Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rat has Left the Building

I’ve been dying to say that for weeks: the rat has left the building.

The End.

If you want the full story, please read on.

Mr. Rat is not a family ‘pet’ but a wild rat brought indoors against his will by one of our cats. Apparently he’s a tenacious and good-natured rat, willing to make the best of life in our abode. If you’ve been following along since late last year, you’ll know of the varied and unsuccessful eviction attempts . If not, you can catch up here and here.

Mr. Rat knows how to enter and exit live traps with impunity. My rodent nemesis ate the proffered peanut butter, set off the trap, yet somehow remained on the winning end of freedom.

peanut butter in rat trap

The peanut butter is gone but the cracker remains

He lived under the dishwasher for a spell where he chewed through the electrical wiring. The appliance was out of commission for a week, but the rat wisely chewed through the grounded wire, avoiding certain electrocution.

At some point he moved into our entertainment center. It was warm and cozy there, so he started a nest sometime around Christmas. How else to explain the pretty colored paper shredded behind the receiver?

hiding rat

Mr. Rat hunkered down in the entertainment center

My husband Mike caught the rat between gloved hands during one of our attempts to liberate our furry guest. The rat squealed, Mike let go and another several weeks passed without a clue to the rat’s whereabouts.

Last week, Mr. Rat moved back to the entertainment center and I was sure victory would be mine. I had him cornered with the door flung open to the fresh air. The gentlemen from pest control assured me that the rat wanted to go outside.

After erecting a barrier blocking the living room and leading straight to the door, the rat apparently rounded the corner instead and disappeared. But…but…the door was wide open! This rat is terrible at following directions.

On the other side of the living room wall is a coat closet, a small guest bathroom and our laundry room. All sorts of new places to hide. Did I really leave the coat closet ajar?

Yes. Yes I did!

After gingerly removing coats, tablecloths, shoes and the like, it was clear that I’d been outsmarted by Mr. Rat once again. All my rat-hunting time was up, so I reluctantly left the house for the rest of day. When I returned home, my temporarily rearranged furniture was there mocking me.

Then around supper time, Mouse the cat revealed a clue. Mouse showed a new fascination with the toilet in our guest bathroom, just to the right of the coat closet. Could it be? With my son’s help, we placed a mirror behind the toilet and shone a flashlight into the back opening. Nothing. Yet the cat’s interest persisted.

Oh Mr. Rat! This is no way to live. The garden has so many opportunities for growth and enrichment. Why would you want to hang out under the cold recesses of a toilet?

On the plus side, Mr. Rat had nowhere else to go. I made another impromptu barrier along the face of the washer and dryer. We opened the exterior laundry room door to the cool, fresh, inviting night air. Mike removed the water valve, unscrewed the entire toilet from the floor and lifted it skyward.

under the toilet

The ugly side of liberating a rat

The rat dropped to the floor. Did he run toward the door? Of course not. He ran toward the sink, now blocked, then ran straight for me where he circled my ankles while I stood there stock still. Then and only then did he run out the door into the night.

I ran after him with my camera but he made a clean get away, which is more than I can say for the mess he left.

At long last, The End.

mike victorious-004

Mike celebrates our victory


How to Catch and Lose a Rat in 10 Easy Steps

Step 1:

Approach the living room and immediately note the cat’s suspicious behavior. Kitty is facing the entertainment center with the attentiveness of a hunter with cornered prey.

Step 2:

Listen for the tell-tale scurrying of a mouse or rat. Yep. No mistaking that sound.

Step 3:

Call for back up. In this case I asked my son to close the cat in a room and keep him there till further notice.

Step 4:

Search under and around the 400 pound entertainment center, flashlight in hand, nerves on edge. With my son’s help, roll up the carpet and maneuver the heavy furniture away from the wall.

Step 5:

Note the beautiful markings on the healthy, brown rat dancing a jig on the wires. Shudder. Estimate the size of the rat, just for fun. (Six inches of rat, plus another six inches of rat-tail.) Let’s call it an even dozen.

Step 6:

Realize you will not sleep tonight knowing an enormous rat is running loose in your house.

