Welcome to The Earth Show humans. I’m Jake the Human Host (Owner/Operator) of STORYSOLD: Pest Control. This is a special live action story about one of The Show’s hardest working wilder creature friends, the beaver.
Some human sometime called the great land body territory of Oregon, “the beaver state.” Probably because of all the beavers. As a child, I read many books about wild animals and beavers. In school, I read more books about wild animals and beavers and passed many tests about wild animals and beavers. I graduated from a university entity (OSU) that identified Itself as a beaver. My uncle who graduated from a different university entity (U of O) that identified as a duck. He called me a “beaver.” Not so long ago, when Farmer Emily and I were caretakers at the Headwaters Farm, I lived within a stones throw from many beavers. We knew they were there. At night when we walked across the road with the culvert that crossed the creek, every once in a while we heard them go “sploosh” as the dove back to the safety of the water. All that’s to say, it seems that I should know beavers by now.
Yet, age 45, I’ve never seen a beaver in the wild. Even more tragically I’ve never tried to read The Earth Show for signs of beaver. That realization dawned on me slowly. I thought about the countless images and words I’ve read about beavers, and then I thought about all the times I could have, but didn’t try to read The Earth Show for signs of beaver. At first, I doubted that reading about beavers in the wild was something that humans do. Maybe we humans were meant to relate to beavers in our strange schizo-Disney way? Maybe the real beavers were the ones in the books, and the fake beavers were the ones who lived a few miles outside my front door in Johnson Creek?
Instead of sinking further into despair (and weeping over my complete lack of education as a graduate of Beaver University), I asked Emily for a reality check. “Of course humans read The Earth Show for signs of beaver,” she said matter-of-factly. “They call them surveys.”
“No shit,” I said with amazement. “Sign me up. Let’s do one of these whatever they’re called surveys.”
Understandably, the entity who identifies as “The Johnson Creek Watershed Council” doesn’t advertise the recreational reading of wild beavers. Instead they pretend to take it very seriously. You know, data collection for science blah, blah, blah.
The survey began a few weeks later. STORYSOLD: Pest Control already had a wilderness guide, so naturally our live action character Wilderness Security Guide felt strong feelings of competition when the youth named “Marlee” was introduced. Marlee’s pronouns were they/them; which we related to, because we identify as a “they” and or a “royal we” in our legal state ordained hosting of the business entity known as STORYSOLD: Pest Control. The Council identified them as a “Community Outreach Coordinator.” In short, Marlee wasn’t as good a guide as Wilderness Security Guide would have been in her place, but they were still awesome in their way. We couldn’t think of one bad thing to say about the youth’s production of The Earth Show: The Part Where The Johnson Creek Council Produces a Beaver Survey Adventure for Full Cellar Farmer Emily and Jake Son of Storysold.
Our adventure began with a zoom meeting featuring a general period of instruction about beavers, an overview of the survey objectives, and the fake meeting ended when we chose our survey section of creek and exchanging contact information with our teammates.
I was generally bored by the fake meaning, but I did happen to collect some cool facts: a) beavers build piles of wood for the express purpose of marking them with their scents; b) beavers eat their own poo poo, because bark is hard to digest; c) beavers don’t live in dams, they live in lodges near the dam; and d) beavers are known as “keystone species” because they control, shape, and build the environment that other species depend on.
Note the use of Marlee’s schizo-Disney beaver to help us relate…
After the fake meeting concluded Farmer Emily and I drove to Tideman Johnson Natural Area in SE Portland to meet Marlee and our fellow surveyors for real. We’d signed up for a mile long stretch of the creek between Gresham City park and our farm in Boring, OR. Our teammates (sisters named Rebecca and Laurel) couldn’t make the meeting that day, so we picked up their gear for them.
The organizational meeting was as expected: awkward engagement of strangers followed by strange safety rituals. The Council issued us fishing style hip waders and trekking poles, and then divided the surveyors present into two groups. The first group gathered with Marlee to learn about proper data collecting practices and gear check the backpack issued to each team. The second group was asked to do a dress rehearsal: put on their waders, grab their trekking poles, and practice walking for real in the creek. When it was my turn to put on the waders, I took a long look at a handsome older homeless man with bad teeth and a long beard who was doing chalk art on the concrete supports of the bridge we were standing under. He was doing art, but he was also watching our show. The man without his shirt on basking in the sun looked back at me with an amused smile that seemed to say, “Go on pet. Put those stupid waders on like a good domesticate and join The Civilization Show.”
