nature notes (2)

Sitting at the kitchen table by the big window overlooking the garden, we have a good view of the rats. They’re bold and relaxed. At first, in the winter, there was just one that I noticed. An elderly rat, taking his share of the birds’ crumbs, recognisable by a distinctive patch of fur on one side that looked as if it had been brushed the wrong way. My first thought was: we’ve got to kill him! My second thought was; he doesn’t seem to be doing any harm. And then I made the mistake of giving him a name: Boris. And then I thought: that’s sexist – how about Margaret? Being a gutless liberal with a bleeding heart, naming a rat after the enemy didn’t make the thought of execution any easier for me, on the contrary.  And when a younger rat appeared, climbing up the yew tree in order to dive like a squirrel across to the bird feeder, I was annoyed, but also admiring.  Now there are a couple of adolescents, strolling about on what you might call a patio, but I don’t. And you can tell that they feel they’ve joined the magic circle of protected, or at least tolerated creatures. Like the two wood pigeons which I initially felt hostile towards, but have grown fond of, since I realised by their plumpness and the white dash on their necks that they were wood pigeons and not feral, or London pigeons, and that they never brought their mates round, there were only ever two of them – year after year: what did they do with their young, or were they in fact the same birds each year?


Rats might think that this was a decent neighbourhood for a  hard working rodent family: no fungicides, no neo-nicotinoids, no weed killer, no creosote, no ant killer or wasp killer or aphid killer, no slug bait[1]. A bark worse than bite old dog to keep the cats away. Sheltered housing down by the compost heap for elderly foxes[2]. Berries and seeds in abundance. Hiding and nesting places in log piles and undergrowth. Fat bumble bees droning slowly from flower to nodding flower, hover flies hovering in rare spring sunshine, blue tits and great tits queueing up to take sunflower seeds,  robins at home – in the winter the robins took to sitting outside the kitchen window looking in until someone came out with food. And if you peeped through the curtains in the evening you might catch a glimpse of Sir Dave’s long bio-diversity ballad on the TV, all things bright and beautiful (and scary too) from all around the world, an acceptance and celebration of the fulness of nature.

Now I’ve been told it’s time to poison the rats, which will be a kind of betrayal.

I’m thinking about it.

[1] ok – almost none.

[2] actually, not good news for rats. I saw a fox walking up the garden path with a large rat in its mouth the other day.

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