
STORYSOLD: I checked in with the tenants on 8th street a few times (via phone) over the last few months. And they didn’t notice any activity until last week (soon after all the snow and rain…which indicates sewers again).
They said they only heard noises once, then it’s been quite ever since. I found 2 rats caught in traps in wall and one very old catch in a trap outside. So it seems I’m winning on the rat front.
But we also had some excitement today…
Soon after you opened the wall, I noticed that the heater wire had been scratched/chewed by the traveling of the rats through the wall. Worried I tried to protect it with some expanded aluminum. Today I saw that the rats had broke through my little blockade. Not thinking, I grabbed the metal to remove/reposition it. It sparked when it hit the wire. I wasn’t hurt, but it gave us all a scare.
Abby was vey helpful. She turned off the electricity for me and supplied me with some electrical tape.
I wrapped the wire, so no wires are exposed now, but my initial worry remains. If I catch a rat and it falls on a bare wire chewed by rats, there is a danger of an electrical fire. The rats already hollowed out the insulation in the wall, so there’s really nothing besides dead rats and traps as fuel, but I thought it would be a good idea to bring the possibility to your attention.
After that, I didn’t put anymore metal in the hole in the wall.
I felt like I was learning to trap rats all over again. After a few catches, I settled on this set up:
It worked like a Marvel hero story works. It killed the rats, but there was still no serious talk about finding the source of this wall infestation. I didn’t blame Richard. Like writing a novel, it’s labor intensive to go back and make edits after it’s been built. And my recommendation was (as usual), “We have to open those walls up and find the entry hole.”
CHAPTER 10 – The Dollars and Sense Value of Stories
Fall of 2022, Storysold: Pest Control was in crisis because our human host’s family was in crisis. There is no short short for that story. All I’ll say is, for the first time since childhood (when our host still believed Jesus would be popping out of the clouds at any moment) we believed The Apocalypse was on its way.
I had a month or two break after I’d cleared something like 10 rats from the hole in the wall. I didn’t trust the calm, so I contacted Abby to ask if I could swing by and take a look see in the wall.
She replied that she and her fellow Ohioans had found a new (rat free) rental in Portland.
I don’t know how that all went down. All I know is, next time I talked with Richard he said he couldn’t rent the unit again without disclosing the rat problem to the new tenants. After five years (maybe more) I wondered what he told his tenants before. In other words, for some reason he no longer felt (or could) rent the unit until he cleared out the rats.
I’m okay with not knowing some things. Embracing the mysteries of nature is a trait storytellers and rat catchers share.
At first, we spent an hour or so spitballing some ideas. Richard was convinced that a sewer scope would help. I didn’t disagree, but I pointed out that we would have seen a lot of reoccurring exit holes in the front lawn above the line if it was broken. And I hadn’t seen even one. I was open to any idea (mainly because I didn’t want to be blamed if it was wrong), but I generally pushed for opening the walls.
Richard did a sewer scope and found no breaks in the sewer line.
In the midst of one of The Family Crisis, Richard called to talk. I wasn’t able to talk. He wanted to know where I would open the wall if I was going to open the wall. This is what I texted him back: BASICALLY ALL I WOULD ADVISE IS TO START AT THE OPENING IN THE WALL AND FOLLOW THE RAT TRAIL TO THE RIGHT.
After listening to the many tenants reports of activity in the walls, the area to the right (like within 5 feet or so) of where Richard cut the hole in the wall was the area with the most reports.
A week later, I got a text from Richard. He’d found an uncapped old rainwater drain in the wall right where I said it would be.
In spite of all the heartache our human host was experiencing on his Homefront, that victory was sweet. We glowed about it for days. “Hell yeah I called that one!” we boasted to other customers. “I felt just like Babe Ruth calling my shot.”
When The Action settled down and the story presented itself, what had happened there was clear: The Portland Makeover had struck again. That wall had been extended out–beyond the original foundation, over the old uncapped drain–when they turned what was a classic NE Portland home into a rental duplex.
The traps in the wall caught one more before I arrived to set more traps in the unit. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was my last rat. The End of an epic service story had finally come for the makeover rental duplex on NE 8th St.
Richard said when he opened this part of the wall (shown in photo below) he saw the last rat staring back at him.
In conclusion, “Don’t feed the rat catchers.” Make them to do their jobs and find the entry holes.