Using my unspoken man telepathy, I reminded the homeless chalk artist who I identified himself as “Banksy on the Bank” (via telepathic communication) that I wasn’t a full blown domesticate. I was a rat catcher, wildlife eviction magician, and I’d thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail one and a quarter times. In other words, I had a lot of experience doing dumb things in The Nature like being swept down raging creeks in springtime because I tried to cross at the wrong log. So yeah, my pride didn’t allow me to wear the waders that day. But I did take advantage of the socially appropriate time to creek walk down Johnson Creek with a group of other humans. It was fun. I got wet up past my knees, tracked The Action of crawdads, and tried and failed to make intelligent conversation with a fellow surveyor I followed up the creek.
I’ll be honest. I drove away that day like non-believers leave church (as fast as possible). I was certain I’d been swindled into participating in some kind of safe structured funtime adventures. I was not okay with that. I was not one of those domesticates who do karate classes, tour National Parks in buses, take zip line ecotours in third world jungles, grunt at other humans in workout gyms, or participate in primal screaming (or other herding rituals) at rock shows. Scenes like those don’t fit well in my story. I felt strange and out of time-and-place doing any of those comfortably safe “activities” humans do to satisfy their very real need for wildness in their lives.
Wilderness Security Guide was the first of us to make words of that feeling. “I’m a pro rat catcher,” Guide grumbled as we drove home that day. “I have a feeling I’m going to discover more wildness in one of my customer’s crawlspaces than this survey.”
And I felt that way until I met Rebecca and Laurel on the day of the survey. My first spark of adventure hit when Laurel, who had her own camouflage waders and creek walking gear, calmly waded into Johnson Creek up to her waist as she described surveying the same stretch of creek with her sister last year pregnant. I clearly read it as a boast, which I valued. Adventurers all boast, because all adventurers love victory. There’s no point of winning and reaching the end of an amazing adventure, if you don’t share the story with anyone and everyone you meet later in The Action of The Earth Show. The word “boast” is only bad when the storytelling is produced badly, or reenacted without the proper style that inspires others.
In other words, I liked Laurel and Rebecca immediately. They were chalk full of life, adventure, and the kind of live action writing style that inspired the best in us to be better.
On the other hand, I (being who I am) was still engaged in an unspoken manly telepathic conversation with Banksy the Bank. My costume for the day was shorts, old shoes, T-shirt, sunglasses, STORYSOLD brand ball cap, and my man satchel slung high over my shoulder. I liked the way the creek felt. Its story was cold, slimy, wild, and alive.
As it goes with all of my adventures, a soundtrack slowly began to emerge as we make our way up the creek in search of Beaver signage. The winner was, “Adagio for Strings Op.11,” which was made famous in Oliver Stone’s war drama Platoon. The movie was about a young man who learns to face death in the company of other men participating in the modern coming-of-age ritual known as war.
I had to stop and appreciate the meaningful difference between our survey and the movie Platoon a few times. Instead of facing death in the company of men, I was facing life in the company of women. I have to say, it was refreshing to track a good earth creature in an effort to support their story. It made more sense than tracking down bad earth creatures to kill them because we were afraid of them. Imagining the worse in The Action at every turn is not fun. It was so cool to discover signs of beaver all around us!
As instructed by Marlee, we stopped at every dam and recorded the data. Which meant breaking out the tape measure, the signage board, and the camera. Laurel took most of the photos, because she had the app in her phone which she used to download the data.
Here’s a smaller dam that didn’t have a lot of signs…
Here’s larger dams that had signs of beaver all over…
And here’s some shots of the lodges, or beaver homes, we found mostly along the banks…
Note the smooth mud trails known as “slides” where the beavers enter and exit the water on the regular…
I think the part where I waded across the creek in chest high water was the moment I decided this was a proper adventure. I was so wrong about Johnson Creek. It didn’t disappoint. As we moved slowly through the water we had to navigate windfall, dams, homeless camps, nettles, blackberries, thickets, and you name it! Signs of life were everywhere: crawdads, coyote trails, raccoon dropping on the logs overhanging the creek, song birds, little fishes, freshwater muscles, and the blue heron we kept chasing up the creek….
Four hours later, we’d collected data on something like twenty one dams in our mile long bushwhack up Johnson Creek. By the end of our adventure I was beginning to feel uncomfortably cold. I never imagined it would take that long.
