So, I’m hanging out the washing and have a distinct feeling I’m being watched. I glance around and it turns out a bloody great rat is sitting there watching me in the morning sunshine. I stare back at him and can’t quite believe my eyes, but it is. He’s just nonchalantly sitting in the sun and even my movement as I lift to hang the next thing doesn’t seem to faze him. I get out my phone and think I’ll take a pic but he dives off. Obviously camera shy.
I had talked to Andrew about our rat problem and his desire we make our little village pest free. Andrew lives way on the other side of our village. About 10 km away and is surrounded by native bush. Sounds unrealisitic but I’m not arguing. He thinks if we all keep setting traps and be vigilant, we can do it. We discuss rats habits and make a plan to set more traps, to not leave food lying around in the hen runs and management of compost bins and wormery. Jeepers as I run through what’s available I realise we’re like a flippin supermarket for rats. At the end of summer I popped the pumpkins on the fence and when I went to get one to make soup, I turned it over as it was so light, to find they had gnawed a hole and eaten all the middle out. It was hollow for Gods sake!
Then today I decided with the ground still too wet to do much, I would turn the compost and the ready one could be popped on the new beds as soon as it dried out a bit. I have three bins. Third bin was empty so I began to turn the second bin into it. Standing in there I was busy shoveling when two rats dived out and ran around and around my boots. I smashed one over the head with the shovel and the other rat had hit the back wall of the compost bin and bounced back onto my boot and jumped up, about to run again, when I forced the shovel down onto his middle. Number two down. I stood there breathing heavily and screamed a mighty scream as the adrenalin needed to escape. I imagined all the cortisol running around my body and was amazed at how quickly I had reacted. I can barely catch or kick a ball.
My compost bins. One, Two and Three for three stages of composting. Interlocking boards made by Damen for me close to twenty years ago mean I can change the bins for each stage.
A shiver ran through my whole body as I stepped out and just stood there staring at them. Almost full grown but still with the soft downy fuzz of a young one. Was two the whole family or were more about to spring out. I debated going back up to the house, but for what? I gingerly poked around the outside and now on alert, every shovelful had a pause. It’s one thing to instinctively kill a couple of rats, but to be deliberately contemplating killing was another thing altogether.
Of course I couldn’t just let then go them free. That would be ridiculous and as long as it was a quick death? I imagined Andrew telling me what terrible pests they were to ease my conscious. I remembered that man I talked to at work one day with Buddhist beliefs telling me that every living thing had the same rights to live. He marveled over the fragile wings of a bird and its strength and tenacity. I smiled thinking of those two having a discussion about it. Then I remembered my eaten out pumpkins. My corn stripped on the standing stalks and with each shovelful I imagined one, two or three jumping out at me and wondered if I could once again get more than one. By now I was determined none would get away if I could help it.
I was fully pumped when it happened and number three turned out to be the last. A quick smack and it was over. I disassembled the nest and marveled how she had gathered pea straw and shredded paper and made a cosy place to have her babies. Then I wondered where hell was she? Did she watch me from afar. Another shiver ran down my spine. I called out to the cat but shook my head thinking poor old Jebus who was now almost toothless and very probably deaf or just ignorant never came when we called him. You just happened to see him from time to time and he wouldn’t be much help. As I work, I’m thinking its time to get a new cat.
Almost lunchtime, I headed up and took off my gloves as I picked up an old choko that I had dropped on the path. Heaving it towards the first compost bin, I watched as it sailed through the air to see if it would go in. To my shock it hit a massive rat who must have been sitting on the top. It jumped with a squeal, its thick tail arcing in the air as it spun around and jumped out of the bin diving to the ground. I stood there, stock still taking in what had just happened when it shot past me on the path and into where my old pots are precariously stacked. Eyes wide and once again after the ‘event’, another blood curdling strangulated scream left my throat. Heart still pumping I took my boots off and headed upstairs.
There was commotion around the table as everyone was setting the table and preparing for lunch. Still breathing heavily I asked who heard me scream because no one, had come to see if I was alright. Twice! “I would have come if I heard you”, four year old Tai assured me. “I’m sure you would have Tai”, I said as I sat down. Exhaling I realised when I turn that bin I might just have some surprises in store for me. Arrggghhhhh!
After lunch, out I go and staying outside of the bin this time I’m swing shovelfuls over and soon forget about my rat problem. Switching to a fork I’m digging up wonderful great worm laden twisted piles of sweet smelling compost. That’s the thing about compost. If its made well it will smell sweet and be black and rich and amazing. And as I marveled over this I suddenly heard some squealing and lifting my fork was horrified to see four baby rats pierced onto the tines of the fork. I’m not sure if this was good luck or bad but quickly dispatching these into a nearby bucket I reluctantly plunged it in again and this time came up with another four. It was hard not to retch at the violence of it but at the same time, it was amazing and plunging in again and opening the nest right up I eventually got eleven. I was somewhere between elated and disgusted with myself, but just for about 30 seconds. I had a ton of work to do and just had to keep moving.
At afternoon tea Gilbert’s eyes were wide in disbelief and he promised to be better at trap setting and checking. He didn’t actually say, but I think he was proud of me. I saved us from more than a dozen adult rats, about to hit the ground running. Murder aside. I did good! We shared a chocolate bar with our coffee as we both contemplated our next jobs.