A True Tale of Urban Shamanic Living
In December 2011, I had the most amazing encounter with a rat in our attic. Although we had spent several hundreds of dollars sealing openings and clearing the attic, one evening we heard the tell-tale squealing and scratching inside our kitchen wall.
The sound was as though a rat had gotten through some undiscovered opening under the porch, but stuck halfway up the wall. Since there was no way to get into the wall, all we could do was wait. If it was truly trapped, we would soon know. However, the next day, familiar sounds rumbled away above our heads. It was a weekend, and there was no one to call for assistance.
The next night, the sounds intensified. The creature dug furiously at the wallboard ceiling near the AC/HV closet. All I could think about was the destruction to our vents by previous visitors: the opossum and raccoon that had precipitated the expensive repairs, as well as entire families of rats who had taken up residence before. Those vents could not be repaired because that space is too narrow for any human to work within. They were open to the attic, with plenty of exposed insulation material to nest in.
Having little choice, I set a trap in the closet where we heard activity earlier, which is open to the attic. A 2×4 joist at about eye level between two exposed studs seemed the perfect place for the baited large spring trap. I set it and closed the door. Somehow, I did not expect it would take very long. And indeed, after less than an hour, we heard a sound that was not quite the “snap!” of it springing. It was a softer sound, though clearly the trap had been sprung.
I took a flashlight and looked in the closet to find a large Norwegian brown rat apparently entangled in the trap, but still very much alive, staring at me. I could not discern its size accurately, but previous experience suggest that it was at least 15-18 inches from its nose to tip of its tail. My guess also was that it was a female seeking a warm place to nest.
We gazed at each other, barely more than a foot apart. She raised up nervously, leaned forward, pink paws curled near her chest, then settled back down again. I watched her round, black eyes, her whiskers sensing the air between us, his pink nose twitching, sorting out the scents, round ears forward. Two broad, flat and very sharp teeth protruded through pursed lips outlined by white fur.
“I am sorry,” I said. “You are destructive and you cannot stay. I am sad for you, but you must go.” Donna and Marty, our cat, came to see what was going on. Yet the rat and I simply watched each other for several minutes, a very long and exciting time.
It was not clear to me how the trap had caught her. Certainly, she was not held in a death grip. Her body was whole, and she was very much alive. Perhaps merely a hind foot or its tail was pinned. I looked closer, trying to determine what to do and how to do it.
I thought that it might be best to put the rat in a pail of some kind and carry her outside, let her go. I could imagine carrying her, dangling from the trap by her tail, though I had no idea how I would be able to get past her to extract the trap itself from the wall. Yet, then she could easily return to our attic or to a neighbor. Would she die naturally of injuries that I could not see? Would it be more human to put her down, even if I had no idea how to do so? Nothing seemed right.
As I looked more closely, trying to see how the trap had pinned her, I could see her feet, her tail. Nothing was caught! Then she began to move and turned away, crawling up the stud, over the edge of a crossbeam, and back into the attic. She had not been pinned at all! Somehow the trap had been sprung, and she had been sitting on top of it all the time. She had not run away from me or the bright light of the flashlight.
For that long two minutes or more, she and I connected in a way previously reserved only for trusted companions. No fear; simply one being encountering another on the path of life. Scarcely a foot apart, human and rat gazed at each other, saw each other, were real to each other.
At this time I thought, of course, she must move or she must die. It is a reality of living in the human space. Her predecessors left us with hundreds of dollars of damage, some of which cannot be repaired. It was my sincere hope that she would take the encounter as a warning: move on, dear one. Please move on.
Tale’s End: March 2012
I left the unsprung and baited trap in the closet for several weeks. It was never sprung. In the end, I removed it completely. We heard no more sounds from that encounter. Now, in early March, the attic remains quiet.
This true tales of urban shamanism reinforces for me the knowing that all the beings and creatures in our environment can hear and respond to us, if we will only try to communicate with them. Our first response to “pests” need not be to kill what we don’t like.
During the depression, hobos would mark houses in their own code: “This one is one is good for a hand-out,” “This one will give you a place to sleep,” “Stay away from this one.” My hope is that there is in Rat a marker for “Good people, but they don’t want us here.”