Growing up in the country, one of my favorite things to do was to sit outside in the dark and star gaze. There’s something about the vast expanse of dark sky. Something about the tiny pinpricks of light, knowing they’re actually giant burning masses. I love cool night air after a hot summers day, and the dark has a soothing quality, seemingly masking all things, enveloping me, burying all fears and worries. I can think about everything and nothing. It’s true when they say the night sky has the ability to make one feel smaller. But also it has a tendency to remind me that something created those big bad ass stars, and has also created me; in fact, has given me the gift of being able to gaze upon them. The night sky reminds me just how lucky I am to be alive, and be exactly who I am and where I am.
Anyway, all philosophy aside, since moving to Toledo 13 years ago now, gazing at the night sky doesn’t hold as much appeal as it once did. Being as there’s all these lights and all this noise. My first apartment faced a car lot, and their security lights kicked on at 9pm sharp, every night. Between that and the big tree outside my back door, stars were hard to see. And much was the case in the other places I lived. Too much light pollution, too many obstuctions.
We moved into this house, and I soon discovered when our security light kicked off, I could again see the stars. I was over joyed. Soon I became accustomed to sitting outside and writing these posts by only the light emitted from my phone, and the moon. I could see constellations again. No trees are in our backyard, and when it’s very late at night the traffic becomes less and I can fully appreciate the night again.
We have a small deck off the back entrance. Originally it was just a wooden platform, but when we walked the home with the landlord I expressed my concern that a then four year old Chase would fall off of it . So he finished making it a true deck, adding railings on all sides. I bought a small table and a couple chairs, and decorated it with a couple cute garden pots and other outside decorations. We purchased an umbrella to help guard against the sun. I planted a small flower garden near by, and placed bird feeders and hummingbird feeders through out the yard. I wanted a place to sit and enjoy my morning coffee, a place to sit comfortably and think or read, to have a little oasis of nature in this busy, loud city. Toledo isn’t New York. But it certainly isn’t Hillsdale County.
One evening last summer I stood against the deck railing smoking a cigarette. The security light had just kicked off, and I was gazing skyward. It had been a warm day and finally had cooled off with the setting sun, but humidity still clung in the air. It was getting on towards 1am, so traffic was intermittent. In a space of quiet I heard the back door start to open, and turned to see Matt coming out. “I’m getting ready to go to. . . Oh my God, what is that?!” Matt said as the security light kicked on, pointing behind my shoulder. Grandma had found a large metal stake, with two hooks for either planters or bird feeders, and a little platform on top. I had screwed a cute little wood cabin on top and placed a block of bird seed in the space that would be the porch of the ‘home.’ I turned my head and glanced where Matt was pointing, assuming he was playing a prank on me. Prepared to see nothing, I was horrified to see a very large rat scurrying down the pole, and I screamed like the sissy I am and throwing my cigarette I ran inside, pushing Matt ahead of me.
“Mom! What. . . Was that a rat?!” He asked me, eyes wide behind his glasses.
“Well it certainly wasn’t a fucking bird,” I answered, still shaken.
“What’re we gonna do?” He asked.
“Dude, I don’t know. That things coming down though, that’s for sure.” I told him, visions of rats jumping off of the bird feeder and onto me as I stood in the dark now in my head. Nope. Nopenopenope.
The next day I woke early, and walked outside and stood on the deck, looking at my pretty back yard. During my morning prep for the day, I had researched rats. And saw several problems in my yard that could be drawing them. A couple weeks previous I had seen something run from behind the gate by the garage and under my porch, but never dreamed it was a rat. Now I knew better. I had also noticed my bird seed was disappearing rather quickly, and imagined my yard was actually a rat haven in the early morning hours when all was quiet and everyone still slept. I shuddered as I remembered the joy Templeton expressed when visiting the fairgrounds in Charlotte’s Web, and imagined some large rat family was counting their blessings as they slept the day away with bellys full of my bird seed. Rats are drawn by bird seed, and I had six feeders scattered around my yard. I slowly walked down the porch steps, a little nervous in bare feet that one would run out even though it was full on day, and began the process of emptying the feeders and placing them in the garage. I had a pretty red one in the far back corner of the yard on a shepherds hook near where morning glories were starting to creep up the trellis I had also placed there. I left only that one. Let the nasty fuckers hang out back here, I thought. Far away from the house.