Step 7:

Watch the rat drop down from the wires, and attempt to hide under the entertainment center. Thinking you have him cornered, look up, then down, only to have him disappear like a rabbit in a magician’s hat: here one second, gone the next.

Step 8:

Plop down on the sofa, chin in hand, nerves frayed and ponder your next move.

Aside: at this point my husband walks through the front door, takes one look at me and asks ‘what’s wrong?’ A mere nod of my head toward the rolled up carpet and displaced furniture is all he needs in the way of an answer. Yes, we’ve been through this before.

Step 9:

Re-locate the rat. Employ two adults, one teenager, a pair of flashlights and your wits.

Aha! The rat has managed to circle the entertainment center, crawl up the back, through one of the holes for the wires and back to his nest. Apparently he’s been here awhile. Could this be our kitchen rat at long last?

Step 9(a):

Photograph the rat through the hole in the entertainment center (Hey I write a blog you know).

hiding rat

The back-end of the receiver and the back-end of the rat

Step 9(b):

Tape three of the four potential exits closed with cellophane tape and cardboard. Cover the fourth opening with long, narrow plastic bags originally used to cover the newspaper. Add a cracker for good measure.

wires everywhere

How to build a failed rat trap

Step 9(c):

Stand guard at the back of the opening hoping the rat will exit through the hole, into the bag so I can spirit him out the back door. Meanwhile my husband Mike gingerly removes the stereo receiver.

Step 9(d):

The rat has two options: One, exit into the bag, or two, fly out the front of the cabinet. He goes with option two. Mike grabs the rat between two gloved hands, the rat squeals, and a startled Mike drops the rat to the floor. He makes a run for it. (The rat, not my husband).

e center wires

Mouse the cat is hot on the trail. Wires and rat droppings everywhere. Ugh

Step 9(e):

The three of us watch as the rat makes a break for it. He avoids the open door (of course) and runs under the book shelf instead. Thinking that clearly we have him cornered (and we do), we also realize there is a ‘secret compartment’ left by the builder between the wall and the cabinet. The little compartment is cozy, rat-sized and available.

Aside: We’re all exhausted at this point and decide to regroup.

Step 10:

Watch gratefully as Mike wraps tape around the lower half of the bookshelf and sets the live trap. There is only one way out and that is into the trap. Now we wait.

live rat trap

One way out. Mike sets the trap. Mouse supervises

The Year of the Horse, The Week of the Rat

Tree Rat

Tree rat

You know where this is going, don’t you?

The Year of the Horse was officially under way last Friday, but the week of the rat kept me occupied.

Last week my neighbor called and asked for a favor.  Would I please come over and help her catch a live rat, set loose in the house by one of her cats.

I’m a bit of an expert. I live with Lindy the Gentle Hunter. Lindy brings live, unharmed rats into the house and sets them loose.  Since they’re not presented in typical cat-sharing fashion (i.e. dead at your feet) I can only assume she’s invited them in as roommates.  The first rat hung out under the TV cabinet for a while. My sweet kitty set another one loose in the den, a third in my son’s room and one day I discovered a rat hanging upside down from the dining room table.

I’m not afraid of rats, per se.  I just don’t want them running around inside my  house.  Further, a frightened animal of any stripe has sharp teeth and incentive to use them.  So, out they go.

Like Lindy, I too am a gentle hunter.  It took an hour to liberate the first rat, after chasing it down the hall, into and out of the sealed back of our refrigerator, under some shelves, etc. It’s a wonder the poor little thing didn’t die from a stroke.  In the end I formed a ‘bowling alley’ of sorts, using a rolled up rug and a few other household items.  The rat had nowhere to go but out.  I can still picture him flying out the back door in the wee hours of the morning.  My skills improved over time and common sense finally came knocking on my door.  Rats are nocturnal.  Head slap!  We started closing the cat-flap in the laundry room at dusk and guess what? Not a single new roommate since.

I digress.

When my neighbor called, I sprung into action. Using a few gym mats, some building block toys and a few other items, I was able to show the rat the door in 15 minutes.

