10 February 2006

Cat, Rats, and Squirrels

One of the joys of living on this island paradise is the architecture that brings all the outdoors into your living room, and vice versa. You can sit and watch the Superbowl on television, and by glancing a little to the right of the tv set, see the slow back and forth movement of the anchor lights at the top of the sailboat masts, or the beautiful outlines of the light string outlining the cruise ship. And there's no dirt on the window to impair the view, cause there is neither window nor wall between your living room chair and the sea. ( Except, of course, during hurricanes when steel shutters close everything in.)

This arrangement works only in Paradise. The weather must be perfect. Because the living room (and, btw, the kitchen) is wide open, there is no airconditioning beyond the ceiling fan, and therefore the set-up works only in a locale like this one where the temperature range is from the low 70's to the high 80's.

But even here there is no free lunch. Want to enjoy the great outdoors? Good, you had better learn to share them with others. Every morning we clean cat footprints off the sofa. No big deal. We think the visitor is a large boatyard cat imported by the Davidsons across the street. Or maybe a local cat, of which there are two zillion on this island.

The cats are either fed by locals, or hunt for sustenance.. Do cats hunt lizards? I dunno. If they do, they are not doing a very good job. At least not around here. Our lizards are very territorial and totally unafraid. We have one who hangs around the porch off the master bedroom. He just sits on the railing and stares at you. No flinching. Not even the approach of Frank moves him off station. He is, I guess, letting us know he was here first, and has no intention of yielding. Okay with me. He, or a close relative, was indeed here first and I wish him well.

It will be no surprise, I am sure, for you to learn the wildlife is not limited to adorable lizards. Iguanas are harmless, but they are large, fearsome looking, and poop like geese. We see them rarely, but we know there's a pair who live in or around the back wall. Passing over the insect population, which is substantial, we play host to other warm-blooded critters. Yes, the St. Barts cats chase the St. Barts rats.

Our first trip to St. Barts was in 1990. We rented a romantic villa on the beach in Flammands. It was a dream house. Perfect. In those days, btw, the local stores carried oatmeal, my must-have breakfast. We did our grocery shopping on the day of arrival at the supermarche across from the airport, put away the groceries as we do at home, leaving the oatmeal box on the kitchen counter. (This particular house had a closed kitchen with large screened windows and doors.) The morning after arrival, I went to make my breakfast and when I lifted the oatmeal box, cereal trickled out the bottom where a hole had been gnawed. It did not take a super-sleuth to find the tell-tale droppings of the cereal thief. Now my perception of rats derived from my middle class New York City upbringing. It was totally synchronous with the occasional story in the Daily News flogging the Mayor for not controlling rats at some decrepit housing project: the presence of rats indicates the homemaker keeps a filthy house and is a disgrace to the community. Rats live in filth, bite children while they sleep, and carry bubonic plague. In other words, feh!

While I do not suggest the locals regard them as warm and fuzzy pets for their kids, St. Barthians do not read the Daily News or watch the Channel 5 six o'clock news report ("Rat bites child's nose off…film at 11") and as a result people here have made some sort of peace with rats since the first one hopped off a Swedish ship ( so why do they call them "Norway" rats?) about 400 years ago. And all the St. Barths kids have noses. Mind you, when the rats get too numerous, the humans execute the usual control measures (standard stuff; traps and poison) but people hereabouts are definitely not inclined to climb up onto the dining room table when encountering the occasional island rat. St. Barthians know this is a great place, and they do not have absolute control of the environment. They are willing to share. Go to the fanciest hotels on the island, and notice all the cats around, and look for the tin collars on the trunks of the palms—they keep the rats from climbing the trees. That is not what they tell the $1000 a day guests, but… .

Back to our 1990 romantic villa. So when I knew the nature of my oatmeal partner, I called the manager of our romantic rented villa. He came over from his house next door, nodded when I told him my tale, and the following conversation ensued:

Me: "So, M. Jeanui, how are you going to keep the rat out of my kitchen?"

