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In which we go (unintentionally) camping with a rat

July 3, 2012

This is the kind of story that will be funny in a couple weeks, in mid-July perhaps when we’re in Alaska visiting Dan’s family, eyes adjusting to the sight of rain-fed land and helping the kids observe normal bedtimes even though the sun never fully sets (or maybe we’ll be like our neighbor Aidan, age 10, who, when asked when he and his siblings go to bed in summer, replied, “when we drop.”)

Last Friday, heading out for the weekend, we had to find the missing rat, the rat who’d been AWOL for 3 days in our house. While I put crazy things in our cooler like glass jars of fermented carrots, an entire watermelon and 2 pineapples (yay, car camping!) Dan spent hours dismantling our room, stalking the rat.

Dan got huge points for finally locating the rat and trapping it behind a bookshelf (now he wants to know what he can redeem his points for). I grabbed Ratty Jr and popped her into a tupperware container poked with ventilation holes and we set off triumphantly for our camping trip with plans to drop the rat at her house in Dolores before heading north to our sweet spot in the woods.

cue the foreboding music

It was 95F outside and hotter than the devil’s deep fryer in our car; the rat container was at my feet heating up like a greenhouse, and like the mom I am, I began to worry about little Ratty Jr, fearing she might cook alive in there.

foreboding music gets louder

I cracked the lid just an eensy bit.

Next, everything goes silent except you can read my lips forming the words, “OH SHIT!” Dan’s whole body goes rigid. The kids are in the backseat, shouting, “what happened?” But no one can hear anyone because we’re suspended underwater clinging to the moment before.

We drive in silence for miles, my ego full of self-blame, slinking around the basement of my psyche kicking imaginary dogs. We gather ourselves and call the rat’s owners to explain the situation. I tell Glenn, “we’re going to take the rat to the mountains! She’ll finally get to live the free, independent life she wants.” Everyone seems satisfied with this conclusion, though as the kids picture Ratty frolicking amongst the wild strawberries, the adults imagine the hungry talons of a hawk.

We have a great camping weekend with friends; the caterpillars literally fall from the sky (what is this crazy hatch of caterpillars in the high country this year? Julie Korb? Bryan Peterson? Natalie – ask Noah? Anyone?); the kids become the Dirty-Faced tribe; we watch a male western tanager chase grey jays; the kids ask if I brought my pee-jar with me; I take no pictures because my camera is dead; the kids find a junco nest on the ground with 4 white-grey eggs that they visit every 20 minutes; everyone shoots bows; we leave our car doors open all weekend, toasting to the rat and her new wild digs.

Sunday morning, packing up the car, I see the rat tail dangling out of the open glove box. I yank on it, half worried a dead rat will fall into my hands. The rat yanks back and slides like water behind our dashboard.

We try and lure the rat out of the nooks and crannies behind our dashboard with cheese, then peanut butter on cheese; Dan blares the horn to try and scare her out. We drive home and go out to dinner. When we return to the car the rat is sleeping on our frisbee in the backseat. We grab for her tail and like a released balloon she floats away behind the dashboard again.

I suggest to Dan that before the rat does damage to our car, we buy a real trap. “That’s pretty macabre,” says the guy who hunts and kills large mammals.

Finally, Monday, after four days in our car living off the kids’ carseat crumbs, I buy a live trap and bait it with peanut butter. And today, she’s in custody.

Luckily, Dan was heading to Dolores for work today and Ratty Jr. rode along. We all waved good-bye to her and I found myself saying, “aww, she’s kind of cute.”

ps: I love you Kristi and Glenn, and look forward to hearing the continuing sagas of Ratty Jr.


* incidentally, on the Chinese Zodiac Calendar, I was born in The Year of The Rat.

* apropos of nothing but because Rowan, who lives downstairs, just told me about it and I’m excited, how to make your kombucha more bubbly: when your kombucha is almost sour enough, cap it tightly (leave a few inches headroom) and let scoby eat up the rest of the sugars and turn them into carbonation.