Hello humans. It is I, your friendly neighborhood Wilderness Security Guide again. Today’s Wilderness Guiding News is a special report featuring the squirrels in N Portland. Normally I don’t make much to do about the adaptations my wilderness creature friends make to The Urban Wilderness everyday, because it’s not really news. They’re adapt to the changes we make in their environments each and every day. This story, however, which features Erin and Lion’s beautiful Homefront in N Portland is an exception. The squirrels are building foam cave, and they’re living in them. Those who track The Action of squirrels will know, but for those who don’t understand what this means…
If squirrels continue to build and live in foam cave, the species may be in danger of devolving. The plush comfort of foam caves like the one shown above will cause wild squirrels to become more domesticated, and I fear that if squirrels (especially those bossy Eastern Grays) become any more domesticated than they are now, they will have to be reclassified as (gasp!) “pets.” Or at best, you humans will have to start calling them else. We like the term “phets,” (feral pets).
And we all know squirrels aren’t the brightest critters in the bunch. Can you imagine how dumb a pet squirrel would be?
I know it’s too early to say for sure, but I predict: if squirrels continue to build foam caves they’re in danger of suffering an evolutionary break in intelligence as great as the moment wolves and wild canines became the sobering, order-following, comfortable domesticates we name and dress in sweaters today.
Never fear. With Erin and Lion’s help, I was able to successfully put an end to this foam cave building malarky.
Our service story began with Erin standing on her front porch. It was winter in Portland, but there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Yet she was watching little white flakes of something falling down all around her. For a fleeting moment, she felt a strong urge to make a cup of hot chocolate (with tiny marshmallows) and sing a Christmas song or two. That was until Lion tracked The Action and discovered the source of “the snow” was a small area a few inches below the highest pitch of their roof. There was a large support beam that acted like a work platform just below the area where the white flakes were flying from and falling down on the driveway.
“Had someone installed a snow machine in our attic without telling us?”
“No,” Lion replied. “I bet it’s those darned squirrels!”
The course of action was clear. They had to find a way to block the entry hole before the squirrel was able to dig all the way to the other side of their attic’s relatively fresh coat of foam insulation, and then run willy-nilly through the attic pooping everywhere and causing a ruckus like a pound puppy. Trouble was, they didn’t have a ladder tall enough to do the job.
So, with much trepidation, they went in search of a pest control operator on Thumbtack.
When our Storysold team arrived on set, the first thing I did was inspect the attic. I was thankful that I didn’t have to swim through a sea of blown insulation, but the new spray foam insulation pretty well covered any possible entry holes. The good news was, my wilderness creature friend hadn’t broke on through to the other side yet.
In the next scene, I broke out my ladder. It’s the second tallest extension ladder you can buy at Home Depot, but it wasn’t even close to reaching the snow machine port at the top of the roof. Over a year ago, I bought and tried to haul around the tallest extension ladder money can buy at Home Depot. It was nice to have a few extra feet, but it was heavy and I was in constant fear of dropping it on someone’s car, or head. I remember feeling a sense of defeat the day I returned that ladder and exchanged it for the one I have now. Mainly because I didn’t feel strong enough. You know, like if I was a capital-M Man (and not so feminine) I’d be able to whip around job to job with the tallest ladder money can buy at Home Depot. Thankfully that feeling didn’t last long. I’m fairly comfortable with my identify as a female character hosted by a human named Jake. And he remembers doing bird work with Pioneer Pest Management (now called “Purcor” after the buyout), where he was assigned to work with one of Portland’s finest pest control operators named Mick every time he broke out his long ladder for bird work. And Mick was as capital-M Man as they come.
Instead of dwelling on my frustration (aka short ladder syndrome), I decided to inspect the roof for entry holes. Sure enough I found “wilderness preserves” under both of the back dormer eves. Tucked behind a piece of metal flashing, the squirrels had dragged a lawn bag full of twigs and leaves to make their nests. I also found traces of insulation from deeper in the corners where our friends had begun to dig for a way in. I would have inspected the eves in front, but there was still a layer of frost…and I didn’t feel like playing the part of the fallen hero. I’m sure Erin and Lion wouldn’t enjoy that scene.
Thankfully I had some work to do. After gathering all my supplies in my roof satchel (I hate tool belts because they remind me of the war belts our human wore in the military), I took the two eves off Portland’s list of wilderness preserves.
