I am taking a break today from my one-man war against the unholy fortress of bougainvillea in my backyard. It has recently been colonized by a populous young rat family.
I became aware of the rats because I’ve been sleeping outdoors for two months now, which is a separate story.
As I fall asleep each night, I hear all sorts of animals in the ivy, bushes, and trees around our property.
Honestly I had no idea. You could do a NatGeo show on the absolute circus which begins every night around 10pm.
Once I got over the startlement of seeing rats nearby, I became curious. How old were the babies? What did they eat? Did their dad help care for them? What time was bedtime?
Rats get bad PR, I think. The plague and so forth. In fact, trained rats save lives in Africa by sniffing out landmines and tuberculosis. Those rats are super cute in their little leash-and-harness apparel.
Up close, rats seem industrious and clever. Plus the babies make cute noises at night. Kind of a helpless, squirmy squeaking, like maybe quarters are cramped and they have to jostle with siblings for space, food, or parental attention.
Unexpectedly my germophobe wife has accepted my refusal to call an exterminator or put out poison or traps.
Here’s why I refuse. I remember reading a few years ago about the mountain lion named P-22 in Griffith Park. Scientists once had to tranquilize him and treat him for mange. They said he was likely sickened by eating animals which had either ingested rat poison themselves or eaten other animals who had.
Rat poison. The word is right there. I’d never really thought about it. Seemed like a bummer that a majestic mountain lion was reduced to a sad, hungry, bedraggled mess due to man-made poison in the food chain.
I thought of the mountain lion as I contemplated the rats rustling in the bougainvillea above me.
I wondered when the baby rats would be old enough to survive moving to a new home. While I have new appreciation for the species, I’m also not trying to run a bed-and-breakfast. I have no particular need to see what an ‘infestation’ consists of.
There are plenty of places in our neighborhood — hell, I’ll settle for more distant parts of my backyard — where rodents can settle in fine.
So I have adopted ‘habitat reduction’ as my strategy. I’m cutting away bougainvillea bit by bit, day by day. Eventually the rats will get the message. They’ll start looking for their next home, packing up, forwarding the mail, whatever.
Which brings me back to the bougainvillea.
Anyone who has spent time with the bush has respect for its thorns. It’s a plant which exacts its pound of flesh. One time, all scraped up, I did the obvious Google search — bougainvillea Jesus crown thorns. The answer was, No dude, that was a different plant.
Still, you get my point.
So how is the war against bougainvillea going?
I would call it a draw so far, or possibly a slight advantage to my foe. My arms look like I tried to break up a cat fight. But it’s a small price, I guess, for the eco-friendly relocation of rats.
You may wonder how on god’s green earth my wife puts up with all this — the sleeping outside, the peace talks with rats, the increasingly long beard and scraped-up arms. (Well, and me being unemployed for 20 years.)
You would have to ask my wife, obviously. But one good thing about being with the same person for 30 years — at a certain point they realize you’re insane and they just kind of roll with it. They trust you’ll find your way back eventually, like you always do, like an old dog.
Next week I will tell you about the praying mantis. He’s a totally different vibe from the rats. His name is Kris.