Living where the wild things roam
I read bug-eyed, my coworkers quietly tapping at their keyboards 10 feet away. According to the draft article for Rock and Ice, where I work, two teenaged climbers, among the country’s strongest, were camped in Rifle when they chased a little deer mouse out of their car. And forgot about it.A little over a week later, after the visitors had moved on to Utah, one felt ill. Two more days produced a fever of 104.9 and fluid in his lungs. Another day and he was intubated and on a ventilator, his life dually threatened by respiratory failure and hemorrhage.
Young Ryan, who recovered, was diagnosed with Hantavirus; infection probably occurred in Rifle. Deer mice are known carriers, and Colorado sees a few cases each year, mostly on the Western Slope.I climb in Rifle most weekends.It has been sort of a Wild Kingdom autumn, really, for better and worse, and the smallest creatures caused the most trouble.Driving down from McClure Pass one afternoon, I was thrilled to see a low, brown figure cross the road, ropy tail hanging from swinging haunches. The mountain lion was smaller, probably a young one, and darker than I expected. I had always wanted to see one, and just this way: from a car.At home, a bear repeatedly ripped into our garbage in its bearproof containers; Mike, the kids and I repeatedly picked up, with cold fingers (always when we lacked time to return home to wash), the greasy old-tuna, coffee-ground, sticky-ice-cream shreds strewn across the dirt.Also nearby, I saw, three times, a beautiful red fox with a charcoal-flecked, white-tipped tail. The best sighting was spotted by my younger son, Roy: “A fox sleeping on a rock!” It lay curled in the gold afternoon sun, red on a flat-topped red boulder.
My other son got an elk with his bow, his first such, stocking the freezer. First Mike had called a big bull in to their stand of aspen. But as Teddy held his bow drawn, the canny creature hesitated. Finally Teddy had to lower his elbow, and the bull vanished. Then, however, as Teddy put it, “a younger, dumber bull came in.”Skunks sprayed our house; and, most recently, a rat slunk down our chimney.I was proofing some articles at night when I saw, peripherally, something dark scurry across the rug. I waited and watched, and baited and set three traps. The rat bypassed all, and hid under armchairs. Finally, I woke Mike up.We two humans dashed around for an hour, shooing the rat toward an invitingly open door, swiping broom and mop handles under the chairs and couch.I thought of the summer day a mouse ran across my coworker Garett’s sandaled toe, eliciting a shout from him, and 10 minutes of laughter from me. Garett laughed a few minutes less. Now I squawked and jumped every time the rat ran by my feet.We panted and swore, Mike knocked down two of the boys’ glass archery trophies, and we chased the thing to the kitchen and back three times.
“This isn’t going to work,” Mike finally said in disbelief, sinking onto the couch. “We’ll never get him.”Just then I, sweeping my mop in arcs across the floor, which is not that easy from a couch if you have just jumped on one, to my surprise hit the animal. That slowed him, so I accidentally hit him again. You don’t need to know any more. The next morning we told Roy we had “chased” a rat out of the house.At the sink while Mike showered, I suddenly saw, in the mirror, a small dark shape hurtle down, and I screamed.It was a dark green washcloth, muddied by one of the boys, that Mike had balled up and chucked out. I had perceived a flying black attack rat.Mike laughed for 10 minutes; I, just a few less.Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at email@example.com.
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