Muskrat Love

September 16, 2010 | My Jottings

Earlier this week it rained and the temperatures dropped. The wind blew and a hint of winter was in the air. Michael had been outside and he came in to tell me that there was a critter in the front yard, over by the neighbor’s fence. I asked him what kind of animal it was and he said a muskrat. A muskrat? I thought. In our front yard? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a muskrat before and wouldn’t know one even from a photo.

I followed Michael outside into the cold drizzle and this is what he showed me:

Do you see the round furriness and the long, hairless tail? (You can click on the photos to enlarge them.) As we approached I thought it looked like a beaver, but once I saw the tail I knew it wasn’t. At this point we thought this little beast was just resting near the fence and we didn’t want to get near her because we figured she could viciously attack us at the speed of light and permanently disfigure our faces. So we backed off. She was calmly sniffing the air and sitting in the rain and I wondered where she had come from, and what she was. Michael left to run his errand and I went back inside to check online to see what I could learn. Sure enough, not a woodchuck (which was another thought we had), but a Minnesota Muskrat. They swim in lakes and ponds, and they dig and they make messes of people’s yards. They are also known to be carriers of rabies and leptospirosis.

Michael returned a little while later and came in to tell me she was still there. So back out we went into the rain, and it was then we saw her wriggling, and we could now tell she wasn’t resting near the fence, she was stuck in the fence. Apparently she had tried to squeeze herself through, gotten the front half of her thick-furred body through one of the square holes of the chain link fence, but couldn’t get the back half through. We bent over and talked to her and clapped our hands and said in high-pitched voices, “Come on, you can do it!” to give her a bit of friendly encouragement to try again, but she wasn’t having it. She began to look tired and she closed her eyes.

I did not like this one bit. A large rodent was painfully stuck in a fence bordering our yard, and if we didn’t do something, she would die there. In the cold and rain. And away from her family and the soothing warmth of her cheerily blazing hearth.

“She’s going to die here!” I said to Michael. “What can we do?”

Please forgive my husband for what he said next. He grew up in Minnesota where he has hunted and fished since he was a little boy. It’s the culture here.

Michael responded helpfully, “We could kill her.”

I cringed. “How?” I asked timidly.

“Hit her over the head.”

Oh, no, we don’t, I thought. Not on my watch. I’m not a fan of anything that ruins yards and spreads diseases, but seeing her stuck so tightly in that tiny square of wire made me feel strange twinges of compassion for this little animal, and we were not going to kill her. Moths? Smash ’em. Mosquitoes? Whack! Flies? Swat them dead! But Minnesota Muskrats? No killing.

What were we going to do with her, then? Well, if you are Michael and Julie, you spend thirty minutes in the rain, going back and forth with various unlikely implements, trying to help the poor muskrat get free.

First, I took a shiny yellow gardening boot that belongs to our daughter Sara. I grabbed it because I was looking for something to prod the muskrat’s rear end with, something not too sharp to cause more pain than she was already in. So I let myself in the neighbor’s back yard through their gate, and cautiously proceeded (in my slippers, in the rain) to the trapped muskrat. I inserted my hand into the boot and used the toe to gently prod and push her rump, to help her squeeze through the fence. She turned in a flash of fur and tried to bite me, but of course she couldn’t because she was stuck, and I was on one side of the fence and her little yellow beaver-like teeth were on the other. The other defensive thing she kept doing was swatting both her front paws quickly down on the ground in front of her. I kept gently prodding with the yellow boot, but I could feel that this little muskrat was really, really wedged in tight. And her hind quarters had begun to swell. Oh dear! I thought. What are we going to do?

Back into the garage. This time Michael found a large pronged garden hoe. He carefully placed the prongs under the upper part of the wire square she was stuck in, hoping to pull upward to bend it slightly enough to release her. This was a strong fence. He pulled, I pulled, she wriggled, to no avail.

“Do you have any thick gloves?” I asked Michael. He had begun to shiver a bit and our muskrat was looking feeble, closing her eyes. Back into the garage. We looked for gardening gloves and couldn’t find any. So I went into the house and found a pair of my winter leather gloves, and a large pair of Thinsulate mittens. I put them both on my hands and tromped back out into the rain. I went into the neighbor’s yard and bent down to push, but she was so swollen it didn’t work.

