Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Rats, Mice, & Snakes: The Milk Jug

East Cabin

There are two cabins built on the saddle of Sheepshead Ridge. They were built in the mid-‘70s and are the base of operations for most of the mining done in this area. I was living in the east cabin when the following took place.

In preparing to work in the Morrisonite area for any length of time, water is one of the main concerns. There is no water available once you are at the mine. All water for drinking, washing, radiators, etc., must be brought in. Typically the anxious miner will fill up every available container at the last moment before leaving on the long trip in. I credit this activity with producing a number of empty I gallon plastic mink containers which end up lying around the cabin.

I know of no study, nor in my experience can come up with any reason, logic, suspicion, or idea as to why a pack rat will desire a particular object for its nest. Mice will go to great lengths to make their nests soft and warm. Other animals will select with great care items that suit their structural purpose. A pack rat seems to desire something just for its collection.

One night, I was awakened by the clatter of plastic milk jugs on the floor of the cabin. The rat had returned for his nightly inspection of the cabin floor. I almost hit my head on the ceiling at the suddenness of the racket -- the bunk in this cabin is built off the floor, a few feet from the ceiling. I thought to myself: I must get rid of those plastic containers.

An empty milk jug gazing off into the distance.

Just after falling asleep again, I was awakened by the sound of plastic milk containers scooting across the floor. I got up, chased the rat away, organized the plastic container in the corner where I thought the rat would not bother them, and went back to bed. Rats will be very quiet while you are moving around at night and will not make any noise until you have fallen asleep again.

This cabin, like the others built in the Morrisonite area, is built against a rock wall. This wall slopes from its junction with the roof down to the floor at a steep angle. The junction of the host rock wall and the roof is where the rats live or gain access to the cabin.

While I was lying on my mattress contemplating what to do with the plastic jugs, I saw the rat methodically shove a plastic jug across the floor to the rock wall. Much to my amazement, the rat then tried to push it up the rock wall! The plastic, gallon jug was about three times the rat’s size. The rat would put his front paws on the jug and try to move it up the wall. Like a gigantic beach ball, it would then fall back onto the floor. He tried and tried, but it was not going to work for him. The jug was just too big. He was not going to push it up the wall or through the small hole between the roof and the wall, or into his nest – wherever that was. Too bad, it probably would have been the centerpiece of his collection.

The closest source for water is a mile away and 200 feet down from the cabins.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Rats, Mice, & Snakes: Geology

The Owyhee River Canyon is being pulled apart. The canyon is 2000 feet deep, and the sides of the canyon are falling toward the river. Deep rock slides are everywhere. Rocks falling from the top pile up on each other creating vast labyrinth of hollow spaces in the rock slopes. All these spaces between the rocks are ideal habitats for rats, mice, and snakes. If a miner is going to live here, he is going to live with these animals.

The rats are everywhere, and of course feel right at home in a miner’s cabin, built into a rock wall. There are three such “cabins” in the Morrisonite area, and I have lived in two of them. All of the cabins have resident rats. If these rats were to be exterminated from the cabins, in a bout two days, there would be more to take their place.

This would not necessarily be much of a concern if it were not for the fact that the rats are up all night and sleep during the day, while miners work hard all day and like to sleep at night. There is a small conflict here. The following series of blogs describe some encounters with rats, mice, and snakes while living at and mining the Morrisonite Jasper.

Desert Woodrats: Genus Neotoma
These rats are commonly called “Pack Rats” because they collect various objects and bits of material to deposit, or use in the construction of their nests. They are especially fond of small, bright, shiny objects which they can confiscate. It is a popular superstition that the woodrat is a fair businessman who appropriates something but leaves a replacement of equal value. The rat may see something that is more attractive than what he has, so he puts down the object he is carrying and carries off the other. The rats that live in the Morrisonite area are not fair, considerate, or quiet.