James Murray tells a story for a small crowd at the ORL Salmon Arm branch on Saturday, Feb. 25.

Column: The tender tale of two pack rats

Columnist reminded of experience of old-timer with unwanted creature.

The other night I couldn’t sleep so, after getting up and pouring a large glass of milk, I decided to watch a bit of television.

Flicking through the channels, there was absolutely nothing worth watching. So I put a tape in the old VHS machine and settled down in the recliner to watch Showdown at Williams Creek, a movie loosely based on the life and times of John George Brown, also known as Kootenai Brown. It wasn’t really much of a tale, but it held my attention for one simple reason. I once knew a fellow who owned a .32 caliber Winchester Model 94 rifle that was used in the making of the movie.

Henry Cooper was a shy, soft-spoken, unassuming man who was well into his eighties when I knew him back in the 1990s. I recall one time when we were sitting in his kitchen having a cup of coffee. He had showed me the rifle and was showing me pictures of the movie set, when I happened to look out the kitchen window. I noticed something moving in his wood pile. It was silver grey, about the size of a rabbit and had a long furry tail.

“You’ve got a pack rat in your wood pile,” I said matter-of-factly.

“Yes, I know,” he said, equally matter-of-factly.

He then proceeded to tell me he’d first noticed it some months back and, how not wanting to kill the poor thing, he’d borrowed a neighbour’s live trap.

“It didn’t take too long to catch the little feller,” he said. “Used a bit of peanut butter and got him the first night. Decided to take him out to the far end of the lake, where there’s some old, broken-down remains of a farm. Figured he could move right into one of the buildings and make himself a new home. Thought I’d give him something to eat before relocating him – so to speak. Gave him some raspberries that I had picked and a crust of bread – even put butter on the bread for him. The little critter looked up at me, sort of to say thanks, and then proceeded to eat every last bit.

“Darn friendly little guy. I almost hated to see him go.”

“They’re sort of smelly little creatures though,” I intervened.

“I guess so,” Henry said, as if he didn’t care if pack rats were smelly or not. “Anyways, after he finished eatin’ I put both the trap and the little pack rat in the back of the pick-up truck and drove out to the end of the lake. I took the trap out and set it down on the road. When I opened the trap door to let him go, he just sort of took a few steps and then set down on his haunches – looking right up at me. I waved my hand at him and told him to skidaddle, but he just sat there.”

I laughed and asked what he did next.

“I just picked up the trap, got in the truck and started driving off,” he said. “The thing is, I just couldn’t help but look in the rear-view mirror. He was still sitting there watching me drive away.”

“So how did he get back here?” I asked.

“That’s the funny thing,” he said. “I dunno, but for some reason I just couldn’t leave the little feller sitting there in the middle of the road. So I backed up, got the trap out of the truck and set it down beside him. Darned if he didn’t up and walk right back in like he belonged there.”

Then Henry looked me right in the eyes and said, “So I brought him back home and let him go there in the woodpile.”

Now the reason I’m relating this story is because this past summer I had to dispose of a pack rat myself. A neighbour had caught one in a live trap as well, but was unwilling to take care of its relocation. I somehow volunteered.

I too fed the pack rat before heading out. I gave it some dried cranberries that were in my jacket pocket and then proceeded to drive it and the trap to what I figured would be a perfect spot to let it go – lots of available food and water, with several old outbuildings near by. When I opened the trap door, it scampered off, apparently quite happy and none the worse for its ordeal.

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