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:
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,
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:
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?!”
“I said, shut it!!!!” Jake screamed finally. “My God, these meetings suck!”
“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) – The Relentless 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.