Friday, December 31, 2010

Rats, Mice, and Snakes: Killing Rats

The front-end loader parked at "Jasper Blvd."
            A miner needs his sleep. If a rat is going to repeatedly disturb that sleep it needs to be stopped.  In the eleven years I worked mining Morrisonite I never thought to take a rat trap out to the mine. Perhaps there are just too many other things to worry about in preparing to move to the mine to remember a few rat traps. On the other hand, what good would that be anyway? The problem is not the rats but the noise they make. A rat in a cage would make almost as much noise as one inspecting your kitchen. Eliminating a few rats creates a reprieve from some of those sleep depriving night interruptions.
            It is only a reprieve because there is an abundance of rats living in the rocks containing the Morrisonite Jasper. If a rat moves on to a better place, that just means there is more territory for another one. It takes only 2 or 3 days to replace a missing rat in your cabin. The new ones seem to be especially excited about running through your stuff looking for something to add to their collection.
Gene's D4 Dozer with the missing release valve pipe in the rear.
                       The weapons I have chosen in my nighttime skirmishes with rats consist of a five foot piece of ¾ inch pipe and a flashlight. The pipe I have used for years, and I believe came off my D-4 Dozer during a repair session and never was reinstalled. It is painted yellow like all mining machines. The idea is to hit the rat with the pipe using it like a spear after you find it with a flashlight. If you shine a flashlight on a rat in the dark it will freeze in its tracks like a clay statue. It will just stay that way until the light moves. You can actually get very close as long as you do not move the light. This is very important because my aim with the yellow D-4 spear is not very good. What actually happens during one of these executions is something like this: when the signal goes from your sleep-groggy brain to your right hand which is holding the rat-killing D-4 spear instructing it to thrust at the rat, your left arm involuntarily moves the flashlight allowing the rat to move just enough to avoid the descending projectile. This process usually repeats itself a number of times before luck or perseverance sends the rat to a better place.
            I have often bemused myself wondering how this might look to an independent observer: a groggy man standing in his cabin in the middle of the night holding a flashlight in one hand and stabbing the ground with a yellow pipe in the other. 
Gene mining at the Cliff Area on the Christine Marie Claim.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Rats, Mice, & Snakes: Rat Personalities

Cabin on the Christine Marie Claim
It was an especially dry year. Eastern Oregon had very little snow in the preceding winter and no spring rains. When I arrived at my cabin on the Christine Marie Claim, there was no moisture in the soil at all. Every step created a dust cloud.

Notice the poles over the doorway.
I had lived in the cabin for several mining operations. I built it after I determined that the drive everyday from the cabins above was too dangerous and time consuming to be driven every day. I worked on building the cabin slowly and sporadically over two years. Like the cabins above on the saddle, it is built against a rock wall. This wall, however, is the side of a huge boulder that had rolled down from above at an earlier time.
The cabin is made out of large rocks, scraps of wood, old plywood flooring and four long poles. I spent a total of $34.00 on its construction – mostly for nails and a glass window. The room is about 10 feet square with a door opening and window in the front wall and one window in the other two walls. The rock wall in the back of the cabin is fairly vertical with only a slight slope down to the relatively flat floor. The four polls are mounted to the top of the rock and extend out past the front wall. These poles support the plywood which was covered with dirt and rocks for the roof. Where these poles are mounted to the
large boulder there is narrow space between the roof and the rock. It is here that our nightly friends live – or at least enter and exit the cabin.

The wash basin is hiding in the corner to the left of the stove.
I got all of the equipment running and started to mine Morrisonite. Sleep comes easy to a tired miner, and the antics of our nocturnal friends living between the ceiling and the rock can be particularly irritating. This year there were some young rats entering the cabin every night to look around. I say they were young because they were not very big, yet very energetic. They would come down the back wall and make all kinds of racket busily inspecting and climbing on everything in the cabin. They would knock cans of food off the shelf and walk all over my propane stove as noisily as possible retrieving the scraps left on it from my dinner.

One night after I had chased the rats away several times and did not want to get out of my bunk again, I just laid there and watched them. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something move on the rock wall beside my bunk. Much to my surprise, moving very slowly down the rock wall was a HUGE rat, not making a sound.
The two rats below, however, started a soccer game. Next to my propane stove there was a large metal wash basin which was ½ full of dirty dish water. The huge mama rat made her way to the wash basin very quietly and sniffed the water inside.

Books and literature on pack rats will tell you that rats do not drink water. They say rats get all their moisture from the vegetation they eat. This five pound rat looked thirsty but also looked like she was afraid of water. She took her front legs, put them on the rim of the wash basin and spread them out as far as she could. Then, one at a time brought her hind legs up onto the rim. Balancing herself spread eagle on the edge of the wash basin, she carefully lowered her head and took a long drink of dirty dish water. Below, one of the other rats scored a goal. Carefully, the big rat reversed her position, hopped off the basin, made her way to and slowly up the rock wall, and disappeared without making a sound.

With the younger two still volleying, I tried to get back to sleep.