“So that’s why Laurel and Rebecca brought their own waders,” I grumbled to myself.
No matter. I was happy. Proper adventures are rarely comfortable in scene. I like to think the cold, and the heat, and the rain, and the bugs, and all the uncomfortable feelings that happen when we humans engage The Earth Show for real have a purpose. Uncomfortable (pesky) feelings are The Earth Show’s natural mnemonic. All the wilder extremes help us remember better than any test administered by teachers in the climate controlled environments of schools. To point, I’ve forgotten almost everything I’ve ever been tested on in school, but I will remember the signs of beavers I read that day.
“Huzzah!” I cheered when I finally felt my toes again. “I was so wrong! Participating in wildlife surveys is an awesome way to read and remember and engage the wilder creatures of The Earth Show.”
It was much better than any book I’ve read on beavers, even though I still have never seen a beaver in the wild. I like to believe that one day, when I least expect it, I will meet my beaver. And the soundtrack will be Adagio in Strings Op. 11 from Oliver Stone’s movie Platoon.
No doubt the wild beaver will be doing his best impression of William Defoe to seem more real to humans. I mean, seriously all he’s missing is the big front teeth, fur, webbed feet, and a large flat tail.
For more info on proper life facing wilder adventures check out: Johnson Creek Watershed Council
Welcome to The Earth Show humans. I’m Wilderness Security Guide the Environmental Control Operator for STORYSOLD: Pest Control. This service story is about the time when I caught a bat in the rural wilderness that was a suspected carrier of rabies.
Seven thirty AM on a Sunday morning STORYSOLD: Pest Control received the following phone message from a familiar vacation rental manager. One of the properties, which we’d produced rodent, carpenter ant, and bat services for in the past, was under attack.
VACATION MANAGEMENT: We have guests staying at the house [in Brightwood] and there is a bat in the house and they are all freaked out. They really want someone with your expertise to come get it. Also, it sounds like we probably need to set up the same thing that you did last year at that property. Hoping you can give me a call back because the guests are frantic. [Break] I don’t even know if it’s possible for you to capture this thing and hold onto it for a couple hours until I speak with my office. This lady keeps going on about wanting to have it tested for rabies and how the country does testing etc. I don’t want you to have to deal w that part of course–but if my company decides to appease this lady once I can get in touch with them in a few hours…if the bat is still in the box or something. So dumb…but just let me know if “capture” and hold is possible.
STORYSOLD: Let’s start with finding out if I can catch it.
I used to feel like a super hero when I got calls like this. Now that I’ve been doing this for a while I’ve learned that most “pest emergencies” are mostly fear management/mental health emergencies in disguise. Luckily, our human Jake hosted a mental health character (a case manager) in Enterprise, a small town in eastern Oregon, in one of his many former employments. Small economic depressed towns being what they are, our human’s role wasn’t strictly case management. He was also an out patient med aid, urine sample administrator for a substance abuse counselor (the whizinator), group therapy leader, work crew (vocational rehab) coordinator, social/educational activities director, crisis transporter, and a part of the county’s three person mental health crisis team. So, in other words, I grabbed a box and a thick pair of gloves and put my mental health pants on.
Thirty five minutes later, I was knocking on the door of the cute vacation cabin in the woods.
The SUV in the driveway had California plates, which is meaningless information for most, but I’m from Oregon. I have learned to fear Californians for many reasons. High on that list is, Californians tend to host a character that both loves and fears nature. It’s a wilderness version of the classic “Not in my backyard!” character most of us know well.
For the record, I’m aware of my irrational bias. I receive regular treatments from friends and family (and especially my partner Farmer Emily) to help me deal with my irrational fear Californians.
The husband greeted me at the door. The wife, newborn baby in arm, hung back within earshot of the conversation with the other children. He was pleasant and receptive to my initial prompting.
STORYSOLD: Is the bat still trapped in bedroom?
HUSBAND: Yes we closed the door and put a towel below the door.
STORYSOLD: Perfect. Let’s see if I can catch it without turning this into some kind of dramatic Tom and Jerry scene.
He seemed to appreciate my light tone and attempt at humor. A moment later I marched in with my gloves fitted tight like a good soldier–ladder and box in hand–prepared to face the creature. A minute later I returned with a bat in a box.
STORYSOLD: He’s so cute! I found him roosting calmly on the wall.
HUSBAND: Oh great! Thank you so much!
