December 2009 - A Recent Haunting

Death came knocking at The Scoop's door
All joking aside with the Hallowe'ed issue, but The Scoop got a big scare several weeks ago via a tiny, white card wedged in the crack of the front door. GASP! The shadow of the ML&S had darkened The Scoop's threshold. This is the nightmare in which we all live in fear! And now it was The Scoop's turn! Had the rants against the ML&S in the last issue wrought this scrutiny? Doug Smith had emailed about his cedar woes with the City Weed Whackers (can the powers-that-be infiltrate the internet?). And it was the same day The Scoop reported a tree bylaw infraction to the City re: a construction site with no hoarding around a city tree (three feet of piled clay soil and other debris does not constitute a protective barrier). Was it coincidence? Was it fate? Which neighbour "ratted" on The Scoop? Were my cedars in danger? So many questions followed the initial shock (if the provincial government is off-loading stress tests to municipal departments in a bid to make the health portfolio look rosier, than it worked!). Those that have been there know that feeling of dread that plummets to the pit of the stomach and sits there.
The instructions on the card instruct the recipient to call to arrange an appointment. When The Scoop called the bylaw officer stated that a rat had been spotted on my property. Indeed! A neighbour had "ratted" on The Scoop about a sighting of a rat. What a relief! Most would not think so and would be aghast that vermin were running around. But native plant enthusiasts would definitely agree that anything would be better than hearing the "c" word. Cut down your plants to comply with the law.
The Scoop was not caught off guard. We had a problem in August. Something had been gnawing at our tomato plants in pots on the driveway at the back, near the garage. At first, The Scoop thought that the squirrels were exacting revenge for the story about them being sharp shooters (September edition). But since squirrels don't have a great memory, which serves the forest well via buried seed repositories, The Scoop shouldn't worry too much. As it turned out and by eye-witness accounts in broad daylight, a couple of rats were munching their way through fat, low-slung tomatoes. If these were heirloom tomatoes, they might have been afforded more respect. But these were the lowly field tomatoes grown because they weren't as picky about getting full sun. (Scoop's Law – don't attempt to grow heirloom tomatoes for the first time during the wettest, darkest summers, unless you like making green salsa in late October).
The Scoop does not like to kill. However, we had no other choice, so the plan of action was to set out poison in the garage where we found evidence of their living. In all, eight rats were found. It was made all that much harder by knowing that the largest rat was female and gray. All of the rats were gray and not the typical brown of the wild Norwegian rat. Did a pet owner dump a pregnant rat out on the street? A neighbour had seen a guinea pig running around outside a couple of months earlier. All was told to the inspector, including that The Scoop never had a problem with rats before the garbage strike. The inspector conceded that they had many related complaints.
Now many of you know that the inspectors from ML&S have more powers than the police and don't need a warrant to search your backyard. Only one complaint will set them upon your property like a fly to a skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) in spring. The inspector had seen the pots on the driveway but had not been able to find my composters hidden in the back corner. She was fooled by the cedars and did not see the entrance to "Wildwood". Now, this is something to brag about (quietly). The "experts" get fooled. Love it! So, she returned and finally found the composters. Everything was neat and tidy with large rocks on the lids to discourage raids by raccoons. Nothing amiss here – move along. The Scoop's regret – the sign that reads "Trespassers will be composted" was not mounted out back.
The Scoop heard nothing back from the inspector, but was still on edge. We did find some evidence that a rat had invaded the garage again. The leftover poison had been eaten which necessitated refilling the bait station. A couple of days later, The Scoop lifted the lid on the composter to reveal a small brown rat in the corner, near death. The wave of rats had subsided. The City Stalkers slipped quietly away to find the next victim.
Epilogue or "The Rats' Revenge": It was time to bring in the artificial Christmas tree which was wrapped in plastic from the garage. The tree sat for several hours before it was unwrapped. Pong! What is that smell?! And what's that falling down all over the floor?! Whoa! This tree is booby-trapped! Get it the hell out of here!!! So, with lightning speed, the tree was whipped outside faster than seed jettisoned from a jostled, jewelweed pod (Impatiens capensis).
It appears that the garage rats had been very busy in August exploring everything, including the Christmas tree. They peed. They pooped. Why, they even chewed the three sets of white LED lights around the tree! (Mind you – these were not the exchanged freebies from the Hydro program of turning in your incandescents). RATS!
Next scene: The Scoop scrambles to find a replacement tree because time is of the essence when a gathering of out-of-town relatives expects to view your annual Grinchmas display in all its full glory in mere days. Another Scoop Rule – don't buy a 7-foot Christmas tree at the last minute and try hauling it on the subway and bus packed with Christmas shoppers…Merry Grinchmas!
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