On Being a Packrat

I have come to the homestead to escape my garden.  For weeks now I have been harvesting and freezing and canning, putting by against the long winter.  Here, by the old barn the leaves of the wild roses and the serviceberries are just starting to turn, the tips of the larch needles lighting up with a pale yellow glow and the berries on the kinnikinnick are juicy with red.  It is mellow and peaceful here, away from the city where “the world is too much with us; late and soon/getting and spending we lay waste our powers.” ( Wordsworth)

It is mellow and peaceful that is, until a great clattering arises from the barn.  Small urgent feet scrabbling over loose boards, banging and thumping and then a high pitched squeal, the sound so long and sharp it keeps me nailed to my chair before it ends.

Silence once again and I move slowly to the barn door to peer in.  At first I don’t see anything but the heaps of dried greenery and old boards in the packrat midden.  Then a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye and I spot a long tailed weasel, his jaws in a vice grip on the neck of a lifeless packrat.  His shiny little eyes are fixed on me and the moment I turn my head he lets loose his prey and scurries out of sight.  I retrieve my camera and then stand at the door as still as possible, the lens aimed at the hapless packrat.  I can see his massive nest-cache beyond, something silver and shiny peeking out from the foliage, a long string of red carpet thread, a brass coat hook, the pink puffballs of chewed up insulation and a half dozen cassette tape cases, the long streamers of shiny brown tape in ribboned tangles.  It is months worth of gathering, harvesting all those branches of leaves, but also a strange hoarding of glittery, colorful baubles with no purpose.

Eventually the weasel returns and I freeze in place, snapping pictures as the weasel circles, as if considering an engineering problem.  He is smaller than the carcass.  At last he latches on to the packrat’s neck and begins to drag the bounty away to the abandoned burrow of another mammal where he lives.  There will be no caching and hoarding for the weasel though.  He will feed on the packrat for at most a couple of days, then return to the hunt.  He must eat a third of his body weight each day.

One last look at the abandoned packrat nest.  I leave shaken, not by the violence of the small death I witnessed, but by the now useless nest and the life of the hoarding packrat.   I drive back to my own overflowing nest of home.

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