Now that I had the bat safely secured, I decided it was a good time to try my luck with a Coming To Jesus Moment. Still smiling, still speaking in calm/high frequency tones, I provided the parents with some backstory to help them understand their wilder encounter.
STORYSOLD: I get a few calls like this every bat season. What usually happens is, a bat flies in an open window (I mean, it’s summer and it’s hot and people tend to leave them open) and then it gets trapped. This cabin has vaulted ceilings and lots of placing to roost, so it might have been trapped inside for a while before it flew into the bedroom. That would explain why our guy didn’t attack me when I grabbed him. I simply brushed him into the box. I know lethargy is one of the possible symptoms of rabies, but it’s just as possible that it’s starving to death. [Long pause] I remember last summer I was doing an epic bat eviction and exclusion in Boring and the homeowner called me in a panic, not from his home, but from his friend’s home. A bat had flown in and he wanted to know what to do. I coached him through it, and a half hour later he sent me this awesome photo of him smiling with his captured bat in a storage bin…
The husband didn’t respond to my attempt at conversation. Instead he delivered his preloaded lines expressing a desire for the same outcome they wanted before I said word one.
HUSBAND: The bat was in the room with our baby for two hours alone…And one of our children has scratches on his nose…
STORYSOLD: The bat attacked your child?
He paused, knowing well his wife (baby in arm) was watching and listening in.
HUSBAND: Oh you know kids. They could have got the scratches anywhere…and we didn’t see the bat attack them…but our baby was alone with the bat…and we’d like to have it tested for rabies.
I greatly appreciated the effort he was making not to lie. It immediately brought some calm to my irrational fear of Californians.
STORYSOLD: Huh. So you didn’t see the bat attack your children?
Long pause. I decided not to ask any more pointed questions. Instead I attempted, once again, to guide them through their engagement with the wilderness. I took Husband outside and showed him the bat box I’d hung last season, sharing the service story about the time I found bats roosting in an open entry hole (created by a fire at some point) around the chimney. I explained how I’d evicted them from that void and blocked off the hole with metal flashing, then put a bat box there in an attempt to give the bats a better shelter knowing well they would likely return the next season and find somewhere else to roost. The idea being it was better to try and control their population in a wilderness area where bats were always found instead of neglecting their needs. And sure enough, there were signs that the bats had been using the box. I also explained that it wasn’t easy to persuade any wilder earth creature to do what we humans want them to do, explaining that bat boxes needed to be put in active areas for at least a season or two before they were moved further away.
SIDE NOTE: If you reread the opening lines from the vacation rental manager you’ll note that she believed that box was designed to capture and or kill bats. Last year I wrote a detailed action plan for them, but it’s a big company with many contact people. I don’t blame her for not understanding that. One of my lifelong mantras has been, “If someone doesn’t understand what I say, it’s usually not their fault. Failure to understand is, in most case, is the product of bad writing/communication.”
I hate when humans monologue (especially teachers, employers, and self-proclaimed experts), so I kept my period of instruction short. After I showed them the box, we gathered on the front porch where I did my best to listen to them.
MOTHER: Oregon Health Authority has a number you can call for rabies testing. If you don’t want to do the testing, you can give the bat to us.
STORYSOLD: I don’t feel comfortable giving you the bat.
MOTHER: If you don’t test the bat, we will all have to be tested for rabies.
STORYSOLD: I know that would be expensive.
MOTHER: I have the number you can call for the testing if you want it.
I tried to hint that maybe the bat didn’t have to die. But the frightened parents continued to hit the reset button back to the beginning of the only service storyline they were interested in: TEST FOR RABIES….TEST FOR RABIES…TEST FOR RABIES.
STORYSOLD: In all the years I’ve had a wildlife operators license, I’ve never had to test a bat for rabies. Mainly because I’ve never encountered a bat that attacked humans.
As I shared my stories and listened to the parent’s reset variations of TEST THE BAT NOW, I was also processing my fears. I knew, from experience, that one of the many symptoms shown by a human, or animal, whose been infested with fear is what I call, The Clinging. Or the clinging to old familiar and or easy to digest new ideas. Maybe I was the one experiencing irrational fear, not them? Maybe I was wrong about the Californian character and other colonizing characters like them? Maybe Californians weren’t a plague of invasive pests feeding off Oregon’s indigenous homefronts by turning them into Airbnbs and high price rental investments? Maybe that was simply situation normal in a state where territorial homefronts were weakened by decades of poverty.
