Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Death Pipes

Lucky Vole
Some of the great delights of summer are road trips with my family, exploring new destinations or revisiting favourite haunts. This year my daughter Gala and I retraced our timeworn steps back to a long ago home in Rock Creek in the Southern Interior. A five-hour drive was stretched to ten hours as we poked along the highway, Gala looking in thrift stores, and me, stopping at likely butterfly sighting locations, both of us enjoying the other’s priorities.
It was at one of the butterfly stops (at Strawberry Flats in Manning Park) that Gala spotted what seemed like an innocuous white PVC pipe sticking up from the ground, surrounded by nectar laden wildflowers and a plethora of butterfly species.
However, it was not such an idyllic sight within the pipe. A terrified vole was intermittently running around and around or cowering in what passed for a corner in the round, smooth-sided, death trap. For that is what the pipe was, a hideous chamber of horrors, with multiple skulls and skeletons of former victims. ‘Gala to the Rescue’, she lifted the terrified creature out of pipe and after a moment of mutual admiration and a photo op, the now lucky vole found its way back into the bush. We filled the pipe with twigs and branches so that, hopefully, this could not happen again, at least in this location.
6" PVC death pipe, about 6 skulls are evident.

Later, as we cycled the Kettle Valley Trail, we found another, even larger hellhole. This one was a wide, four or five foot diameter, cement well ring, maybe six to eight feet deep that was the final resting place for a large mammal. I’m not a forensic expert, so large mammal is as close as I can get to describing the remains of an animal that slowly starved to death within that cement tomb. This one we tried to fill with large branches and even a small tree that had fallen over.
We’re not the only ones who find these disturbing graveyards.
According to a paper put out by Audubon California, one fallen irrigation pipe (6in diameter x 10ft) in California was discovered to have over 200 dead birds plus other small animals within it. In Nevada it became such a known problem that they passed a law that called for the removal of all PVC mine markers. However it is not just uncovered well rings and PVC pipes that are a danger, any open top vertical pipe can be a death trap.
Do you have an unscreened chimney or vent on your roof or protruding from the side of your house? Birds cannot climb out of these, be they PVC, steel or rusting metal. Even pipes leaning against a wall for a few days can cause the death of a curious bird. And it is not just large diameter pipes, ones as narrow as 1.5 inches are implicated in this slaughter, even the steel pipe used for fence posts. This is a slow, silent, hideous, death that is preventable.
Please check your homes and around your yards to make sure that you are not contributing to the problem. I’ll be calling BC Parks, to make my voice heard about their uncapped pipes that must be found and capped or removed. And I urge everyone to keep your eyes open when hiking. Either uproot any uncapped pipes, or, if not possible, find a way to make them less dangerous by filling with twigs, sand, rocks and branches, or covering with whatever is heavy and at hand.
It is often difficult to believe we can make a difference in the myriad battles and injustices that we see around us. Reducing the mortality that death pipes can cause is a step we can all take. The wild creatures of the world will thank you.

The Rat Wars

Diary of a long and epic battle for control of my home.

Week One

1:30 am and the rat is making the rounds of my bedroom, through the inside of the walls. First I heard him (hope it is a him and not a pregnant female!) behind my bed, now it seems to be over by the window. Two days ago I spent most of the day trying to find where it (they?) are getting in. Walking around the house, it seemed so solid; I couldn't find a crack anywhere. So I figured I had better look under the deck. Sigh...really big sigh. There's only a few inches between most of the decking and the ground, not enough room to shimmy under and besides, there are lots and lots of spiders under there! So I decided to unscrew a few boards and see if I could pinpoint any of the vents.
I know about two of the vents; I had replaced a couple of boards a while ago and found them. Although they had seemed secure, I had added more steel mesh around them; where rats are concerned, you can't take too many precautions. So I pried those up again, to check they were still secure, and yes they were, then I tried to angle my head in to get a look and see if there were any other openings. Sure enough, I could just make out one that the propane line had been run along. The problem was that it was impossible for me to accurately estimate which 2x4 it was under. So, I made a guess and started trying to unscrew the board. Double sigh, the screws had been screwed in quite deep and the lumber had swollen over the screw heads. I had to literally carve out the heads before I could unscrew them. BUT most of them wouldn't unscrew even then, the square slots would strip before they came out. I eventually gave up (after three hrs) and found a shovel and a garden fork and used them as crowbars to pry up the lumber. Took me three boards to get close enough to the correct spot to be able to use a mirror and see what shape the screen was in. Sad news was that the screen had only been put in with a pressure fit and had fallen out. Now there was a hole big enough for a rabbit to fit in, let alone a rat. I've managed to get it sealed with some strong mesh, but am at a loss on how to remove the screws in the 2 x 4's so I can put the decking back down...And I have quite obviously sealed the rat into the house. Arghhh!!!!
I have three traps set in the basement; I hope it will find one of them irresistible. I hate setting rattraps, I'm always afraid I will snap the trap on my fingers. But rats in my house give me the creeps to such a huge degree that I am willing to risk broken fingers.

Week two

I am having a terrible time with "my" rat...Just went out and bought a variety of rat traps, hoping that something will work soon. I have found that several of the snap traps that I set out have been snapped, the peanut butter eaten and no rat body as evidence of success. Now I am looking for new strategies to catch this far too wily beast. I had a brainwave (huh!) last night and decided that if I left the bathroom window open in the basement, that the rat would see it as an opportunity to escape and find some food to eat. I even put a dish with peanut butter outside the window, hoping the scent would induce Ratty to forsake my home...Sigh...
This morning I found rat droppings upstairs for the first time. It must be moving through the walls and found the water lines or propane lines, drains or vent of something. I am resorting to using devices that I formerly considered too cruel, some plastic pads, impregnated with a thick, sticky, glue-like substance. Yes, my values have taken a hit with my losses in the Rat Wars...

