For a while I thought I was being extremely forgetful. I would go into the shed behind the cabin and not find what I was looking for—my work gloves, a stirring stick for the paint—and figure that I had put them someplace else, maybe in the utility room in the cabin. But then two weeks in a row I left things in the shed for my deck-staining project, and when I came back to retrieve them, they were gone. First, paper towels and rags, then the can opener to pry the paint lid off. Then I noticed that the two paintbrushes that I had stuck in an old yogurt container with some water were lying on the shelf, drying out, and that the container was gone.
A former owner of the cabin had told me they had a packrat, more scientifically known as a wood rat (more specifically, here in Colorado, a bushy-tailed wood rat), in the shed, but when I had searched the loft area for evidence about two years ago, I hadn’t found anything. Obviously, the packrat was back, but what was it doing with all these things? I knew they had a reputation for collecting things for no apparent reason, just because they liked them.
I finally climbed the rickety stairs that went up to the loft in the shed to see if I could find my treasures, but what I found intead was a wreath of aspen branches, with green dried out leaves still attached, about two to three feet in diameter, piled up about six inches high. Since it was now fall, the packrat must have assembled this earlier, planning for the days when one of its food sources wouldn’t be around.
Lots of animals prepare for winter, but not with such an artistic result. Is it possible that these rats, which we’ve labeled despicable and ugly, carefully put together these assemblages with an aesthetic eye? When I came back the next week and found garlands of pine branches draped on the wood piles, I became convinced: this was no ordinary rat.
But there’s also a destructive side to these animals. I found one garden glove and the clothespin basket chewed up. When I looked closely behind the ladder and old refrigerator I found more of my things that had been dragged off and then apparently discarded when it found something more appealing. And the whole garage is covered with its defecation and reeks of urine.
One of my neighbors strongly urged me to live trap it; one had gotten in her house and almost destroyed it while she was on vacation.I’m not sure I’m ready to do that. I’ve gotten curious about this animal, the original packrat, that loves collecting, that goes beyond the usual animal instinct of survival and weaves garlands of aspen and decorates my garage with pine boughs, just in time for the holidays.
One day it will go too far and I’ll have to haul it off into the deeper mountains. But for now, I'm curious. I want to see the next thing that it comes up with.