After a few moments of processing my fear, I was calm enough to do dust off the part of my brain that runs The Numbers: a) it was normal for all parents (human and animal alike) to feel a heightened sense of fear/need to protection for the well-being of their offspring; b) I had no doubt the parents would test themselves if I didn’t test the bat (and that would be expensive for the vacation managers/owners if they asked them to pay for it); c) I was a wildlife operator, not a vector control expert (clearly); d) I had no way of knowing if the scratches on the older child’s nose were inflicted by the bat and I wasn’t going to play doctor; e) I had no way of knowing if the baby had been attacked and bitten or scratched and I wasn’t going to play doctor; f) these Californians were staying calm and rational and willing to work with me in spite of my attempts to save the bat’s life; g) the incubation period for rabies is 3-5 weeks, but there has been case as long as seven years (that’s a long time to read The Action and wait to know if your baby is safe); h) sometimes John Wayne is right: the bad guys have to die in the end to save the day.
When I was done crunching The Numbers, the math read: A + B + C + D + E + F + G + H = the bat had to be euthanized, have its brain cut open in a lab, and tested scientifically to make certain we weren’t misreading The Action.
STORYSOLD: I understand. I’ve never had a bat tested, but I will figure it out even if the management company decides not to pay for it. My guess is that they will. That seems like the best course of action to me.
Then we exchanged information and I drove off with the bat. After I stopped at Safeway to buy a few donuts and bananas for breakfast, I asked the oracle of the internet to guide my next step. It had a lot of information for me to process:
One of the more interesting things I learned was, Oregon’s Health Authority only tested bats that had been exposed to bat saliva, or possibly exposed to bat saliva.
My next step was to call the rental manager, who’d been waiting patiently for word. After I shared the story with her, the first thing she said was, “She [the Mother] didn’t say anything about the bat attacking and scratching her child.” I bypassed that part of the conversation. Instead I pitched her The Numbers marked in bullet points A through H. She seemed relieved to have a plan, and agreed that we should had the bat tested for rabies, but she’d have to get back to me about payment.
It was Sunday, and the Oregon Health Authority wasn’t open for its usual business of authorizing our collective health. At that point, I was still in denial. I was horrified by the idea of having to kill my new bat friend. He or she was very cute. The earth creature didn’t infested me with fear. Instead its presence triggered my many wilder encounters with bats. I remembered our honeymoon when we sat on a rock along the Green River in Utah and watched a cloud of thousands of bats feeing on bugs in the twilight. Long before The Fourth Wall stole the bat’s character and made it an agent of fear in nonsensical fictions like Batman, the super real bats of The Earth Show were heroes–especially for me. As a lifelong backpacker, I hate mosquitoes more than any earth creature. And as the wise old saying goes, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
That’s why I did my best to make my new friend comfortable.
I had a ten hour “emergency” crawlspace clean out and exclusion on Monday, but I managed to call the authorities before the Californians texted me wondering worriedly if I had indeed followed through with what I’d said I would do. I expected to navigate a mountain of bureaucracy, but that didn’t happen. Instead I was met by a wonderful human on the other end of my phone. Her name is Renee and she was the nurse in charge of dealing with Oregon’s health emergencies.
She was great. I don’t know what else to say. She called the Californians, got their information, and made arrangements with a private vet in Oregon City to receive the bat. She didn’t expect me to deliver it, but was appreciative when I volunteered to make the trip first thing in the morning.
The private vet under contract in Oregon City was another story. They took one look at me and my bat and promptly charged me a bunch of money.
As I stood on the customer side of the service counter I, being who I am, promptly engaged the nicer customer service specialist in a debate about the benefits of bird feeders. As we chatted amiably, I overheard the less nice specialist complaining, “Another one compliments of that contract…”
I paid the humans at the center for domestication (aka vet) and said goodbye to my bat friend. Later that day, Renee checked it to thank me for my help. I was feeling the loss of the bat. I almost cried it was so nice. And it burned me to think that the vet might be double dipping on their contract. I knew from years working in the government, a private company under contract gets paid by the contract. They bill the government at the end of the month. They don’t bill twice for the same service. So I sent Renee a copy of the bill and asked her if that was normal.