Week Three

Put out four sticky traps. These are fairly large pieces of flat plastic impregnated with a non-toxic sticky substance. The idea is that the critter will be enticed to the scent, step on them and suffer a fate much like those ancient dinosaurs in the La Brea tar pits...hah!
So, Ratty tries one out, but instead of sticking to the surface, it apparently waged an epic battle and managed to get away. Lots of glue on the carpet, lots of rat fur on the sticky substance, but again, no rat. This happened in my kitchen, which is giving me no comfort at all. I didn't hear the pitter-patter of rat feet in my walls last night, nor any sign that Ratty has returned on his hunt and seek mission. And, I might be imagining it, however I fear there just might be a faint 'eau de Ratty' in the air. I have someone coming over to work on the house today, so I will try to move the propane stove out from the wall and see if there is a lifeless rat body in an accessible spot. Not quite lifeless of course, as the minutiae of life, those bacteria and molds and insect larvae whose job it is to aid in decomposition, will be commencing their long and smelly process. This is precisely what I didn't want to happen...I might have to vacate.

Week Four

Ratty obviously survived ingesting the gluey substance; a few nights ago he ate through the drain hose going from the dishwasher, in his search for water. Sigh for me and sigh for the desperation of Ratty.
That night I had heard the gnawing of sharp little rat teeth coming from a kitchen cupboard. As it turned out, the drain from the kitchen sink had a hole large enough for the rat to squeeze through, where it made substantial inroads on chewing through the garbage container and the drain line. It disappeared when I opened the cupboard, but I had an idea to help Ratty leave my house, and leave me in peace, while saving its life.
I opened the cupboard door and laid a trail of apple pieces (local and organic!) heading to the sliding glass door, which I left open. I turned off the lights and sat motionless in a chair for two hours, staring at the door, hoping Ratty would take my offer of release to the outdoors. I sat there shivering in the bitter cold draft, listening to Ratty as he continued to gnaw in the cupboard. Sitting there, so I could hurriedly close the slider door when he finally left. Every time there was silence, I felt my hopes rise that he had finally sensed the open cupboard, the apple trail, and the open door to freedom. Sadly, that never happened.
Have you tried to repair a dishwasher? They are difficult to work around, shoved as they are into a snug space under a counter. In my case, the electrical cord was a smidgen too short to allow my handyman to slide the dishwasher all the way out from the wall and we were constrained to working in pretzel-like contorted positions as we tried to disassemble and replace the faulty hose. It took a number of tries until the hose was properly installed and the leaking water stopped. Unfortunately that was only after soaking through to the basement ceiling. All this is a bit ironic as I only use the dishwasher when there is a large family gathering, such as those chow-down holidays like Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving.
The clothes washing machine is another matter. I use it at least once, maybe twice a week, and it is something I wouldn't want to live without. No sooner had the gyproc-destroying dishwasher been repaired then I discovered that Ratty, thirsty little creature that he was, had chewed through the drain hose in the washing machine. This proved much easier to access and relatively easy to fix, except that the part was difficult to find.

Week Five

I found Ratty's lifeless, eyes bulging, pathetic, emaciated, little body this morning. I find myself feeling sad for poor Ratty. It was obviously almost starved; I have never seen a thinner rat, which is why I imagine it succumbed to the temptation to outwit the snap trap. I'd found one of the traps snapped, but no rat, a couple of weeks ago, no doubt making it shy of going near them again. Now I can see that it had broken its wrist in that episode, I can barely think about how difficult its remaining life has been.
However my guilt and remorse at ending its Ratty reign of terror is equally tempered with relief that it can no longer inflict damage on my home and psyche!
Since then I've been closing every possible egress I can find, so I sincerely hope that neither another rat, mouse or other wild creature, nor myself, will have to go through this again. From taking up part of the deck and screening some open vents (no doubt where they have been gaining access), to sealing around the drains and various openings, to being very careful with food waste, life has been revolving around Ratty for far too long.
RIP Ratty....

Week 8

My house is heated in two ways, with a woodstove, and with an in-floor radiant heating system that has hot water pumped through the subfloor. In the basement the floor is cement but upstairs it is through some magic, penetrable substance that my husband had insisted would be just as good as cement for conducting heat......hmmm.
For the last two years the pump that sends the water through the upper floors has been broken and I have been happy and warm using my woodstove.
This Christmas, my son came home and started working on the many little household maintenance chores that have somewhat fallen by the wayside over the years. One of these was to replace the broken pump, which he did over the course of a weekend. It is not an enviable task to unsolder the various components, find and buy a new pump and then get the whole shebang back together, but he accomplished this with apparent ease and no cursing emanating from the basement. I was out of the house for the next part, but apparently the moment arrived to start up the repaired system, valves were turned, pump was primed and ready to go and heated water started moving through the upper floors again.
Unfortunately, it was at this point that water started leaking through the basement ceiling in a number of spots. Seems Ratty had left me with one more memory of its determination to find a source a drinking water while stranded in my house. It had eaten through the hose in several areas, hoping to slack its thirst. Now I will have to cut out sections of the basement ceiling, find and repair the hoses, replace the gyproc, mud, sand, and repaint the ceilings....
Those pangs of guilt and remorse....I'm over that.