Friday, February 18, 2011

Rats, Mice, & Snakes: The Rats I Could Not Find

This picture shows one of the cabins with the dozer to the left.
            I heard the noise and reached for my flashlight again. I pointed it at the rock slope behind my bunk and searched for the rat. There was no sign of a rat anywhere. I climbed down off my bunk to look around. All was quite and peaceful -- no movement or sounds anywhere.
Notice the elevated mattress.
            I was living in one of the upper cabins -- the one that Jake built. Jake was living in the other cabin built by Tom Caldwell in about 1976. Jake was working in the old Big Hole pit about 5 switchbacks down the canyon, and I was working on the Christine Marie further below and to the south. The bed in this cabin is built up off the floor like the beds in all the other cabins. This is done to minimize nightly encounters with animals especially snakes. The bunk in this cabin is built higher off the floor than the bunks in the other cabins. A frame attached to the cabin wall supports the front and the rock wall in the back holds a sheet of plywood on which sits a covered box-spring mattress. This is about 5 feet off the floor and about 2 feet from the roof rafters. Snakes seek warmth and can crawl right in with you if you are sleeping on the ground.  It makes for a cozy bunk with a little window in the side wall so you can see the morning even before you get out from under the covers.  The problem is that it is a little difficult to get in and out of. It is necessary to have a way to climb up into it and climb down out of it. This is not a pleasant experience in the middle of the night looking for a noisy rat.
            After another day of hard work it happened again. I was awakened from a dead sleep by the noise of rats. I was beginning to think I was dreaming the noise or hearing something outside. I rejected the idea because the noise seemed so clear and close when it woke me up. The rock wall at the head of my bed slopes gently to the roof rafters at the back of the cabin. To freeze a rat there with the flashlight should be easy, but I did not see one.
Gene revisits the cabins years later.
            This went on for 3 or 4 nights, and I started to complain about my situation to my friend Jake. He has had much more experience living outside than anyone else I know. He was a little curious about my story and came over to take a look around. He asked me if had looked under the box-spring mattress. I said no. We both lifted the mattress and there were three half--grown rats cuddled in a nest under where my head would be on the mattress. I was sleeping inches from them. They were probably scared motionless until I fell into a deep sleep and then started moving around waking me up.
            I slept better that night. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Rats, Mice, and Snakes: Ancient Evidence

Sheepshead Ridge provides a breath-taking view.

            The last 4 miles of road to the edge of the rim overlooking Shepherd Ridge trends generally north over the lava plateau just east of the Owyhee River Canyon. A lone tree can be seen on the Canyon’s rims horizon while traveling this road. No other tree can be seen for many miles in any direction. Overlooking the rim another tree can be seen on the top of the ridge above the two mining cabins below. No other trees can be seen for miles except along the river 2000 feet below where the road drops off the plateau onto the ridge.
            The Christine Marie mining claim is about half way down the canyon in steep slopes of loose rocks. The welded tuff host rock is shuddered and sliding sown hill toward the river. This is both a wonderful and hazardous situation for mining -- wonderful because the rock is all broken and easy to mine; and hazardous because of the constant potential for rock slides. The jasper found here is the best there is, but there is very little of it. If the rock were not broken up like this, the deposit would not be worth mining. All of the cracks in the rocks are ideal places for rats, mice, and snakes.
            While working on the Christine Marie claim, I was constantly encountering old rat nests in the cracks in the rocks. It actually became a joke among us miners that working on the Christine Marie meant constantly working in rat shit. The deeper into the mountain I worked, the larger the cracks between the rocks became, and the bigger the rat nests became.
Loose rocks clutch the wall in this exposed digging area.
     Many times I would find bones and skulls of deceased rats. I would place these skulls on the rocks around the area I was working until the mine pit took on a ghoulish appearance. I then stopped.
            In one massive nest I found a leg and wing bone of a large bird – probably from a rare occasion where a rat won a battle with a buzzard. Buzzards hunt this ground every morning and evening. I also would find twigs and branches of pine wood. I thought nothing of this until one day I realized there is not a tree anywhere near where I was working. How far would a rat travel to bring a stick of wood back to its nest? The closest tree to the workings on the Christine Marie mine is up 1000 feet near the upper cabin – almost ½ mile away. I seriously doubt that a rat would travel that far from home.
            I kept some of the sticks of wood and had them tested. The turned out to be 600 years old. So the rats nest that the sticks were in was about that old. 600 years ago the Morrisonite area must have been much wetter with more trees and vegetation.
The mine resides in the Oregon desert.