On my way back down to the ground, I had a brief chat with Lion. I don’t remember what we said, but it must have jogged something in my imagination, because a few short moments later I had an action plan.
“I recommend we let the squirrel do the work for us,” I grinned through my mask at Erin. “You know, we’ll Tom Sawyer it and let our friend do the work for us…and then I’ll exclude the entry hole from inside the attic.”
I was expected Erin to say something like, “Gather your short ladder and be gone fowl creature!”
Instead they agreed to the plan. And I returned a week later to go spelunking for squirrels in their sea of foam. Prior to The Action of my first chapter (the initial service is the introductory), I’d borrowed Farmer Emily’s sawzall just in case the foam was as hard to cut through as the foam I use to fill and mark rat holes.
“Ready or not, here I come!” I mumbled as I began to cut the foam with my long insulation knife, which immediately sank into the foam like it was butter. Relieved that I didn’t have to use the sawzall, I continued to cut through the foam in search of squirrels.
In a few moments later I’d dug my way into the plush living lair of Portland’s first “Neoneanderthal Cave Squirrel.” That’s my working title for my new species. I also like “Devolved Cave Squirrel” and “Man Caver.” Although I don’t think “Man Caver” will catch on. The connection between strong heroic men who build comfortable “man caves” and squirrels who build foam caves isn’t instantly digestible by anyone other than us. My teammate Bookmaker Jake Got It immediately. “No doubt,” he said when I started to repo all the squirrels things heartlessly. “If I was a squirrel living in a foam cave as plush as this, I’d be set. I would never have to worry about snakes, hawks, owls, or coyotes ever again! I could spend the remainder of my days warm in my foam cave writing a series of live action novels that will, someday, make me famous like those humans who do nothing but speak and sign their books at large gatherings of humans they pretend to know!”
“Can it, Asshole,” I said to my teammate. “We’re still on the clock here. And I need you to help me come up with a creative way to block this would-be phet out of our customer’s home.”
“You know that squirrel dug straight through that wall, right?” Bookmaker shot back hotly.
“Yes I see that Asshole,” I sighed (why does everything always have to be a debate!), “but if you took the time to track the story Erin shared with us, you’d know that it was a bird that started the hole.”
“Bird my left foot,” Bookmaker mumbled as he presented our team with some exclusion options.
“Why do you always feel the need to be right?” I replied as I chose one of his options and went to work.
“Don’t know,” Bookmaker said as he watched me work. “I think I was abused as a child.”
“Yeah,” our third teammate jumped in. “The humans call school. I blame my all Asshole disorders on all the time my human host wasted going to schools. Might be good for willing domesticates, but not wild live action characters like bedbug destroyers, rat catchers, and other half-wild characters capable of tracking and engaging The Action.”
“Hi Pest Predator,” I smiled. “Glad you could join us. What do you think? Is it a bird or squirrel hole?”
Pest Predator lowered his fly face mask and said, “How should I know? I forgot my time machine at home.”
“Yeah whatever,” Bookmaker said as he grumbled and helped me work. “I know I wasn’t there when the squirrel made the hole…but I still feel like I’m able to read the right signs and know The Truth.”
“That’s because your an Asshole who still thinks he can know the living stories of other creatures like they were your own.”
Bookmaker laughed and put the finishing touches on our double-thick mesh squirrel block. “So what if I talk to God? That doesn’t make me an Asshole. It feels good to have someone like Him at my side telling me The Truth all the time.”
“You know we should really make a point to deduct the storytime we spend in these little team meetings from The Bill,” Predator mused as we cleaned up, gathered our equipment, and closed the attic back up. “That’s what we used to do when we minted our qualitative-based storytime-standard currencies in The Living City.”
“I agree,” I said, smiling as we climbed back up on the roof to check the formerly frost covered side of the roof. “I’ll be sure to deduct any inactive time when our team was only talking to ourselves. And I’ll also deduct the moments where we talked to Lion about poetry, economics, and giving our live action characters names like Lion. That conversation was so engaging we should have paid them for the time they took to listen to all our delusional prattle about how our personal live action stories can be harnessed, like the wind makes electricity, and used as a new kind of super money that humans can use to build better, more wild, action packed homes in the cities of the future.”
“No joke,” Bookmaker smiled. “I really liked Lion’s line about how humans put their ‘auras’ into their work. I can’t remember what they said exactly. Something about how humans don’t own them. I reminded me of the live action signatures our human hosts used to sign their ownership of their storybank accounts in The Living City…I’m pretty sure Lion would enjoy becoming a storybanker.”
