Tuesday, April 26, 2005

It's Sprinkler Season

It's sprinkler season and while that means our water bills will soon go through the roof, it also means it's time to get used to the wild things again. Coyotes hang around our place in the winter. They get high on the fallen carob pods and leave their scat all over our yard. One night they were yipping and crying so loudly and for so long it sounded like they were in the spare bedroom. They almost were in the house...they were hanging around the fountain on the back patio...drinking, fighting, flirting and just generally getting crazy on carob. But as the weather warms, other wild critters start hanging out at our house.

Look closely at the photograph. The door to the basement is visible just behind the stairs. Our house, or the part of the house that I know and live in, is up those stairs. The very charming, open rustic door leads to the 'exterior' basement. Beyond this, there is an interior basement that has flooded repeatedly during our very rainy season this year, and I dearly hope that part is rodent-free. But this exterior area is perfect for the lawn mower and garden tools and soil and ladders and...wood RATS. I don't do well with rodents, never have, never will. It's not just the surprise factor, but the way they tend to look you straight in the eye before scurrying away. If mice freak me out, then you'd better believe that rats, even big ole friendly country rats, give me the willies. I am a city/suburban girl and I am constantly trying to come to terms with the wildlife that I now live among. It's not just the rats, but the destructive ground squirrels and rabbits that snack on any plant that strikes their fancy, the snakes, the gophers that are tearing tunnels through the yard and the very big insects that hang out at my house. Yesterday I found a spider, not big/not small, in my bathroom. I called Roger to come see it since it had an interesting reddish section and he said, "Oh, that's a Jumping Spider." In my bathroom lives a Jumping Spider, I thought, and then ran to get our Southern California Insects book that told me that while the bite of the Jumping Spider isn't going to kill you or cause your skin to rot, the bite can be quite painful. Quite painful? Yikes...out you go, spider.

Last year Alejandre, affectionately known as Tita (pronounced Cheetah), lived with us for a while. He is the youngest son of our dear Brazilian friends, Nelson & Malu, and he came to L.A. in search of an internship in graphic design. He found one, but stayed with us a month while he was sorting things out and gradually figuring out the way things work. Late one evening as I was finishing up the day in the kitchen, I spied some movement...quick, silent, and eerily familiar. I knew it was a rodent of some sort and I could barely move. I ran to the door yelling, "TITA, TITA, TITA, come quickly...there's a mouse in the kitchen." He was staying in the little guest house and came quickly running up the hill to the house. I was generally acting crazy, but we somehow managed to work out how to catch the thing. He asked for a shoebox and a cookie sheet. We then saw it scoot across the kitchen floor, under the family room couch and into the woodpile under the fireplace. I screamed and ran out of the kitchen, leaving poor Tita to find the intruder. He pulled all the wood out, found the 'mouse', threw the shoebox on top of it and then slid the cookie sheet under the shoebox. A VERY LONG tail stuck out from the corner of the box and I knew then it was not a mouse but a rat...a baby wood rat. We released it not far from the house and my husband probably trapped and killed it a few weeks later. We don't want to kill them, but we don't want to live with them, either. We could trap them in a humane "Have a Heart" contraption and then release them in some other canyon, I suppose, but that's hard, too (and would require my involvement when Himself is away on biz). What we don't do is poison them. Apparently, a fair number of folk in this Canyon DO poison unwanted wildlife and that is just a crime. Poisoned animals are eaten by healthy animals who then become ill and die. Pretty obvious. I sort of love most of the critters here in Topanga, but even if I don't embrace them all, I want to see them living healthy, full lives...just not in my basement or my kitchen.

One of Roger's favorite books is Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Sometimes I feel that life in Topanga closely parallels the theme of this book. The rustic, quiet, slower-paced rural life that lives somewhat uncomfortably alongside the noisier, faster-paced life. Move over Ratty, and make room for Toad.


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