Also last week, I discovered rat droppings in our garage at the top of a cabinet.  I have no idea what a rat would be doing up there: no food, no shelter, but I need to don a mask and take care of that as well.

Sunday morning I woke to rain, glorious rain. I headed outside for  fresh air and some pictures when I spotted a…white rat…in the Magnolia.

ghostly rat

Ghostly rat

I don’t believe in ghosts, but this one gave me pause.  I did what any other blogger would do: I snapped pictures.  It wasn’t moving, so emboldened, I got closer.

white rat

Getting closer…

Still not moving.  Weird.

halloween webbing

White rat??? Nope

I had a good laugh once I realized what it was, and had some fun with my family, too.  It was a ghost of a sort…the ghost of last year’s Halloween decorations, still stuck in the tree.

Happy Year of the Horse.

Grateful Orange

It’s easy to take things for granted when they’re plentiful and so it goes with oranges. Since living in California, I can hardly remember a time when they weren’t around. We have an orange tree in our garden that came with the house. It’s probably been there 25 years.

When my boys were young they loved making orange juice, though individually the fruit isn’t always sweet. I love the smell of oranges lined up on the kitchen counter, sliced and waiting for the juicer.

Our plentiful oranges keep the neighborhood rats from getting scurvy as well. The tree offers shade in the summer and currently shelters a large nest for opossums or squirrels. It’s a well-rounded tree.

Orange Tree, Nest and Tree Rat

Orange Tree, Nest and Tree Rat

California is now in day five of an unusual cold snap, with temps dropping into the twenties and low thirties.  That’s about ten degrees below normal for this time of year, threatening citrus growers up and down this large state. Prolonged temperatures in the mid-twenties or below cause damage to citrus crops.

According to Newser:

State wide, large growers deployed wind machines to keep the warm air closer to the ground and irrigation to raise the temperature in the groves. Rows farthest away from the protection could be damaged, Story said. And farmers who do not have wind machines could lose crops.

Our tree is far too big to drape in frost cloth. There are no industrial strength fans to force down warm air. The health of the tree is in the hands of nature. The orange tree grows at the corner of the fence.  Neighboring pines tower nearby. That shelter may see it through. I hope so.

I hope, too, that our weather returns to a seasonal normal.  Then citrus growers up and down the state will prevail. It’s a great reminder to appreciate all we have.  I’m grateful for the orange.

Orange Tree with Pine Bough

Orange Tree with Pine Bough

Freaky Friday: The Garden’s Dark Underbelly

It’s not all Sweet Alyssum and roses.  Every garden has a dark side. I’m sure it’s no accident that the spooky celebrations of Halloween coincide with the decay of fall.

Use your imagination and come with me as we travel the more sinister side of the garden.

bat wings

“Bat Wings”…or decaying leaf?

Spider in the gravel…look closely.

Rats Gone Bad

hollowed orange

Hallowed orange or hollow orange? You decide.

Tree RAt

Tree Rat or Field Mouse? Helping himself to an orange.

Not What They Seem

choking vine

The Choking Vine? Snaking and staking the trellis.

mottled leaf

Urban Decay

shrunken head

Shrunken Head?

stink bug

I’m a Stink bug. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Cavernous Lair

Something Wicked This way Comes

Something Wicked This Way Comes: Black Widow Haven

Halloween Countdown

Cat on Pumpkin

It’s The Great Pumpkin, Lindy-Lu!

Garden Guests and Pests and…Anarchists?

I respect all creatures, even the garden pests so I’ve learned to garden around them. Our garden is free of pesticides, baits and traps. That doesn’t mean I’m not annoyed when I round the corner as I did last week and find the squirrel feasting on our pumpkin plant. Grumble, grumble, grumble.  As a society, we’ve encroached so much on nature. Who am I to refuse a bit of my garden bounty in return?

Garden pest…

Slippery Snail

Garden guest…

Relocating to denser shrubs for safe keeping

Garden guest and occasional pest…

Neighbor Kitty, Everybody’s Best Friend

Garden guest, pest and anarchist…

Please, help yourself

Who drops by your garden uninvited?  Have you discovered humane solutions to keep them at bay?