“You would like that line, Asshole,” Guide laughed. “It’s the only one they delivered that agreed with something you wrote!”
Bookmaker didn’t have a slick comeback for that one. All he said was, “I should send them a free copy of The Living City.”
“Don’t do it,” Guide said seriously as we wedged our human’s fat ass under the first eve. “They called us to help them strengthen their Homefront…and keep their wilderness safe. They didn’t call for another book to add to their slush piles.”
“GROAN!” we groaned as we sucked our gut in. “God I hate the holidays.”
“Cheer up!” Bookmaker smiled suddenly. “It’s a small price to pay for science! All the scientific journalists will be beating our door down to interview us about our latest discovery in The Urban Wilderness. There’s going to be volumes of very smart books written about the day we discovered Neoneanderthal Cave Squirrels in N Portland. If ever there was a mutant jump in the evolution of squirrels..this is it! If humans don’t secure their Homefronts better, and keep the phet squirrels from building foam caves in their homes, the next chapter of our planet’s evolution will include Neoneanderthal Cave Squirrels.”
And so our service story came to The End working to exclude two more wilderness preserves on the roof of a beautiful home on a beautiful sunny day in January.
CHAPTER 3 – “The Wilder Ending”
One of the lessons I’ve learned from writing live action stories is, endings are often beginnings in disguise and visa versa. And Lion and Erin’s service story was a perfect example of how The Alpha was actually an Omega in disguise. In other words, our wilderness creature friend decided to let The Action roll…
ERIN: Hi Jake! Yeah – seems our friend has taken up residence – not sure how or when, but they are up there all day, and it worries me a bit because of all the feces etc that may leak into our space and down the sides of the house!
I should explain: Erin’s home has a large support beam at its peak that extends beyond the exterior wall. It makes a perfect gargoyle-like ledge for our squirrel friend, birds, and roof rats to hang out on. And apparently it’s a good spot for chewing holes through walls.
STORYSOLD: Is he still scratching and pulling debris out?
ERIN: I work in the room underneath tomorrow, so I’ll listen. No more debris that I can see, but he is always perched up there…I’ll keep you posted.
STORYSOLD: Here’s what I’m thinking: A) I’d be very impressed if he breaches my exclusion; B) it would be easy to check if he’d make it back in by looking from attic; C) that ledge isn’t a good nesting spot, but you will see the twigs and leaves if he tries; D) sometimes it takes squirrels a “period of adjustment” to deal with the new reality. My guess is that he’s in denial…I suggest monitoring our guy for another week. If he breaches I’ll come right away. If he’s still hanging out up there next weekend, I’ll find a taller ladder somehow and close the sides of that ledge off too.
ERIN: Sounds like a well thought out plan!! I like it. Thanks so much!
That was January 21st. On February 3rd Erin texted the following report:
ERIN: Hi Jake! Just saw this wood below the place the squirrel has been hanging out. 🙁 I’ll keep my eyes out. Hopefully they will give up and not do any more damage.
STORYSOLD: OK I’ll block it off. How does Tuesday morning sound? All I will need is the driveway cleared
Tuesday was no good, so I planned to come sooner on Sunday. My solution to the tall ladder question was simply to buy a new ladder. 10% military discount at Lowe’s!
I tried to recruit Pete (who is a farm friend and working with us once for a clean out in Fairview) and Farmer Rachael and Evanshoe (see Adventures of Ratty Claws, Episode 1) who all live in N Portland to hold the ladder for me. $50 an hour! But Pete’s partner had COVID and Farmer Rachael was going out of town.
I was about to wing it and try to muscle my new 32 foot ladder alone when Farmer Emily (aka The Daughter of The Son of Safety) came to my rescue!
“Our hero!” we cooed and promised to buy take out wherever Emily wanted when we were done.
She was already going to NW for a training run for her adventure to rerun the whole length of Forest Park (and earn her second Forest Park Marathon t-shirt!), so I asked if she wanted to help me secure our contractor friend/future homebuilder John’s Homefront on Sunday before our last service at The Foam Cave. I was pleased that she agreed, because I needed the ladder for that exclusion scene too.
On Sunday, Emily met me in NW at John and Amy’s home. The first thing I said was…
STORYSOLD: I stepped in poop. And I don’t think it was dog poop.
