Hunter-Gatherer Blues

We’ve lived in our mountain home full time for about five years now. We’ve had to learn how to live as rural people after a lifetime in the city. It’s been interesting, aggravating and hilarious all at the same time. We came here knowing absolutely nothing and had to learn from scratch. I’ve lost a few thumbnails, a lot of hair and the odd ounce of blood learning to maintain a rural home. There’s a lot of wild stories to be shared with friends about it all.

            Still, we got our renos done, we improved the look of the house, we added things and gradually learned how to be somewhat self-sufficient. There’s still a lot to learn but we’re proud of what we’ve been able to teach ourselves and how our home looks and feels. It sits overlooking the lake, painted a cool shade of red with blue shutters and at first glance no one would think that the people who live there had to struggle so hard to make a go of it.

            But whenever a project comes up nowadays we’re not as filled with angst as we used to be and I call that progress. Still, there are occasions when things are too much. There are some things that arise in our mountain life that perplex, confuse, irritate and humiliate at us over our lack of comprehension. Like how to get a cagey pack rat out of the crawl space. It was an ordeal from hell and I do not over exaggerate.

            My wife heard him first. She could hear the skittering under the floor and at first we thought it was mice. Then, Molly the dog, started following the seam of the wall and floor around and we discerned that the invaders were nesting in the hollow space where our new tub sits. Well, I’m a hunter-gather and I set out to trap the varmints.

            I set traps baited with peanut butter. But the bait was licked off without springing them. That was curious. Then I started to notice evidence of nesting. There were clumps of paper, twigs, pine cones and assorted other things gathered from the things we store in the crawl space. A brief Internet search led me to the discovery that we did not have mice in the crawl space, we had a pack rat.

I researched solutions. One of the more astute inexpensive home-made traps called for putting an empty toilet paper roll over a piece of dowel set across a five gallon pail. The roll was slathered with peanut butter and he was supposed to fall into the pail when he went for the bait. In the pail was just enough water to douse the critter and prevent it from climbing out. Rat falls into pail, pail gets carried far into the woods, rat is released, problem is solved. That’s how it was supposed to go.

But he simply pulled the roll to the edge of the pail, sat on the edge of it and licked the toilet paper roll clean. Pack rat 2, humans 0.  Then, despite my desire to take him alive, I put down bricks of rat poison the store said would end my problem. He actually ate it like a snack and liked it so much he started to build his nest on top of it. Pack rat 3, humans 0. Things were getting desperate.

Finally a neighbour lent us a humane trap. I set an apple in one end and when he ran up a ramp to get to it, the ramp tilted down behind him and a metal bar fell and prevented it from moving and he was caught. It looked ingenious. I laid the trap down next to where he was nesting on the rat poison and crept up stairs to wait with my ear to the floor. We had him in ten minutes. The humans won in overtime.

We drove him to the provincial park two kilometers away. Part of me felt very Aboriginal, justified in my hunter-gatherer claim. The other part was embarrassed that it had taken so much. Then we couldn’t get him to leave the trap. We shook it, we banged it on a picnic table and he still wouldn’t run away. We figured we must have provided a such a nice refuge in our crawl space he didn’t want to lave. Finally he ran out.

We named him Frankie. He was so cute we actually considered keeping him around. But in the end he had to go even though it took all we had to get rid of him. In the end it was another learning experience and one we will laugh over for years. We overcame the world’s most devious pack rat. We are truly rural people now.

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About Richard Wagamese

I am a published author with 13 titles published by major Canadian publishers. I am a First Nations person from the Ojibway Nation in Northwestern, Ontario, Canada. As a professional writer since 1979 I have written for newspaper, radio television, magazines and book publishing. I love the culture of books and the people who populate it. 2012 recipient of the National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Media & Communications. View all posts by Richard Wagamese

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