Garden Spruce Up Continues: Old Swing, New Discovery

It’s a busy week!  Since I can’t sew and plant and take pictures all day long, I fit things in when I can.  Yesterday I pre-washed my garden swing upholstery fabric (goodbye sizing, hello softness) and today set up the ironing board.  I had about ten minutes to plot my pattern strategy, also known as winging it, when I heard rustling in the orange tree.  I thought I might catch a glimpse of the squirrel entering or exiting the nest but no luck.  (They are probably out front trying to outsmart my screen saver).

After three minutes of neck-craning, I ran inside for the camera.  A powerful camera lens trumps my aging eyesight any day of the week.  Camera in hand, I still couldn’t make it out!  Was it a bird nesting or eating?  I caught a glimpse of gray and wondered if the mourning doves were back.  We don’t see them as often as we used to, and in this month of crow mating season, they are even scarcer.  Whatever was up there was clearly enjoying a long drink of orange juice.

Sated, the gray one made its move.  Methinks a rat..or a mouse…or a rat.  In broad day light!   Shouldn’t they be sleeping in the middle of the day instead of snacking on oranges?

Is it a bird?

Nope!  Definitely Not a Bird

Is it a Rat or a Mouse?

White Beard, Photo Artifact or Orange Pulp?

Is this a young rat or a grown mouse?  Take this short quiz and let me know what you think.  I got 10 out of 12 correct, but I’m still undecided.

Garden Log: August 9, 2011

The Autumnal Equinox is a mere six weeks away and our vegetables are showing signs of late-summer fatigue. We were excited to harvest our robust stalk of corn but knew it was best to harvest within two hours of eating for maximum sweetness.

Early August Harvest

I put a pot on to boil, but sadly we were about a week too late. The corn had already started to dry and was flavorless and tough. We’re hoping for better luck next year.

We love to plant tomatoes and pumpkins with corn as an afterthought.  Next year I think we’ll dedicate one-third of the planting beds to a block of corn to increase the likelihood of success.  This is a great primer on planting corn in small spaces: How to Grow Corn

Squirrel Food?

Tomatoes have been slow to ripen this year, due to moderate heat. We had late season rains, and cooler temps, neither of which seem conducive to their ripening. The plants are covered in green fruit, so we’ll hope for some hot days ahead.

Our sunflowers bloomed, but not before one of them reached the rooftop! It’s over nine feet tall. Magic!

Nine-Foot Sunflower

We’ve kept a close eye on our pumpkin crop, fencing off as best we could to discourage squirrels and rats. That said, we’ve noticed a recent onslaught. We harvested a few pumpkins this week after finding several partially eaten fruit. We have two exquisite white pumpkins,our first year planting the (Cotton Candy) variety and several smaller orange ones.

We also planted:

Batman Pumpkins

Dill Atlantic Giant Pumpkins (not!)

Full Moon Giant White Pumpkins

And a few leftover from last year’s carvings.

A handful of pumpkins were left to ripen on the vine. An offering of corn and partially eaten pumpkins rest on the grassy side of the fence to appease the late night snacking crowd.

Show Me Your Teeth

A gardener can dream, can’t she?

YouTube upload: A walk through our vegetable patch: Crunch, crunch, crunch…

Cotton Candy, Lumina or Full Moon Giant

Cats and Rats and Pumpkins, Oh My!

Late Season Arrival

It’s working! Our late-season pumpkins still think its summer. An early rainstorm, book-ended by two heat waves have kept our lovely fruit growing. And an impromptu greenhouse, fashioned from painters tarp and pipe keep them warm at night, a snug little place they can call home.

The Hardy Boys are starting to change color as the plant begins to decay. Gordita and Lucinda are now golden yellow, just a few shades away from harvest orange. Baby Blush, sadly, is withering on the vine but I snapped her photo anyway. I will take my friend Bob’s advice and carve her wee little shell into something special.

Perhaps Lindy really was standing guard this week. She slew the rat and the fruit survived. In my heart of hearts I love all living things, and recognize the master plan we call nature. Rats eat pumpkins, cats catch rats, and the Organized Gardener needs to be at peace with all the world has in store.