EMILY: Gross! You do smell like poop.
STORYSOLD: Thank you for loving our human Jake. Poop is an constant occupational hazard…but human poop on the side of the street in NW is a new one.
EMILY: Don’t you have a change of clothes?
We thought about that one for a moment. Then, when we’d secured John’s home (after many, many years of rats running in his basement), we stripped off our shitty pants in John’s basement and changed into our new jumpsuit.
Naturally I had to explain that whole story to Erin when we arrived on set at The Foam Cave.
I was so, so happy to have a Safety Officiant in my supporting cast that day. I’m fearless, but not that fearless…
Sure enough, our squirrel friend hadn’t breached my exclusion work, but the asshole was well on his way to carving a brand new hole. An hour of ladder wrangling later, I’d blocked off the ledge with two large pieces of expanded aluminum. Next I filled The Foam Cave with more foam from inside, and then I met Erin at the door. After a nice chat about something I can’t recall, Erin asked, “What do I owe you for today’s service?”
STORYSOLD: Well as we see it…you contacted us looking for someone with a ladder to close off that entry hole. I convinced you it could be done from inside, which turned out not to be true.
ERIN: Yeah, but you had to buy a new ladder…?
STORYSOLD: I would have bought that ladder at some point anyway. So no worries! I figure today’s service did what I should have done in the first place.
ERIN: Thank you for your integrity. I’ll be sure to tell my neighbors about your service if it comes up.
And service story we call The Foam Cave ended with our human and his partner Farmer Emily enjoying Mexican food at a food cart near their home. Clearly the moral of this adventure is: HOMEOWNER’S BEWARE: NEO-NEANDERTHAL PHET SQUIRRELS ARE BUILDING FOAM CAVES IN N PORTLAND!
And like most Assholes they don’t adjust well to change.
THE INTRODUCTION (10/15) – It wasn’t until the third service at Landry’s home that I realized that, maybe, mysterious happenings don’t only happen in the movies.
Day one, after a few moments of greeting, Landry gave me the backstory about her mouse infestation…
“We were away for a bit and came home to the field mice having taken over our home!” she wrote in a review sometime later. “They were everywhere. Nesting in our sheets, in the pantry, upstairs. They literally walked by us while we were in the house!”
Next I walked around the large home with her husband to try the keys for the door to one of the crawlspace doors. None of the keys worked, so we decided to walk around their home, chatting amiably, while inspecting for entry holes.
And sure enough, after almost completing a full lap around the house, I found a broken vent that led to the crawlspace.
“Game on,” I thought. “This should be straight forward.”
Then I spend the rest of the service talking about how novel it was that their crawlspace was all concrete, and how much I was looking forward to checking it out. To date, it’s still the only all concrete crawlspace I’ve been in.
CHAPTER ONE (10/23) – A week or so later, after the locksmith had done their work, I returned and set 30 plus traps in the crawlspace. I also tore out the broken vent screen and replaced it with a new expanded aluminum mesh screen.
CHAPTER TWO (10/5) – checked and cleared 6 mice from traps. There was no new activity reported in home, so I optimistically offered to make it my last service, put a few monitors in crawlspace, and then continue on a “as needed” basis. I presented the choose-your-own adventure options to Landry’s husband, and he decided to play it safe and see if there were more mice in the crawlspace. So I agreed to return after my adventure to Death Valley with Beautiful Farmer Emily.
As it turned out, as the old knight said in Indiana Jones, “You have chosen…wisely.”
CHAPTER THREE (12/7) – Landry left their home. We left our home. When we returned from Death Valley we were at least three pounds lighter from all our adventuring around The Wilderness. Unfortunately, when Landry return she found:
“There was a large dead chipmunk in the livingroom that got caught in a mouse trap. Also some creature pulled down all the toilet paper in the great room bathroom again. Still hearing something skittering in the livingroom walls! But, No mouse pee or poop in our beds or in the pantry so we are getting there!!”
When I returned to service, I listened to Landry’s story again…doing by best to account for the new information. She explained that their home has a number of unexplained anomalies. The idea that mice, or chipmunks, were going to make that list on a permanent basis made my blood boil. What the F was a chipmunk doing in the house? And what elusive creature had the discipline to wait not once, but twice, for Landry to leave the home before it unravelled their toilet paper?
