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The Amazon Trail: Rats Fleeing A Sinking Ship


In this month’s installment of The Amazon Trail: as the vermin is slowly shooed from the halls of power, Lee Lynch finds her own house suddenly overrun by literal rodents.

I’ve heard the idiom “like rats fleeing a sinking ship” often lately, and while the metaphor is apt for what’s going on in the United States, at our house it’s even more befitting.

Merriam Webster notes, “Almost all the early uses of the ‘sinking ship’ analogy were in reference to political scandals.” The phrase goes back four hundred years. Originally, the rodents, thought to sense impending calamity, were said to escape from buildings. In the late 17th century, the phrase changed to sinking ships.

However we choose to describe what’s happening in D.C., the exodus is welcome. As every type of haughty, sinister, conniving, autocratic rodent changes course, here at home we have been under assault by honest vermin: rats and moles. Shudder.

We get a bit of rain on the Oregon Coast. As a matter of fact, last night we had a drenching storm that tore yet more shingles from our roof, dismantled the neighbors’ shed, and generally made a mess outside. One can hardly blame critters for taking shelter.

But not in our house. The wretched beasts.

‘Tis the season for rats, but moles? They are gradually digging bulwarks around our home, or a moat — it’s hard to tell which. Someone said to leave them alone, they aerate the soil. That would be fine on a bit of acreage, but our house takes up most of our land. One of our kind community members is somewhat of an expert at mole dispersal. He does this only for friends and we are fortunate in our friends. 

“Let’s hope it works,” he said when I thanked him. All the more so because we just put down a mini lawn for our unbelievably adorable rescue dog Betty. No moles allowed. Par for the course, little eight-pound Betty doesn’t care for the grass potty patch. I suppose we could turn it into an L-shaped putting green for my sweetheart.

Meanwhile, a demolition crew has been taking down the house two over from us. It stood empty for a while, including a few weeks with no doors. The inhabitants tended toward the small, gnawing, whiskered mammal type. The ones with long hairless tails which they neither comb over nor color. The abhorred rats.

Once the backhoe sank its teeth into that forty- or fifty-year-old home, the rats abandoned ship. Several of them found refuge under our house. At first, we weren’t sure what was making those sounds, and we already had a contract with an exterminator, of whom we’ve become quite fond. As a matter of fact, the deceased owner of the demolished house always had him in for tea and conversation during his service calls.

I have a memory from way back in my university days. There was a crash pad a few blocks from my school, owned by a slumlord whose son was a fellow student. The school intellectuals spent long nights there, drinking, doping, and discussing the urgent matters college kids everywhere worry about. One of the uninvited residents was Ralph the Rat who, it was explained, spent his time brushing his teeth behind the walls. That was the sound we were hearing beneath our subflooring.

Manufactured homes, these days, can be as permanent as politicians in Washington. We own our bit of land so the house was installed with the intention of staying put and, because of its foundation, is considered real property. Our poured concrete slab sits a few feet below ground level. From there a contractor secured the house with piers and anchoring equipment, creating a considerable crawl space. The metal supports are sheathed in blocks of wood. 

Rats like to brush their teeth — chew — on wood. From there, they might create openings into the insulation and, unstopped, gnaw through the plywood subflooring and, like Ralph, gain access to the inside of the walls. I once had a cat named Poppins, who, when I moved into a house, spent the entirety of his days chasing the rat that had gotten into the wall while the house lay vacant. Poor guy never made his capture — the rat was evicted in a less dramatic way.

It creeps me out even to write about these creatures who, with equally creepy insects, will likely inherit the earth once humans destroy it.

Finally, our exterminator was here so often over a period of about three weeks, he’d practically moved in with my sweetheart and me. It’s been three days now and no toothbrushing from the netherworld. Our pied piper will come back to remove any new little corpses, but we’re hopeful any live critters, rats or moles, will have fled. If only it were so easy and relatively quick in our capital. 

A problem remains on the home front: we still don’t know how the rats got in. We urgently need to find that cursed crevice. But now that I think of it, we even more urgently need to block the rat route into the White House. 

Copyright Lee Lynch 2020. Top Photo by Yunu Dinata on Unsplash.





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