Next I came back into our yard and decided to gently pull her out. But that meant dealing with her little yellow teeth. So I crooned to her as I carefully placed the leg of the vinyl yellow gardening boot over her head to keep her from seeing me. She did not appreciate having a yellow gardening boot put on her face. Do you want to know how I knew this? Let’s just say I could tell. She did settle down and once she did, I grasped her front sides and tried to pull her out. I believe she moved forward an inch or two, but she made the most pitiful little muskrat whimpers and I stopped. I tried again, but couldn’t move her any further. She was truly stuck fast.

Michael and I were praying out loud now. “Lord, please help us get her out!” Michael hadn’t really wanted to kill her to be unkind — he was wanting to put her out of her misery. As we worked together to see what we could do for this helpless creature, he kept praying and we kept brainstorming.

“Do you have wire cutters?” I asked. He did. Back into the garage, and he came out and handed me this heavy, long-handled, mammoth tool that I knew I would be unable to use. I tried. I went back into the neighbor’s yard, and from behind I placed the wire cutters on one of the wires that made up the little square she was caught in. I exerted all my strength and could not snap that wire. I was starting to feel very sad. We kept praying.

I came back into our yard and was almost on the verge of tears. It was getting dark and we were expecting company for dinner. I had Chicken Parmesan to finish and Panzanella to toss. I thought I’d try the wire cutters one more time.

As the muskrat sat there looking exhausted, I bent down and placed the cutters on a wire right above her back. “Lord, give me strength!” I said as I squinched my eyes shut and brought those handles together with all my might, and snap! the wire was severed. Wow! Now we brought out the pronged garden hoe again, placed it under the newly cut wire and pulled upward, hoping to bend it enough to enlarge the hole a bit. No good.

I then took the wire cutters and placed them on the other connecting wire above the muskrat’s back. Once again, click! — that wonderful sound, and I had cut right through. Michael gently placed the prongs of the garden hoe under the area where these upper wires of the square had been cut, and pulled upwards, grunting with the effort. The hole was getting bigger! He pulled again — now it was a little larger. I went back to the neighbor’s yard, my slippers completely muddy by now, and used my double-gloved hands to push her rump through the hole.

It worked! She was free. Free to spread rabies, leptospirosis, to make tunneled messes of people’s yards, free to trundle back to Birdinal Creek at the back of our property and do whatever it is muskrats do.

She didn’t run at first. She sat still for a minute, breathing heavily, and we wondered if she had been permanently injured from her ordeal. But soon she started waddling away, toward our back yard and down toward the creek.

“Thank you Lord,” I said with relief, and as we put away our wire cutters, pronged garden hoe and Sara’s shiny yellow boot, we were both smiling and feeling so happy. The dinner got finished and we had an enjoyable evening of nice visiting with our old friends Bob and Linda.

I am a little worried that I’ll have to explain to the neighbor why his fence was cut, but I’ll deal with that when I must.

And to end this little adventure, I leave you with the song that came to mind as Michael and I were working hard to free this little muskrat from her fence trap. I remembered the words from The Captain and Tennille’s song as the rain was soaking us, and I said to myself if this story has a good ending, I’ll find the song online so I can share it on my blog.

Those of you born in the seventies or later may not remember this song, but I have vivid memories of it.


*       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

I’ve been asking God to increase my capacity to love. I want to love Him above all, and I want to love people better than I do. I know He answers prayers like that.

And maybe while He’s at it, He’s giving me some muskrat love too. 🙂

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Comments

  1. Christy says:

    Dear Beatrix Potter,
    Although my teeth were clenched in anguish for poor Mrs. Muskrat, your tale telling was extremely entertaining. I especially enjoyed the increasingly dirty slippers and could vividly picture all of this. Thank you for freeing Mrs. Muskrat on her near fateful day. By the way…..did you really determine it was a “she” or did you assume this because she snapped at you over her little trapped shoulder? I wish I could hear her side of the story.

  2. Just Julie says:

    You make me laugh, Christy! I did not try to literally ascertain whether our muskrat was a she or a he. I simply assumed because her pelvis was wider than her shoulders, that it must have been a woman muskrat. 😀

  3. Sharon says:

    I learned several things from this story.
    1. Muskrats move at the speed of light.
    2. Muskrats love the color yellow.
    3. Muskrats live in Minnesota and feel affection much more deeply than other rodents of similar size.

  4. Susan says:

    Oh Julie,

    What a sweet story! You have such a tender heart. Great pictures too!!