* furtherly out of context, have you read The Book Thief? It’s a fictional account of a girl living in Nazi Germany. After learning to read from her accordion-playing foster dad, Liesel discovers she has an insatiable thirst for books. She, dangerously, steals books from Nazi book-burnings, from the mayor’s wife’s library and shares these books with neighbors during bombing raids and the Jew her family hides in the basement. I’m not quite done but completely enthralled with the writing, the characters, and the story. Also, so far, it’s not as sad as it could be, mostly because Liesel is such a scrappy, fabulous heroine. (ps: the first 15 pages are narrated by “Death” and a little hard to follow. Keep going).

* and finally, last week we got to watch helicopters suck water out of nearby Turtle Lake and fly off to drop it on the Lightner Creek Fire. I felt like a 7 year old boy for how excited I was to watch the chopper descend on the lake over and over. Col kept exclaiming, “I hope they don’t suck up any fish or turtles!” My friend Ivey took awesome pictures and videos of the helicopters here.

30 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    July 3, 2012 12:26 pm

    Your conversation with Glenn about the rat being free in the mountains reminds me of his take on losing his wedding ring in the San Juan River. He told Kristi that their love would be true forever because his ring would be part of geologic time. Ahh, nothing like a silver lining.


  2. July 3, 2012 12:42 pm

    Oh my shitballs I love this. This whole thing.

  3. jessica permalink
    July 3, 2012 1:09 pm

    That is the most amazing story! You couldn’t even make up something like that!

    • Jessica permalink
      July 5, 2012 12:34 pm

      Thinking about it more, with your totally amazing writing skills, you should make a children’s book about Ratty Jr.’s big adventure from her perspective.
      It would be way awesome!

  4. July 3, 2012 2:26 pm

    Glad everyone is safe and sound (minus a few fish and turtles)! When we were camping on the other end of Colorado, near Trinidad, whole mountainsides were bare of any green deciduous leaf. The folks we talked to said that one week in May there were bajillions of moths flying everywhere, mating and wooping it up. Then the caterpillars (web worms, I think) hatched, and within another week the forest was cleaned out.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      July 4, 2012 10:41 am

      Man it’s a hard year for Colorado plants (hard freeze in late May, no appreciable rain for months, and now these caterpillars)!

  5. July 3, 2012 2:35 pm

    Awesome story. Love the way you told it. Suspense! Comedy! Climax! Relief.

    My mom and Little Miss were both born in the year of the Rat too. Just thought you should know :)

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      July 4, 2012 10:43 am

      I was always a little sheepish about being born in the year of the rat, but I read the actual characteristics of the rat and now I’m like, that’s right. From what I hear of Little Miss, makes perfect sense. Crafty and tenacious.

  6. Emily permalink
    July 3, 2012 3:24 pm

    I hope this story makes the cut for a book.

  7. Nana Judy permalink
    July 3, 2012 3:46 pm

    Ah, so! Budding/latent/reluctant//nostalgic/not-necessarily-shared affection for the rat. Maybe time to reread Wind in the Willows wherein ratty is endearing.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      July 4, 2012 10:43 am

      Good suggestion! We need a few good chapter books for our AK trip.

  8. ellen884 permalink
    July 3, 2012 5:42 pm

    What a resourceful rat! And we’ll miss reading about further adventures, but are glad you finally caught him (or her).

  9. July 3, 2012 7:05 pm

    Wow! What a fun rat! They’re so intelligent and fast and they slink around with ease in very small spaces. Crazy. Did I tell you we had pet rats? When Amelia was in kindergarten when we got three rats. (They’re really cute when they’re babies…what was I thinking?) One named Petal of the Dawn (that’s what Amelia named her) was her first and favorite. We used to take her everywhere. One July when we brought her to a farmstead of our friends who lived down by the river, Petal got scared and jumped into the bushes. We spent an hour trying to find her and finally decided through tears that we had to leave. Well, two weeks later, our friends were having a full moon drumming circle and somebody noticed a rat who had jumped on the food table, snacking on the guacamole. They caught her and we had our babe back. She was a little dehydrated but fine and lived for a year or so more. It’s one of my favorite stories. No more rats for me though, thank you very much!

    xo Kyndale

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      July 4, 2012 10:45 am

      Snacking on the guacamole! That is a great story, Kyndale. I think perseverance is a key trait.

