Occasionally, when I’m in an “all creatures great and small” frame of mind, I think about how nature often works to reclaim what it believes rightly belongs to it. An animal, for example, from its brutish point of view, might see civilization as a kind of colonial power, claiming, taming, overcoming, conquering what civilization regards as something that requires “civilizing.” Bulldozers and earthmovers do their business, while deer, skunks, raccoons, sometimes even bears are forced to live among us, whether they want to or not, and chances are, they really don’t want to.
I remember when the South Keys Mall was being built. One day, while driving past that construction site, I saw a huge turtle in the middle of the road. Obviously, it had been unceremoniously evicted from its house which, I assume, was somewhere in the construction area that was now being developed and civilized. And I’ve seen skunks waddling along Powell Avenue early in the morning. Perhaps you’ve nosed them. All that to say that animals, perforce, must live among us, probably because we’ve taken what they thought was theirs. And maybe they’re right.
That’s how I feel when I’m in an “all creatures great and small” mood. But I’m not always in the mood, as Glenn Miller puts it, especially when nature moves onto my turf. Take raccoons for example.
We’ve had them in our yard for a couple of years. Two years ago, we saw five of them at the same time – clearly a family. Another family of five showed up again last year, only once though. I always thought that raccoons were nocturnal creatures. Not this crew; they were in our yard at 9 a.m. on a bright, sunny day. I stood on the deck squinting to see if they were wearing RayBans. Nope. Someone told us that if you bark like a dog, you might scare them off. Knowing this, Hilary, who’s very particular about her beautiful garden and gets angry when it’s violated, opened one of the windows of our orangery (ha!) and began making dog noises. To increase the possibility that the raccoons might actually believe she was a dog, she jumped from one foot to the other while simulating the sound of a barking dog. I suppose that’s called being barking mad. Anyway, that scenario didn’t work. Frustrated, I turned on the garden hose, hoping the water might scare them off. Nothing. They stood there luxuriating in the shower as if they were at a spa.
And then there were the rats. We noticed one a couple of years ago. And then we noticed another one. A family, I wondered? Its wretched and miserable self was hanging around our bird feeder, picking up the seeds that sloppy birds let drop. I headed for Home Hardware – home of the handyman, which I definitely am not – and bought a rat trap. Wow, they’re big! I set it up without injuring myself and waited.
A word of advice. Don’t bait a rat trap with cheese. It’s too easy for rats to get to before the trap has a chance to SNAP. Rats are smart. Moreover, if you choose cheese, the word gets out, and soon you’ll have more rats around than you can manage. You don’t want that.
A better option is to bait the trap with peanut butter; because it’s sticky and rats find it hard to get it out of the trap. If they manage, they’re preoccupied with getting it off the roofs of their mouths. SNAP. Sadly, rat traps are dangerous for nosey animals other than rats. For example, we caught a chipmunk. Maybe two. What the military calls collateral damage. But we also caught a couple of rats. Success. One rat, we kind of caught – let me explain. What we actually caught was the rat’s leg. The rest of it got away, hopping all the way. I wondered how that could have happened. And then I looked at the peanut butter jar. Of course: Skippy.
Doug Parker lives in the Glebe in uneasy coexistence with the animal world.
Christy Presler: NounProject.com