She immediately called me, assuring me that my money would be refunded. In retrospect, I realized that I might have done something to harm our economy. You know, like pirating movies. I could have easily passed that $235 bill onto the vacation management company. The economy could have been $470 dollars more confident with two businesses cashing in on one government contract. I almost felt wrong for that one. Harming the economy isn’t a victimless crime!
I know what happened next. The double-dipping private vet (center for domestication) euthanized my bat friend, boxed them up, mailed them to OSU’s lab, and the scientists there sliced the bat’s brain open and performed their rabies test.
I know what happened next, but I’ve decided not to publish that part of this story. Mainly, because I want you, dear reader, to feel the fear a little. One of the hallmarks of dealing with wilder earth creatures who live in The Action outside of our civilization is dealing with the many unknowns they present us. We built The Fourth Wall–the many screens, books, theaters, podiums, game boards, ritual sports fields, and customer service counters of civilization–to protect us with a veil of concrete black-and-white fictions that makes us feel more at home in our homes.
Bats don’t have that luxury. They’re out there living hard in the super real of The Earth Show. That’s their super power. They are who they are in spite of the fictions we project onto them with our fear infested stories.
I feel good about my role this earth show. I don’t hate all Californians (most days) and I don’t love all bats. I believe it was necessary to kill and test the bat, so the Californians don’t have to live in fear of a very real disease. What I hate (all the time, every day) are infestations, especially those that are breed by the old familiar post industrial Descartes mind/body split (and or concrete classic religious good/evil division) dualism that preys on human fears.
Five days later, on the hottest day of the hot days in August 2023 (105!), I received another call from a worried homeowner in Gresham. She reported that a bat had taken roost beside their AC vent above the bar in a room with a vaulted ceiling where they often left the door open. There was no mention of rabies. Only the super real realization (knowledge) that their neighbors had recently relocated some bats. An hour later, ladder and box and gloves in hand, I was in The Action attempting to capture another bat. This guy was a lot more wily. I stood beside the bar, in the middle of the room, watching our bat friend fly circles around me for a few minutes while I unsuccessfully tried to catch him. All the while I was thinking, “Damn this guy is smart. I wish I was belly up to the bar, drink in hand, with air conditioning blasting in my direction.” And yes, that’s what I was thinking about when I was watching the bat fly circle around me. “Damn my Adventure in Sobriety!”
A few short minutes later, I’d captured the bat. And it was pissed! It screeched at me when I stuffed it in the box (using thick leather gloves) and it continued to fly and screech at me all the way home.
It was not a cute lethargic bat. It was a very angry wilder bat.
Nevertheless I was determined to make friends. As soon as I got home, I put it in the same cage I’d fashioned for the other bat. Then, when the earth cooled and the sun was sinking, I volunteered Farmer Emily for what became Full Cellar Farm’s first ever attempt at hosting bats.
He was still in there when we went to sleep that night. And that made me feel good.
Every once in a while I win one…
Welcome to The Earth Show humans. I’m Wilderness Security Guide the Environmental Control Operator for STORYSOLD: Pest Control. This service story’s about the time we met our ideal customer. Her name is Katherine, and she engaged her Homefront in ways we imagine all future human hosts will engage the wilder sides of The Earth Show…
< OUR FIRST EMAIL FROM KATHERINE >
In 2020-2021, we had roof rats in our attic. They were pretty quiet and we kept putting off dealing with them. This fall I found that Norway rats have displaced our roof rats in the attic. It was time to act, so we sealed up some of their holes, but left two major ones open. We planned to then launch a big trapping campaign, and finally seal the remaining holes. However, before actually doing this, I got worried that because we don’t know what we’re doing, we’ll set the traps in the wrong places and the rats will get wise and will be much harder to catch. Additionally I am suspicious that there are more entry holes at ground level that we haven’t been able to find. We wanted to find someone (you!) to help us identify ALL of the entry holes, and to set traps in a more effective way than we could do.
But, if you really wanted to know ALL of our rat interactions:
Our house is pretty ideal for rats. When we moved in December 2019, the property was overgrown with ivy, cave-forming shrubs, and bushes touching the house. The house is from the 1920s with hollow, inaccessible soffits, wood has shifted, and there is a superb choice of rodent entry holes, especially in the soffits.
When we moved in, I explored our attic crawlspaces & found plenty of evidence of previous rodent habitation and attempts to control it by trapping and poison. This included two dessicated Norway rat corpses, a rat skeleton (Figure 1), greasy tunnels in insulation, abundant feces, gnawed bait blocks, and sprung traps (one already supplied with a dried rat). Per our 91 year old neighbor, who is an excellent neighborhood historian, people living at our house have had trouble with rats for decades. (I have the impression that he attributes this to a deep-seated flaw in our house.)
