Saturday, September 14, 2013


I took a picture this afternoon to show the work I had done. The significant thing in this picture is what's not there. For a couple years there were two half-barrels (stacked one inside the other) and an old wheelbarrow by this pile of grass clippings. Now they're gone.

I moved a lot of junk today, put it into the back of my dad's pickup and took it to the dump, where I dumped it.

The most interesting part of this enterprise was the moving of the two half-barrels. As I mentioned, one was stacked inside the other, like you can do with paper cups.

They were out there because several years ago, when my dad installed pavers to replace the boards of my deck, the workers moved these barrels, which were serving as planters, and found they were starting to fall apart. So they stuck them out there, and there they stayed until today.

I always found them unsightly and wanted them gotten rid of, but they were heavy, too heavy for me (for instance) to move. This weekend, I was determined to get rid of all the unsightly junk that I could, so yesterday on my way home from work I stopped at Ace Hardware and bought a hand truck.

I used to call that a "dolly" but "hand truck" seems to be the current or local term.

Anyway, I wiggled the platform under the bottom of the bottom barrel and tilted back. I had to hold the opposite side of the inner barrel to keep them from tipping off again and lean the hand truck way down, so I was moving with a very bent posture. I noticed a round hole in the bottom of the barrel that was inside the other one, and it made me remember once when I saw a mole on my deck and, when I startled it, it crawled under a planter barrel. I thought I bet it went through that hole into the dirt in the barrel.

Even as I thought about the mole, a movement caught my eye, I let the load drop and a pointed nose and a pair of bright black eyes poked out of the hole. Next thing a rat -- I'm sure it was a rat -- came out through the hole leaped out of the barrel and ran back to the trees, shrubs, and undergrowth by the creek.

I'm sure it was a rat. It was gray, it had a hairless tail, and it was too big to be a mouse. With its little nose and bright eyes, it was almost cute. It did not remind me of filth and city sewers but more the kind of creature that could be in Wind in the Willows or a Beatrix Potter book.

Nevertheless I was taken aback. "I hope you were living alone, buddy," I said, and stood looking at the barrels, loath to lean in and hold onto them to move them. I kicked at them a bit and waited and, hearing no further noise, and no further animals leaping out, I did lean in, tilt the hand truck, and laboriously move the load up to the driveway, where I had Dad's truck backed in.

I managed to get the inner barrel out of the outer one and more or less heaved into the bed of the truck. When I went to pick up the second barrel, it fell to pieces. Every stave separated, the metal hoops fell into a pile, and lots of leaf litter and dirt plopped onto the pavement as the bottom dropped out. I got a snow shovel and a rake out of the garage and was going to scrape the dirt and leaves up with the shovel, using the rake to push it onto the shovel blade, and just put it over in the dirt by some bushes by the side of the house, where it could serve as mulch.

I heard some squeaking that at first I thought was birds, but I realized it was tiny creatures in the leaves and dirt. I even saw tiny pink feet waving around helplessly, and I realized it was a nest of baby rats.

Rats are vermin. I know that. The sensible, the farm wifely thing to do would be to kill them. I had a shovel right there. But their little cries and tiny waving limbs made me feel sorry for them. So I did scoop the dirt and litter, including the rat babies, onto the shovel, but I then carried it down to the creek, to where I had seen the adult rat run into the undergrowth, and I tipped them out there. I ended up making three or four trips because I didn't get all the babies the first time. I kept hearing more squeaking and finding another one or two.

They were gray and looked hairless and their eyes were not open.

I figured either their mother might find them and drag them off to another hidey hole (I don't know if rats can carry their young like cats carry their kittens), or their natural predators will find them, or they will die of exposure or starvation.

I got the broken barrel bits into the truck and lots of other junk, including the old wheelbarrow that had been by the grass pile and took it all to the dump.

Later in the morning I had coffee with my folks. When I told my dad about not being able to bring myself to smash the baby rats, I expected maybe he would shake his head and say, "City kids," which he sometimes does when I show too much tendency to anthropomorphize animals. My dad grew up on a farm. But he said, "I don't blame you."

At various times during the remainder of the day, I have been searching online to see what kind of rat it may have been, and how old the babies might have been, and so on, and I must say that reading all the information about rats has made me feel a little nauseated, plus worried about how many other rats might be in my back yard.

I do believe I also have cat living on the property. I think it lives under the oldest shed we have. I have seen it there while out in the back yard walking my dog around. There are also lots of cats in the neighborhood. When I used to keep a full birdfeeder, we had nearly constant cat presence as they stalked the birds. We also had a lot of squirrels eating out of the feeder. We do still have some squirrels around. I see them frequently.

I'll just hope that what rats there may be are finding enough food down by the creek not to come up towards the house, and that the neighborhood cats will also keep them in line.

I hope I don't dream about them tonight. Could be a nightmare, big time.

I'd better read something to distract my mind.

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