A few days ago the neighbor had his jungly two acre field next to our garden mowed, a close cropping done with fierce blades, chop-chop, and we think Rattus Norvegicus, the brown rat, running for its life, found safety with us. The garden is separated from our bird feeding area by a narrow driveway. On some afternoons from the porch 60 feet away I can see him, a low brown hood upon the grass, mounching and mounching the fallen sunflower seeds. He ignores me until I am almost within touching distance and then, flat-bellied, he takes off; his four feet look as if they are attached to the side of his body and that he is paddling rather than running. He enters the chrysanthemums and wheels to watch me, hunched in their shadows. My black boots must look like doom to him. I toss a rock into the flowers and then zip-zap, he explodes across the stones. He moves so fast. I could not catch him.
Rats can carry plague, rat-bite fever, and some other diseases that seemed too scary even to list. Maybe I should go on an expedition to capture a black snake, wrassle him into a burlap bag, bring him home in the passenger seat, whistling to calm his unease and then release him into the garden near the butterfly plant. Perhaps I can talk to him in a quiet voice: “go get ‘em sugar eat ‘em up pumpkin fat rat for dinner matey.”
I might have to shoot him. My shotgun would certainly do the trick, especially if I wear my lucky red hunting cap and walk in a low crouch toward his lair trying to be wewy wewy quiet. I shot a rabid skunk once with a .22. It only took me eight shots, but that was during the day, and since Rattus Norvegicus is essentially nocturnal, that means a night hunt. I have plenty of shells. I have one of those reading lamps that wind around the head with an elastic strap. I have soft slippers.
The skunk visits every night. He walks out of the deep woods to the west. We might be one of his first stops on his evening rambles. I love their Latin name: Mephitis mephitis – mephitis means “noxious vapor” and pronounced twice , yes, emphasizes its powerful ability to bring the stink.
Montana, my lab sheepdog mix of many years ago, managed to get himself nailed twice in one week in November when that month was cold. Not my brightest boy, he moaned in distress at his own smell. I had to strip down and bathe him in tomato juice. Anyone turning the corner of the driveway and seeing me naked in the garage lights slathered in red and bending over a big furry mess would have screamed, thrown the gears into reverse and smoked out of there. “Something wicked this way comes” indeed.
Wolfie, on leash, is smarter. He comes to attention, sits and watches with that unblinking terminator gaze he affects. This skunk’s tail has a white patch that separates, almost as if he is wearing hair gel and decided that he needed an edgier, nouveau skunk look. He has an old man’s walk with a sort of hunching up and down of his back hips. He walks very slowly. I could catch him.
I am a slightly brighter boy than Montana.
All his behaviors have been normal. He keeps to the night. He leaves when we appear. He shall live. But that rat should take some time to stretch himself out in the sun and enjoy a few more sunflower seeds. I have my red hat by the door and night always comes.