Hoping that all this was evidence of FORMER rodent activity, all we did was to limit where food is stored (no food in garage, only canned goods in basement). We gradually altered our landscaping by removing ivy, trimming low hanging shrubs, and cutting shrubs away from the house, although there are still plenty of places for rats to hide and climb. Occasionally, we would hear tiny sounds in the attic, as if it were haunted by the ghosts of long-dead rats…
One morning in spring 2020, we found our dog and cat sniffing intently at the gap under a bookshelf in the living room. Underneath, a roof rat was cowering (and also peeing). We cautiously scooped him into a box and drove him ten blocks away, where we deposited him on an ivy-covered bank behind a big box retailer next to a piece of fried chicken that we happened to find nearby. (We know that if you move a rat away from its territory it will probably die. But we wanted to “give the rat a chance”.) This happened yet again a month later. This time, the rat was hiding in a small gap under a door, also cornered by dog & cat and unable to push his way through to the other side. We figured that these rats had probably fallen through a perfectly round, 7” hole in the living room ceiling. Covering this hole appeared to dam the cascade of roof rats into our living space, but they continued to live in the attic (why would they leave?)
A Squirrel in the Soffit
That same spring, I started to hear loud grinding noises while sitting upstairs. After also hearing some running in the attic crawlspace, I entered to see a good-sized rodent staring beadily at me. The source of the gnawing was soon pinpointed to our fascia board next to the chimney, where a greasy hole exhibited fresh gnaw marks. I believe this was a long-standing rat hole and that the uproar in the crawlspace was caused by a mother squirrel, who had discovered the rats’ front door and was in the process of improving the entryway and filling the hole with camelia leaves. I began to remove the leaves, but stopped when I saw a movement towards the back. Not wanting to wall up baby squirrels, but wanting to fill the hole as soon as possible, I co-opted one of our security cameras to monitor the nest. The mother squirrel never returned. When I eventually came back to remove the nest, there was no evidence of baby squirrels (not even droppings). Did the rats eat them? Did the mother squirrel succeed in removing the babies without triggering the camera? Were they never there at all? In any case, the camera was christened RatCam and soon began to provide excellent footage of roof rats entering and leaving our attic. The camera’s night vision gave the illusion that their eyes were glowing balls of light. You might think that we would have then filled the hole, and we always meant to, but we planned to find and fill the other holes first, then set traps. We did fill some holes, but then… we stopped. To be honest, I think we put it off because we both felt badly for the roof rats, who never bothered us in any way. Every once in a while I would talk to them when I entered the crawlspace for one reason or another, warning them not to gnaw the electrical wiring. This year another squirrel tried to use the hole for a nest, but she quit after I removed some of her sticks and rubbed my hands around the hole. We don’t have the camera up anymore, so I don’t know who is using the hole, although I continue to check it for squirrels.
On a hot day in 2021, we found a young roof rat in distress (Figure 3) under our garden hose not far from a hole referred to as the Great South Rodent Gate. I imagine that the crawlspaces had reached heatstroke temperatures for rats. We considered relocating the rat away from our house, but it didn’t seem fair to kick a rat when it was down, so instead we put down some water and left. Later, the rat was gone, either recovered or eaten.
A New Rat in Town?
Then this summer, things started to change. I found a dead juvenile Norway rat in our berry patch and was also seeing more dead ones around the neighborhood. I assume that Norway rat settlers were on the move, looking to expand. Our roof rats were no match for them. In the early fall we began to hear grating and grinding noises in the walls (like a rat enlarging a hole in wood, perhaps), and periodic running in the attic crawlspace. A new rat was in town. On two occasions I was able to actually see the rats after hearing them running, close enough to recognize that they are Norway rats. The only times I have seen them is when I hear some kind of noise in the crawlspace, then go investigate. Whenever I go up just to check things out, no rats are to be seen (though they leave plenty of signs that they’re there). I’m wondering whether they only become incautious enough to allow themselves to be seen when there’s some kind of social upheaval to distract them from the need to hide. When they do see me, they don’t run unless I start to approach them. They just kind of hunker down and glare in a manner that seems pretty bold to me. But perhaps they imagine that if they hold still, I won’t notice them?