07 Mar How I Discovered a Rat’s Nest in My Camper Van

A couple of months ago, we decided that a mouse was getting into Jill’s car in our garage. The mouse had shredded a plastic grocery bag — for nesting, we assumed — that was the first sign. Later, it got into a bag of cat food we’d left in the car, and, later still, we discovered a shredded fabric mat in the far back. I figured I’d set a few traps and get the rogue rodent eventually. But then the electricity in Jill’s car stopped working. Jill was convinced the mice had gotten to the wiring. She was right. It cost $500 to repair.

At about that time, I was preparing my camper van for a long trip. I had laid in all kinds of provisions. When I went to check on them, I found that my van had been pillaged: every bag and package of food that could be opened by rodent teeth had been opened: lemon cookies, chocolate bars, five-grain crackers, brazil nuts, soy nuts, granola, dried apricots, and more — all gone. It was like a rodent motorcycle gang had rioted in my van and carried away everything they could get their furry paws on. I felt violated!

I cleaned out the cupboards in my van, wiped everything down with alcohol, then, on a hunch, I went to the far back and looked under the floor, below my toilet. There, tucked into a corner between the raised floor and the van floor, was a nest made mostly of toilet paper. So that’s what had become of the roll of toilet paper that went missing! I’d thought I had only imagined its disappearance. Much to my dismay, I saw that it wasn’t a mouse nest but a rat’s nest! You can tell the difference by the size of their droppings. There’s no mistaking which is which.

All the food was there, in heaps and mounds: piles of cookies, a rubble of nuts, broken crackers, and all kinds of doggy treats, like beef jerky and salmon-flavored kibble. The rats had enough stored away for the winter. But where had the rats gone? I poked through the nest before cleaning it out. Nope: they were gone. Apparently, they had moved from Jill’s car to my van, after discovering the mother lode of goodies in the latter. But then, before they could settle in, I closed up the garage.

That was the problem: Jill and I had gotten lazy. We weren’t locking the pedestrian door at the side of the garage. And we hadn’t replaced the glass in that door (rats are really good climbers). And there was a gap at the bottom of the automatic door, where the metal had bent. I pounded out the gap, replaced the glass in the side door, folded rabbit into the garage chimney hole and into the floor drain at the back of the garage. And now we always lock the side door.

As rats multiple (they’re multiplying in our neighbor’s yard), the newbies seek out nesting sites. Our open garage was more than inviting. I should have known they were rats after my many mouse traps went untested. Rats know better. You should know: you can’t get rid of rats, you can only close them out. It reminds me that, despite our species’s many advantages and so-called advances, we are never far from our ancestors’ lives in caves, when the best they could do was ward off danger with a blaze of fire and, for the smaller beasts who were a nuisance — scurrying underfoot and over precious larder — make with them a tentative peace.

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