June 2008 / Volume Eight / Issue Two
Gerard Sarnat
Rat Meditations

1.

Rats rule out here in the forest;
humans are kinda nouveaux.

When asked about roommates, I tend to say,
“My kin've shared for twentysome years now.”

In these still semi-wild valleys and canyons,
small feral mammals do their own thing.

Sure, sonic pulsars and humane trapping pretty much
keep gophers controlled. But vermin's way different.

When Phoebe the mutt was just a pup,
she looked like a cross between a woodchuck and skunk.

More often than not, she slunk home from nights
out smelling like one of the black and whites.

A few Novembers ago, I saw a gang of 'em burrowed
under our house where they napped cold days away.

The damn weasels slept next to the hot air intake vent.
Made sure to squirt a little perfume before tucking in.

When the digital thermostat trigger kicked on,
the furnace'd blow fragrance upstairs to us.

My youngest had an unusually sensitive nose–
she didn't appreciate Pepe' LePeu's odor at all.

Animal Control said, Use rags doused in bleach,
collect 'em in a sack.  (Didn't help a bit.)

2.

Living in the Pt. Reyes National Seashore thirty-six years ago,
pregnant with our first, we developed a cross-the-glass
sliding door friendship with a neighborly raccoon family.

As a medical student, somehow I got into my head
that 'coons had more nerve endings in their paws
than any other species– including us.

We never tired viewing the cuties wash faces or pick-up
cubs and food we left to encourage visits. (Bungee-corded
trashcans surrounded by wire mesh seemed to work fine.)

Came by most evenings onto the porch; no TV,
Lela and I entertained ourselves, never got bored
watching Lance and Susila's litters of four to seven.


So we got along real good.
At first.
'Til a raccoon ma gave birth in our walls.

Then I learned new stuff: nursing 'coon mamas ain't afraid
to lunge and snap at nursing Homo sapiens come too close.
They bark. They reek. 

Once the infant pests were big enough to leave the nest,
come 'round to scrounge 'bout four-thirty every morning,
I called a trapper billed as enlightened.
                
But Ned also billed four hundred dollars per raccoon.
Mom plus offspring (don't know where Lance
had Tom'd off to) meant at least two grand.

So instead I bought Have-a-Heart traps for 79 bucks each.
Waking at 4AM, I saw the nocturnal beasts return home,
found their access points, relocated the bunch over a month.

Bought the tiniest bore chicken wire and stapled it in place.
Developed repetitive motion wrist bursitis 
for a year and a half as my reward.

3.

Yet as I said before, rats is different.
Nastier.
Just keep coming.
And coming.

Years ago while my Buddhist non-harming contemplation
surged an hour or so daily in my bedroom, I'd tripod pillow-sit,
eyes closed, overlooking the picture window onto the woods,
feeling oneness with all beings– including rats.

At first I noticed a couple of flies on the glass: took that
as a grand opportunity to practice through the buzzing. 
Afterwards I'd relish putting a plastic cup over each bug,
sliding a sheet of paper between window and cup.

Then I liberated 'em one-by-one back out the door.
Gradually over several weeks
the number of post-meditation trips
to let loose insects increased into the hundreds. 

Soon flies were everywhere.
The wife's patience with me shrank to zero.
Droppings like mouse turds on steroids all over the place.
Feces wafted through the rafters.

They'd built nests in the insulation.
(My son thought the huge brown oval were eggs.)
Ate the asbestos off the cable connection.
Built a rat condominium underneath our staircase.

Eventually even I realized the family 
had a problem Dad had to deal with.
Tried those sonic pulsars I mentioned
under the foundation, mothballs, Bounce.

The cats brought eviscerated ratty trophies inside.
We failed to get them to leave the half-eaten messes out.
Finally I called the TRAP-AND-RELOCATE, HUMANE, HOLISTIC,
ORGANIC, "GIVE US A SCREAM SWAT PEST CONTROL”  SERVICE.

But Steve never came.
So I turned to five flyswatters strategically
stationed, then used my own baited traps.
Nothing worked.

I tried to hide the stink below "freshener" aerosol bombs
that offended our nostrils. Got pneumonia removing rotting rats
(whose maggots seeded home-sweet-home's carpets)
from the garage, crawl spaces, and attic.

I couldn't reach all the stench,
especially the pesky mess
that bled to death inside the walls.
They ate my son's ski boots.

One fine winter day, checking my old Volvo sedan's oil,
I freaked finding a cozy little fur family cuddling
under the warm hood.  A close call, replaced
a gnawed-through brake cable just in the nick of time. 

Setting a sonic wand gopher deterrent next to the radiator
may have influenced their family planning. Or not:
when the radiator went kaput, I found
they'd chewed into the hose to drink the coolant.

Come spring, now a lapsed pacifist, I gave up
and called the exterminator, who  looked at my mesh,
had a nice laugh, said it was okay to keep out mice,
but rats would masticate through with ease.

Ratty bearded, he tore out my wire, put in his finer
all the way 'round our house, filled in cracks 
with cayenne-seasoned polyurethane foam.
Eliminated the critters without having to gas 'em.

Dr. Death threw down some glue traps for any might've
slipped through.  Came back in a week, and sure 'nough
there was a huge fresh one stuck. Carrying it to his truck,
he crowed, “What a sleek coat she has -- I love my job!" 
                                
The Maharishi (may he RIP) used to say it's okay
to do away with filthy creatures, "We never compromise
with ignorance." I'm unsure who decides what's ignorant,
what's not– but it made me feel better.

4.

Last October I traveled in India for the first time.
Delhi officials estimate some years hundreds die
from pneumonic plague, which 'til recently hadn't
been seen since 1966. Nevertheless, many Hindus
refuse to kill the most probable vector– rats.

Can you imagine the nasty scene at Kumbh Mela,
the Burning Man-dwarfing massive spiritual gathering
that's taken place every twelve years for two millennia
on the banks of the Ganges? Thirty (or seventy) million
showed in 2001 at the planet's largest event in history.

Big enough to register a satellite photo smudge of humanity.
Wonder how many rodents attended?  It's said god Ganesh
is accompanied by rats wherever he travels. Worshippers make
offerings on behalf of Ganesh and his little friends. Faithful
take chubby scoundrels from home traps, release them, hope.

In Calcutta's parks, rats are fed much like pigeons in America. 
It's said Curzon has hundreds of thousands, maybe millions.
In Karni Mata Temple, rat worship's been taken to a new level:
it's auspicious if rascals scamper on your feet– as is
eating prasad sweetmeat gifts pre-nibbled by varmints.

But if by mistake you trample one of the holy to death,
you're expected to donate a solid gold avatar to seek
forgiveness for your inadvertent sin † meanwhile
back home in the forest, rats and flies– and my
sitting practice– have become less intense.
RETURN TO JUNE 2008