One of my granddaughter Charlotte’s favorite videos now is the wonderful E.B.White story, Charlotte’s Web, which tells the story of how the smart spider Charlotte keeps Wilbur the pig off the dinner plate. One of the major characters of the tale is Templeton, a lazy and eventually corpulent rat who gathers words for Charlotte to copy onto her web. While the story gives a prickly, though someone benign view of rats, their nasty reality makes me want to avoid them at all costs.
My first up close and personal rat experience (save viewing them running up and down subway tunnels in NYC) was decades ago after we had come back from a lengthy vacation. My daughter Kathryn needed a pair of socks, which she tried to get from a drawer under my bed.
I run up the stairs. “What’s wrong?”
“Daddy. There is a giant rat like in Lady and the Tramp in the drawer. It was horrible,” she cried. Now we had just gotten off a long flight and I thought that she was exaggerating just a tad. What she probably saw was a little field mouse. After all what would a rat be doing in our home? So I looked in the drawer and found nothing. Then just to make sure nothing was under the bed I lifted the mattress. And there it was.
A big. . . fat. . . Norway rat.
My daughter screamed, I screamed, my wife screamed and got up on the kitchen island with our youngest daughter Sarah. Not the best way to come back home from vacation. We eventually rid ourselves of the intruder, which I named Templeton. And from then on we kept our eyes peeled for signs of vermin and plugged up every hole from the basement to the first floor that we could with concrete mix. And for a long time there were no signs of rats. . . .until this week.
Every morning in the Spring I open up the greenhouse and remove my tender seedlings as the cool morning temps of 50 degrees can swing to over 100 within a few hours when the sun comes out. So I opened the door and out of the corner of my eye I think I see something brown at the far end of my greenhouse. As I enter, it moves.
I have a rat.
Not yet having my coffee, I go back inside and tell my wife what I saw. “Oh it must be a cat. Donna [our neighbor] said that she saw one hanging around between our houses.”
I wasn’t convinced, but she pointed out that my greenhouse was a mess and needed to be cleaned out. If there was a rat it was because I had provided it with lots of material (and mess) to make a nice little home. So after breakfast I started to remove the detritus, broken pots and other things in the greenhouse. The shade cloth for the greenhouse was tucked in the corner and I wanted to see what was under it so I pulled it out.
“Squeak, squeak.” Oh no.
I wasn’t sure what was there so I put on my leather gloves, and pulled it out of the greenhouse and unfolded it in the driveway. A nest of baby rats tumbled out hitting the blacktop. No sign of mama. They rested there shivering making an occasional squeak no doubt less comfortable than they were all cuddled up together in the middle of my metallic cloth. I went back to the greenhouse and saw that the mother had chewed its way through the floor under where the cloth was resting. That’s how it got in.
But for now, what to do with the babies. They were very cute, all pink and wriggling around. But babies are always cute though older rats are not. And I didn’t want a Williard-like experience. They had to go. And so they did.
My shade cloth had a few holes in it but it looked like I could still use it. I shook it out and saw that there were a series of holes that were mostly on one side of the cloth. On the greenhouse roof it looked a bit ratty but it would serve its purpose: keeping the greenhouse cool as it was getting way too warm and reminding me to keep my greenhouse clean.