  10. July 3, 2012 9:16 pm

    Only you could have an adventure like this! :)

  11. July 3, 2012 10:19 pm

    I love The Book Thief, definitely in one of my top ten books of all time. It’s so beautifully written, I think I honestly read it mostly for the structure of the sentences, and the beauty of the words.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      July 4, 2012 10:46 am

      I hear you. The word structure is slaying me.

  12. July 3, 2012 11:05 pm

    i am supremely gleeful that you had this adventure with ratty. Half because you just gave me the best laugh I’ve had in while and half because I love the sneaky cleverness of rats. The animal AND the human ones. ;)

    for (let’s hope not) future reference or for the owners of ratty, a tutorial on How to Never Lose your Rat Again.

    1. Take a small box (think raisin box or a little bigger).

    2. Fill it with ratty’s favorite treat (yogurt drops and chocolate chips are big hits).

    3. Treat ratty twice a day, SHAKING THE BOX first every time. Making a kissy noise too is also good.

    4. Next time ratty goes feral, shake the box and make your kissy noise. Ta da! Your little greedy gut won’t be able to resist.

    I developed this method after losing pet rats in closets, attic floors, trees, a dashboard (!) and a host’s couch where I was a guest. Oh the embarrassment.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      July 4, 2012 10:47 am

      Who knew you were such a fount of rat expertise! I like the kissy noise part best. xo

  13. Anonymous permalink
    July 3, 2012 11:22 pm

    Rachel, that rat was so divinely sent for the great story we got to hear here. And as a woman who is shamefully reading book 2 of the Hunger Games series (swear it makes my commute seem like 5 minutes), I am sincerely grateful for some good quality writing!

    Been thinking about you guys with all that smoke in the air, too. Glad you are well and hope the fires get put out soon. Hooray for helicopters! xo

  14. Melissa permalink
    July 3, 2012 11:23 pm

    ps. it’s Melissa in Berkeley–my first “anonymous” comment! the excitement never ends!

  15. July 4, 2012 7:01 am

    this is so awesome in so many ways and my favorite part is… ego full of self-blame, slinking around the basement of my psyche kicking imaginary dogs….isn’t that the worst feeling! I also love the ’till we drop’ comment. That’s us, for sure! Hope your fourth is lovely, my dear!

  16. July 4, 2012 12:09 pm

    I just started reading your stories in the paper. I just LOVE them. So entertaining, funny, and, well – you SHOULD write a book (you mentioned that in one of your articles). Thanks for the smiles.

  17. Jamie permalink
    July 5, 2012 12:07 am

    Love! “The Book Thief”. It is tops of my discriminating book list. One of the few I feel is worthy enough to be bought and kept on my shelf to read again. I’m hoping the Lightner Creek fire goes out soon!

  18. July 5, 2012 10:16 am

    Thank you for convincing me, (as if I needed any further convincing) to never own a rat. I don’t dig on rodent pets. Your storytelling is superb. Write a book!

  19. July 5, 2012 2:41 pm

    I always, always love to read your posts. How I wish you lived a few mountain ranges closer.

  20. Anonymous permalink
    July 6, 2012 9:16 am

    western tent caterpillars?

  21. July 7, 2012 3:36 pm

    Hilarious! It’s nice to read an animal story with a happy ending as it’s been all death & destruction over here. Woke up this morning to find that the neighbour’s cat killed (at least one) newly fledged chickadee baby from our birdhouse. :(

  22. July 7, 2012 4:25 pm

    Many of your adventures, this story in particular, have This American Life written all over them. Ira Glass needs to know you. Just sayin. :)

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