The Country Club Rat
Ironic, is it not, that the only wildlife encountered during last weekend’s bonfire birthday bash in the wilds of Archer County was a Country Club rat in the middle of Martin Blvd. at 1:46 a.m.??? What, exactly, were we doing on Martin Blvd. at quarter-of-two in the morning? Wending our ways home, as best we could, at Oh-dark-thirty Sunday morning.
I’ve no idea what kind of rat it was, standing half erect in the middle of the center stripe like some traffic rodent. Wikipedia (the Lazy Bloggers’ Bible) suggests it was a “brown rat, common rat, street rat, sewer rat, Hanover rat, Norway rat, brown Norway rat, Norwegian rat, wharf rat (Rattus norvegicus),”
Hanover rat arose in the 18th century, allegedly in an attempt to hang England’s problems on the House of Hanover.
Nor, as it turns out, did the common brown rat originate in Norway. So just because you happen to be born a rat does not make you Norwegian. Even Charles Dickens wrote of the misnomered muroid:
"Now there is a mystery about the native country of the best known species of rat, the common brown rat. It is frequently called, in books and otherwise, the 'Norway rat', and it is said to have been imported into this country in a ship-load of timber from Norway. Against this hypothesis stands the fact that when the brown rat had become common in this country, it was unknown in Norway, although there was a small animal like a rat, but really a lemming, which made its home there." <Dickens, Charles. (1888) All the Year Round. New Series. Volume XLII, Number 1018. pp. 517.>
As it turns out, our common rats most likely came out of central Asia, possibly China. My rat, however, was a brownish-gray, blue-collar, common Texas rat, standing in the center stripe of a residential street in the heart of Country Club as if he owned the neighborhood.
Wildlife encounters reportedly are increasing here in the Falls. The other morning a flight of some two dozen Canada geese came honking over PATTERSON’S, settling down on the open field south side of Holliday Creek. The creek greenway, winding across the southern and eastern neighborhoods, is itself an attractant for turtles, egrets, herons, ducks and even white-tailed deer. Fresh tales of coyotes foraging through neighborhoods make the rounds every other week.
The more suburbs crawl and sprawl, the more decay eats away at the inner city, the more frequent will become encounters between people and wildlife. Too many of these close encounters end badly for the non-humans involved. For more in-depth information and practical guidelines check out the Wildlife Diversity Program at Texas Parks and Wildlife. Learning to share our neighborhoods with non-human neighbors is vital for all of us.
Old Sheds and Coyote Tracks
No place this side of wilderness is half so attractive as a really old shed. Be it a garden shed behind the house, or grandpa’s garage that hadn’t had room for a car since the first Eisenhower administration.
Ma’maw & Gran’dad Saunders had such a shed out back, across the path from the persimmon patch. (I tried eating a persimmon...once. The possums are welcome to all they want.) That shed also had a big old padlock on the door, and the window sash was a good six inches above my 5-years-old head.
After some months of studying, I designed a mobile access platform; my rocking horse in the bed of my little red wagon. What could be suspicious about a horse in a trailer in Texas, right?
I swung up, onto Rocky’s carved saddle, but the height did not help that much. Glare on the glass made the window about as opaque as if it had been painted. I had to stand on Rocky and lean in near enough to peer through the pane with hands cupped beside my eyes.
The only thing I could make out in that heavy gloom was a huge, black, iron pot. Big...black...pot??? That’s when Rocky bolted, pitching me against the wagon’s side and face down in the dirt. TRUTH, however, hit much harder than the ground.
MA’MAW WAS A WITCH!!
That wash pot belongs to me, now, since Mom died last year. None of the sibs wanted it, and I have nightmares of migrating to the Pacific Northwest with a cast iron pot tied to the back of the wagon.
I knew there was a reason for not cleaning up that mud...
Discussing coyotes the other day, we noted they seem to be more active in town these days. Now, I’m not sure that they are. I've heard the rumors of “coyotes prowling the alleys of Brook Village”. It is Halloween week. Such testimony is anecdotal, at best.
Two morning’s ago, right after that little rain, I discovered canid tracks in the mud outside our back gate. Beano does not go beyond that gate lest I’m trailing on his leash, and we have not ventured through that portal in weeks. Nor would his prints have been that big.
The prints were large. Naturally, they weren't guidebook-perfect, but they were distinct enough to recognize dog family. Prints in the tracking guide always look so much better than those in the wild.
This shot at right is the best of the set and does not clearly show the faint imprint of the paw pad and outer toes. I know. I couldn’t decide, either.
Another bit of evidence tending to cast doubt on the coyote-at-the-gate hypothesis is that fact that Stanky, the yard cat, is still with us and missing no vital parts.
Guides to animal tracks abound on the web. The Humane Society Wildlife Trust has a pretty good one on coyotes.
Nonetheless, I’ve started going out with Beano on his nightly perimeter checks...