M. Jeanui: (Shrugs shoulders-- they do a lot of that around here) "What can we do? I suggest you put the cereal box in the refrigerator." This said in a tone that suggested only a moron could have done otherwise. If you have ever had teenage children, you recognize that tone of voice instantly: it's the one they use when talking to you.

Me: "Okay, I will do that, but how did the rat get in here?" (Gadzooks, could he get in my bedroom too?)"

M. Jeanui: "Why, through that hole in the kitchen screen, how else?"

Me: "Could you please patch that screen right now?"

M. Jeanui: ( More shrugging) "But Messieur, why bother? The rat will just gnaw through the patch the same way he always does!"

The caretaker did humor me, patched the hole, we put the new box of cereal in the refrigerator, and continued our love affair with the island.

Fast forward a dozen years or so. We were owners of this place about two weeks, when Rob,who was down here for a weekend with Sloane while we were in New York, called and said that while they were watching tv, a rat ran across our open living room. Now that is some bold rat. I guess he was late for work or something, and couldn't wait for the kids to go to sleep. Rob also reported teeth marks in the bar of soap in his mostly outdoors bathroom and he promised that neither he nor Sloane were that hungry. We had Dawn put bait cubes about the place, and the rat and his family were gone in a week.

Last month, my neighbor dug a garden. Uh oh, we got more visitors. More cubes, problem solved in about five days.

But last night was different. We are expecting some guests from New York City, whose only exposure to country life is running in Central Park (which, btw, probably has more rats per square meter than anyplace else in the world) and just before the Super Bowl kickoff, Pinks made a last minute check of the guest room and the bathroom. Pinks is not a screamer. But when she said, "Marty, would you come here for a minute, please?" in a voice others would take to be a normal conversational tone, but that I knew instantly was not anything of the sort, I came quickly. She reported that while she was in the guest bathroom, a rat ran from behind a plant (sure we have things growing out of the bathroom floor, doesn't everybody?) to a small space under a wooden cabinet, which it happens, is bolted to the wall. Now what to do? Poison is not an option here. That surely cannot solve the problem by tomorrow, it is slow working stuff, and during the interim, the critters are attracted to the bait. Move the guests to the small bedroom when they arrive? Tell them about the rat? They will likely move instantly to a hotel, take the next plane home, and shun us forever.

Solution: kill the rat now.. Our guests do not arrive until 2PM on Monday. I can get a trap at the hardware store first thing Monday morning. But rats are nocturnal, I would have to remove the trap before 2PM and what if I don't get him between 8:15 AM and 2 PM? Solution: Get a trap set at once, call Dawn and borrow a trap. Dofie arrived a half hour later, trap and a tiny cube of hard cheese in hand. This is a no frills old-fashioned mouse trap, king size for rats—a "U" shaped bail on a coil spring, held down by a hair-trigger lever attached a pedal baited with cheese, all mounted on a 3" x 6" board. To touch the bait pedal, is to dislodge the trigger which dislodges the lever which dislodges the bail which then travels 180 degrees at the speed of light, and whap, less work for the neighbor's cat.

Just after Hasselbach completed his fifth pass to Jackson in the first quarter, I heard the snap-- through the concrete wall. We got 'im (her? I dunno, and will make no effort to find out).

Bought three traps this morning. Two for my inventory and one to return to Dofie. I am becoming an infantryman: I now get to see the results of deadly force, not like those aloof bomber pilots who, from 10,000 feet, just drop poison cubes about the place. I am getting tough about these things. Another learning experience.

Big question: Tell this story to the guests? Publish it in the blog? Will our friends and family see the earthy quality of our life, thank us for our frankness, or take it as message that we don't want them to honor their reservations? I am considering the matter.

Ah, I know. I will tell them it was a squirrel.

A bientot.

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home