My first guess, as always, is ghosts. But that answer never lasts long. The next thought after “It’s ghosts!” is always, “Nope, it’s just another day of pest control. And you’re the guy they hired to regain control of their Homefront!”
And then (after inspecting the exterior again and the attic space) I got my first real clue:
If you look closely at the black metal box on the right, you’ll see mouse tracks. There are also candy wrappers under the fire logs. I also found mouse droppings on the mantel of one of the other many chimneys in the home. That other one (which is nearest to the bathroom with the psychokinetic-toilet-paper-unrolling activity) is still a wonder…because the mantel is pretty high and I have no idea why mice would want to spend enough time to shit there.
What I didn’t see in the attic spaces was an chipmunk, rat, or squirrel droppings…only mice.
That information, taken together with other information, led me to the following working storylines:
A) Landry’s home has had a large house mouse infestation caused by the now fixed broken vent, and the 3 very dead dried out mice I cleared from the traps in the crawlspace today were the last “bandits in the forest.” And the dead chipmunk can be explained by the fact that there’s a very good chance that the home’s chimney’s are all open and uncapped. In this reality, the chipmunk simply feel through an easily accessible chimney and died trying not to starve by accessing the attractant I put in the mouse traps. I set traps in attic and reset traps in crawlspace to test if that storyline was true.
B) All of the mouse/wildlife activity can be explained by an entry hole I haven’t found yet.
CHAPTER FOUR (2/14) – Earlier that week I’d texted Landry the following message…
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
It’s been a month and we have some good roof exploring weather. Are you interested in continuing the hunt for entry holes? Or checking the many traps I set in the attic? I haven’t checked those yet. Or if you think we’re at an end I can collect my equipment free of charge.
LANDRY: Hey! Why don’t you check the attic traps and if we are good no need to do the roof. We are happy to pay you. We were away for a month and didn’t see any signs when we got back!
On the day of my trap checking scene, I discovered 2 fresh catches in the attic and 6 older catches in the crawl space. This was the diagnosis I reported to Landry…
STORYSOLD: My traps say that there’s definitely at least one undiscovered entry hole. Based on the freshness of my catches, I believe they’re moving top down, likely through the many chimney voids. My guess is that the entry holes are in the eves, or chimneys.
LANDRY: Ok let’s continue the search for entry holes next time.
STORYSOLD: Sounds good. I cleared all the old traps and I’m going to set fresh ones.
As I concluded my production of Landry’s chapter of pest control, I eyed the roof. Where was The Action coming from? I didn’t know, and the not knowing filled me with a feeling of mystery. The wilderness was haunting Landry’s small castle in the woods and I, errant knight of The Order of Pest Control, was powerless to stop the mice and critters from popping into Landry’s story uninvited and sudden as The Undead.
I mean, really, isn’t that why we’re afraid of ghosts? Like mice, they represent forces of nature beyond our control.
And apparently, Landry’s love toilet paper.
HOW IT ENDS? (8/1) – Next service, the ghostbustering continued. When I was done with my “deep dive” hunt for entry holes, I wrote Landry the following message:
Successful hunt today for sure! If I were Dr. Holmes I would say, “The game is afoot!” And if I was Egon I’d probably use some kind of metaphoric prop to explain my theory. In any case, I was right. There is a mouse sized entry hole that leads from that side building to your crawlspace. Installing a door sweep will solve that one. I also found 3 entry holes under eves, which would explain the activity in attic. I’m feeling confident that your mystery chipmunk fell down one of the chimneys. All 6 of them are open, and the roof is super accessible. If fact, I watched a chipmunk scurrying around up there today. Aside from the inspection today, I marked all the entry holes (except the chimneys) with plastic bags, and cleared 4 mice from traps (2 in attic, 2 in crawl) and reset them. I suggest returning again in a month or so (on a nice day) to do the exclusion work and check traps. I won’t charge to check traps if I’m there to do the exclusion work.
And then I waited for a confirmation to go ahead with my exclusion plan.
Instead I was asked to return to check the traps. After I reported only 2 mice caught since the service where I plugged the entry holes with plastic bags, I asked Landry if she wanted to go ahead with the exclusion. Her reply was, “No I think we’re good. The trapping service is working.”
I can count on one hand the number of customers, rich and poor, who’ve decided to leave their entry holes open after I found them. Most people realize it’s an essential part of good rodent control, especially in a location that’s closer to the wilderness than the urban wilderness.