• What would I do if I could do it?

    by Jesse Loren

    I decided to move the old wood pile. We moved it four years ago. It seemed like a good idea in the middle of the yard near the veggie garden, chicken coop and fire pit, and away from the house where it might draw termites to our siding. Because the sprinklers broadcast right over the pile, it gets wet and the wood has remained largely unused due to its dampness. It never occurred to me until now that the pile is on prime real estate for gardening. It should have never been stacked wood in the first place.

    Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Newton’s third law applies here. The pile was tarp covered to compensate for the sprinkler; it remained unused except for the obvious skittering of lizards across the tarp. Out of sight, out of mind right?

    As a shoe-horn gardener, it would seem most obvious to use that space instead of leaving it unsightly and brown-tarped for parties. It seems obvious now that the newly purchased Linaria reticulata plants are screaming for a new place to show off their yellow and orange lion-like faces.

    This spot has been largely ignored. Last month I threw a large log on top of the pile that thudded into a wooded softness. I thought I heard a faint shriek, but thought nothing of it.

    Today, when I removed the tarp, red centipedes scurried in all directions. Sowbugs balled up or moved their tightly manacled cilia underneath the remaining logs. I filled the old red wagon with the fat-tubed tires and stacked the first row in the far side of the yard along the old fence my neighbor was too cheap to replace. It was passive aggressive. I admit it.

    The second wagon-full uncovered three dead possums. A mother, teen and baby must have been the reason for the soft thud and faint sigh from the previous month. They were now skin, hair and curled spines with flat hips. I must have broken their spines as they cuddled in the dark of their paneled den.

    We had a paneled den in the old homestead. The cedar was shiny and thick, made of real wood before paneling came like T-111 in 8×10 sheets. Had a meteor come from the sky on a Sonny and Cher night, we, too, would have all been twisted tufts of hair and bone for the excavators, the centipedes, millipedes, ants and slugs.

    I admit to shrieking at the sight of their awful wreckage.

    My desire to create gardens comes from my deep-seated need to restore habitat for pollinators. I want to support native and honey bees. I want to plant for them and their big fluffy butterfly co-pollinators. Much of their habitat has been destroyed by the frequent tillage of big farmers.

    The third wagonload should have been a YouTube video. With each log I moved from right to left and lifted the row closest to the loam. The duff-covered ground was deliciously full of fat worms and the ground was soft. I grabbed a log with my gloved hand and the largest rat I have ever seen came running at me. I screamed the blood curdling scream of a thousand women sawn in half. There was no magician of prestidigitation. No magic to assuage the reality that the 16 inches of madness was coming toward my leg.

    I jumped back. As fast as it scurried into the garden I saw a small mousie thing on the ground. It was a baby rat. The proportions of the head and feet were large, as if it would grow into them (like dog to paw). It was helplessly seeking mom with slow heavy motions.

    I had a pet rat as a kid; rats aren’t that bad. They are smart. This one looked like a Norway rat. There could be more. I wondered if I should kill it. I wanted to call my sister in law to see what she would do. I wanted to call my husband, but I really didn’t want to distract him at work. My son was asleep and I didn’t want to bother him, so I posted the question of Facebook. Facebook is my new conscience. WWFBD?

    It depends on who your friends are. Most of my friends said kill it. Instead, I brought it in the house and took a picture of it, then put it back in the burrow, covered it with a box in the hopes the mother would come back for it!

    We’re talking about a rat here. Possibly a disease infested, food stealing, flea bitten, baby-machine rat. I really didn’t want to crush it with a brick.

    About then my lazy terrier decided to get interested. That’s all I need is him digging up the future garden searching for the one that got away, then crawling under my covers. Gross. I locked his good for nothing dog butt back in the house and did indoor things while I thought about the rat.

    After an hour, I returned and checked on the burrow. I poked at the spot where I place it. Nothing. I lifted logs slowly. One by one I stacked logs in the wagon again. Below the ground I found a wad of black weed cloth and a pair of green plaid boxer shorts mom had made into a nest.

    I could kill it or make it a pet. I could save it in a box. I could let it go, but it will only grow up to be a giant rat. It is no Pygmalion. It’s a darn rat baby with a face only a mother could love. I found it had burrowed through the dirt to the edge of the fence. It was still alive.

    Where is the courage to kill when the need is obvious? It was a soft brown with a large head and eyes closed. Maybe we are hard wired not to kill infants? I put a box over and with hope springing eternal, hoped the mom would get it.

    I had an appointment to visit a beekeeper. I watched my friend clean his hives of moth larvae. He is the one that created the problem due to neglect, and because of that, had to set fire to the infested comb.

    Four hours later, I went back to the spot again. This time with a shovel. I could drop a brick on it. I could whack it with a shovel. I sliced the earth after scraping away all of the top-soil. My shovel went in deeply. I dropped the earth and scraped it looking for signs of life. I went on to another shovel full, then another, then scraped the black mulch cloth and boxer shorts. I sliced into that earthen womb the mother built and felt no obstruction, heard no squeal and again scraped the shovel full flat and looked again for signs of life. After the third shovel, I wondered what I would really do. If I could really do it…

    • Jesse I am so sorry to have not met you on my recent visit bu I know I would have liked you. I am not an animal lover as you might already know so for me I would have screamed and run away hoping everyone went back to their happy homes away from mine.

      • Kelvin

      • May 20, 2012 at 9:10 pm
      • Reply

      I really admire your skill and dedication at gardening. Everyone knows I have this thing about bugs. I’m the hop on a chair and shriek type. Pet store rats I’m fine with. I’ve owned them. Rats in the wild? Back to the chair.

      • Jesse

      • May 20, 2012 at 10:35 pm
      • Reply

      I have a picture of the baby rat. I actually might post it. Also, I don’t know what happened to it. I love the garden. I love to count bees and bugs, flowers and take stock of what is happening. So much is always going on. RIght now new lilies are blooming. Bees from I don’t don’t know where are everywhere. 😉

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