I spent the day cleaning up the yard and garage. We had some overgrown areas, and instead of keeping the outside toys in the garage I had originally just made a neat pile near that gate by the garage. Where they were collecting rain water. Unknowingly I was providing a nice little feeding ground for the rats. By ‘little oasis of nature’ I hadn’t intended nature of this sort. I had Matt and Chase help me clean up and load things into the garbage that were broken and not being used. I mowed down the overgrown areas, and sweaty and hot I finally sat on my deck to take a break and view my progress.
It looked so plain.
I sighed heavily and walked towards the gate that I have mentioned by the garage. It’s a large wooden gate that actually is an access point between my garage and the neighbors. We have a fence between us, and behind my gate is a small space that leads behind my garage and between my yard and the neighbors behind me. They also have a fence, but only a short chain link one. I hadn’t been back there since Easter when I hid the boys bikes back there. I didn’t have much need for the space. It was too small to really be functional. I peered between the gap of the fence framing and the fence itself, too much of a chicken shit to open the gate itself.
And saw a jungle of weeds. And oh yeah, the past tenants had left a broken slide that was now collecting rain water that I had meant to haul out to the road but never got to. Sweet. My original plan was to mow it down. But now seeing weeds growing damn near as tall as me, I rethought my original plan. I walked into the open garage and grabbed some pesticide Grandma had thought to buy when we moved in, large green blocks of fuck off and die. I pitched four over the fence and behind it. Take that, you nasty little bastards. Content with my days work, I went in and showered and got on with the rest of my day.
Grandma was not thrilled with the idea of a rat problem, but also helped by hiring someone to come in and clean up behind the fence. It was a relief that I wasn’t going to have to put on protective rubber boots and go into the jungle myself, and so I chipped in to pay the guy. For several weeks all seemed well, there was no activity. And then one night as I sat on the porch steps smoking and star gazing again, a rat ran from behind that goddamn fence and under the porch steps, inches from where my feet were. I swore and hopped up, pissed. I jumped up and down on the deck and the rat ran back out and back behind the fence. I stomped inside like a grumpy child. All I wanted was to look at the stars for fucks sake! I shouldn’t have to be afraid to be in my own backyard!
The next day I lobbed more poison behind the fence, glancing behind it again. I could plainly see little rat holes in the ground, but my biggest concern was a now easily seen problem. My neighbors behind me had a large old garage covered in peeling paint and large holes near the foundation, the definition of a dilapidated structure. I knew sometimes you could call the city about problems such as this, and decided I would talk with Grandma that evening about it.
After dinner, I walked into the doorway of the living room where she sat and nonchantly said, “I saw Templeton last night.”
“Templeton? Who’s Templeton?”
“Our rat buddy.”
“You named it.” She said seemingly not surprised.
“Yup. After the rat on Charlotte’s Web.” I answered.
“Of course you did. Where did you see it?” I proceeded to tell her about my encounter and putting more poison out and the dilapidated garage. We agreed that we should contact the landlord at this point as we had tried to handle it on our own, and that garage was something he needed to contact the city about.
And after that, I didn’t see Templeton again.
Until last week.
Now, I’m a little irritated because if you’re in or around Ohio, you know spring has been playing games with our emotions and teasing us. It snowed last night for Christ sake and it’s mid-April. I kept my eyes peeled all winter for little ratty footprints and saw none. And here I flipped on the security light walking out to smoke one night and Templeton fled from somewhere in the back yard and behind that fucking fence again.
Nothing’s growing yet. I have no feeders out. Why?! Why won’t these things just go away?!
Already a little jumpy from the sighting, I stood outside a couple nights later, watching the backyard and smoking my before bed cigarette. It had warmed up some during the day, and the night air was pleasant.
Out of the corner of my eye I caught movement, and I whipped my head to the right, expecting to see the darting form of a rat.
Much to my amazement, two large raccoons were rambling up my driveway, fat from winter.
“Holy shit!” I exclaimed, not only amazed at the sight of the nocturnal creatures, but at their size. Both were bigger than my dog – easily two or even maybe three times her size. I had startled them when I hollered, and they broke out in a run. I had a second to think “it’s like they’re coming home from the bar,” as it was almost 2am and one stumbled. The first one scrambled easily up the gate by the garage and over it, and the second one, maybe the one who stumbled, struggled to pull itself up and over. I stared open mouthed as it finally hoisted it’s heavy body over the gate and out of sight.
What in the actual fuck.
I mean, is there an animal rave going on in that garage back there? A Disney movie being filmed? What the hell?
I’m not exactly sure what my next step is, but I do know that I want to be able to enjoy my backyard at night. I need that time with the dark and the stars more than I ever realized. I think we’re finally done with extreme cold and snow here in Ohio, so now it’s time to rid my backyard of Templeton, his family and their sidekicks.