Monthly Archives: February 2009

Dwelling with Rodents

Last week I woke up at 3:00 a.m. and realized the bedroom smelled like a skunk was taking up residence. Our standard poodle Nigel hadn’t barked, and my 23-year old son Jordan was in his bedroom presumably asleep and not using illicit substances.  I concluded— as we’ve experienced before— a skunk was under the house.  

“Oh, yeah,” Jordan said the next morning, “I’ve seen skunks out at night recently.”

My spouse Alan agreed that he, too, was aware of a new skunk invasion.

I had seen some new scratchings on our lawn which now resembles grass alopecia. I thought it was my neighbor’s cat or a misplaced gopher from our summer crop of gophers. I’m dismayed the skunks are the latest in a long line of animals intent upon destroying our lawn, along with Jordan’s homemade golf holes and divots.

The real issue is motivating Alan to be persistent in his war on yard varmints.

For gophers, Alan drags out the garden hose and starts filling up their holes with water. This method has been listed in the Farmer’s Almanac as the most ineffective way to combat gophers, but every summer Alan believes waterboarding the gophers will work. He’s tried all sorts of devices, but water is ecologically friendly, he insists. I am certain the gophers stand around below ground hugging the mud canyon walls, watching another flash flood go by, then check their watches, and get on with gophering.

Soon holes are popping up all over the back lawn. Caddyshack deja vu.

I tell Alan about an idea I heard. “Use a stick of chewing gum and put it down one of the new holes.”

Alan’s reclining in his armchair in the family room, a position that guarantees inertia. “Why does that work?” he asks.

Jordan, sitting with me at the kitchen table nearby, rolls his eyes.

“Well,” I say, “probably the gopher tries to eat the gum and his mouth gets stuck and he can’t eat…or breathe.”

“No, Dad,” Jordan says in disgust, “the gopher finds the gum, blows a huge bubble and implodes.”

Jordan considers himself a junior John Muir. He heads for the hills—literally, behind our house—and dallys in the outdoors, fearlessly staying out late in the open space where he walks or bikes and stops to look up at the stars. The local mountain lions aren’t a threat because they routinely inhale the cloud of weed smoke that follows Jordan.

But despite Jordan’s sojourning with nature, his record on animal pest control is worse than my husband’s. Just last month, for example,  he ran into the house shouting in alarm.

Jordan: “Dad! Get me a pellet gun!”

Alan: (bolting straight up from his recliner, which hasn’t occurred in two decades)  “What’s the matter?”

Jordan: “Come out to the garage and take a look inside your old ski boot.”

Alan:  “What’s in it?”

Jordan:  “I don’t know, but some rodent made a nest for itself in there.”

Alan:  “I don’t want you to shoot up my ski boot!”

Jordan: “It’s full of rat shit. It’s definitely a rat’s nest.”

Eventually I persuaded Jordan to take the head of his 9 iron golf club to gently evict any creature still living deep inside, rather than blowing the ski boot to hell.

Jordan’s reaction to the rat abode surprised me, because he genuinely likes most animals. When he was seven, he established one of the first Rules of Jordan in our house with respect to pets and animals in general: “Once you name something, it has a personal connection, so you can’t really eat it.”

Jordan used to have a pet rat who was blind and named Ray after Ray Charles. Jordan would be p.o.ed when people freaked out about a pet rat, especially after they viewed the disgusting tail. Ray was never bothered by peoples’ reactions because, as a disabled rat, he’d grown used to insensitive references–the ridicule by people that he’d never learned Braille– and because he couldn’t see his tail anyway.

When Ray died we acquired Sunny, another rat, although a sighted one, whose disposition matched her name. I think it was with Sunny’s eventual death, when the vet put her body in a small shoebox which seemed to lessen her value (“Keds, sale, $39”), that Jordan lost some of the enthusiasm for rat parenting. Although we tried another pet rat, this one was sullen and introverted and demanded solitude. So we cut our losses and delivered the rat to the best new home we could find for it—the after school children’s program and clubhouse  at our local elementary school.

Some animals just shouldn’t live at home, like skunks or rats with ingratitude.