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Friday, September 27, 2013

At Home With Nature

What I'd rather see when I open my eyes on a Monday morning.

I spend a lot of time moaning about how I'd rather be on vacation. You know the feeling: the alarm goes off on Monday, you squish your eyelids together and say "nooooo... why can't I be (fill in the blank: camping, hiking, fishing, etc.)

It's especially hard the first workday after vacation is over. For me, visions of pine trees swaying above the hammock and poking the fire to get just the right coal configuration for roasting marshmallows are what dance through my head. That is until that stupid alarm goes off...

Recently, we have been plagued by a novel problem: the wildlife I miss so much from our vacations has followed us home. At least that's what it seems like.

It started quite a few years ago when the city tore up the sewer pipes in our neighborhood. Some of the old clay pipes under the street were original, dating from the early 1900's. When they opened up the trenches they disturbed a decades old network of rat highways. Rats, being the resourceful creatures that they are, found a much more pleasant environment when they moved into everyone's yards, garages & attics.

We have been fighting these surprisingly smart creatures for years, with some success. Alternating sticky traps, poison and the good old snap-traps seemed to keep them in check. Right up until this year.

The Chinese calendar says this is the Year of the Snake. If only that were true it might take care of the Year of the Rat we seem to be living in now. A mild winter and a bumper crop of apricots, apples, walnuts and plums have apparently sparked a baby boom. For every two rats we catch, a litter of 20 is born somewhere with aspirations of getting hitched and building a nest in our garage someday (the timeline for getting hitched in rat years is five weeks.) Our terrier, Twitch, had been doing his best: he caught several before he wiggled underneath a cabinet in the garage and ate some rat poison. (Thankfully, he left the empty container right in the middle of the floor for us to find in time to get his stomach pumped. Poison is no longer an option for us--too scary.)

We had been getting an upper hand on the rats when the possums showed up. They tend to be a little slower and the dogs were able to chase them out of the yard. Or so we thought until meeting one late at night under the work table in the garage. It ran under the very cabinet Twitch had gotten the poison from and as far as we know, is still living there. It comes out at night and eats all the bait we put in the rat traps.

Raccoons have been plaguing us this summer as well. We have a pond in the backyard stocked with small koi. Every other night the pond would get hit: plants knocked over, rocks rolled in and on one memorable occasion, a fish head floating in the gyre created by the disconnected pump hose at the bottom of the pond. We finally resorted to one of those motion-sensor sprinkler heads. They're pricey, but they actually work. As long as you remember to turn them on...

Throw in the ever-present squirrels, the crows having a board meeting in the redwood tree next door, and the neighbor's cats that use our fences like an interstate highway system and you have quite the ruckus in the evening. In the spring we had a bit of a mosquito problem, but that was solved by the bats that decided to move in behind our chimney.

Nature seemed so cool when She stayed out in... well...nature.

We had despaired over ever having a nice yard and a clean, pest-free garage and home until early the other morning, when we heard not one, but two owls hooting to each other in the dark. I don't know whether to laugh or cry: it seems our yard has now become a complete eco-system, with prey and the predators to keep them in check. The circle of life, the call of the wild, the "eat or be eaten" lifestyle has begun in our tiny slice of Santa Rosa.

I'm just waiting for the day I hear that tell-tale scream of a mountain lion reverberating down the street. What? It could happen. And when it does I'm leaving the garage door open, with a sign up: All You Can Eat.