  5. Just Julie says:

    Thank you for visiting and for your comment, Susan. Your grandchildren are so gorgeous – I’ll bet you hear that a lot! God bless….

  6. Jessica says:

    Julie.

    I think you have earned yourself the title of saint and any “self beating up” that you did in your previous post has now been erased and replaced with your usual amazing, kind, loving, compassionate, strong, determined self (whom we all love by the way).

    You clearly went above and beyond and while I too, was very entertained by this post and even laughed out loud at Michael’s suggestion to “hit it over the head,” my more pronounced reaction was pure horror at the thought of being that close to a muskrat! And after making the mistake of “clicking to enlarge” the picture for a better glimpse of the “long hairless tail” I feel that I may be forever scarred.

    And if I can’t sleep tonight because of muskrat tail nightmares, I am calling YOU!

    I think I have a rodent phobia, specifically the ones with hairless tails. This one in particular was one of the grossest things I have ever seen.

    Yikes.

    That being said, I still love your blog!!!

    Much love my friend. =)

  7. Deb says:

    THANK YOU JULIE!!!! Rarely have I so needed to laugh, and laugh out loud I did…….several times! What a sweet and sensitive picture you portrayed and quite humorous as well. How I would have loved to view the whole episode! God bless your tender hearts. I would have been on the same page with Michael though when he said, “We could kill her.” Your efforts are to be commended!!! Go PETA!!!

  8. Just Julie says:

    I’m sitting here in my robe, in the dark, at 6:00 in the morning, and laughing out loud at your comments, Jessica. Thank you for what you wrote. You need to write more. Maybe about your phobias? You could make a living at it. :O

  9. Just Julie says:

    Thank you Deb. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I could be a PETA rep. Maybe at age 53 I’ve found my calling. 🙂

  10. Ember says:

    Oh, you are such stars! Hooray! Well done for setting her free! :0D
    Have you read Annie Dillard’s chapter on stalking muskrats in Pilgrim At Tinker Creek? I think you’d enjoy it – especially now!
    The review that goes with this version of it has an extract from the muskrat bit. Sorry for endless URL!

    http://www.epinions.com/review/Pilgrim_at_Tinker_Creek_by_Annie_Dillard_and_narrated_by_Grace_Conlin/content_243116904068

  11. Just Julie says:

    Thank you for the link Ember. Annie Dillard has long been on my list of books to read, and now I will make an effort to read her sooner rather than later! 🙂

  12. Ginny the Yalker..."One Who Can Yarn Talk" says:

    I thought I left a comment the other day, but don’t see it. I was pretty messed up in my head after I read this story, so could have pressed the wrong button!!! Even reading the comments makes me feel faint! I am right with Jessica! I had to go to my happy place and pretend gray/brown furs don’t REALLY exist…ESPECIALLY swollen ones! Near my home! Potentially using my basement as a birthing room for hundreds more! Ohhhhhhh! Ewwwww!
    Peter did his silent “crack me up ’cause I so get it” laugh when I read to him Michael’s remedy!! Peter was thinking “or plug the thing”.
    I am glad I have a friend who cares about brown furs and would go to such lengths to save one. I hope you are still glad to have a friend who can’t! @@

    And I so don’t get the song…….

  13. Just Julie says:

    I’m laughing right now thinking of Pete doing the silent laugh. I’ll make you a new sign soon to hang over your basement door: “Ginny’s Basement Birthing Room.” 🙂

  14. Dorothy Sooter says:

    I showed Kacie this story, she said ‘good job faithful servant’ I am with you, rabies and all. Kacie also thinks you might like to read ‘Blind Hope’ by Kim Meeder.

  15. Larry says:

    Muskrats were all over your grandparents (on mom’s side of the family )creek and the two ponds they had to water the white face cattle.

    I use to go back there when I was little, it was like a different world for me, I got to do things with Grandpa that I could only dream of back home.

    Those little cute things like the one you cut loose from your neighbor’s fence are something else.

    Grandpa did not seem to mind their living off of his land and going into both the small lake and the pond that he use to have, plus up and down the creek that fed both.

    I enjoyed watching them, then one summer when I went back Grandpa had no lake nor did he have a pond.

    It seems that those cute little muskrats dug in to the dams that held back the water for his live stock. There was nothing to be seen of either of them.

    Grandpa set about building them all over again, and I got to see them finished before I headed back to California.

    When I came back the next summer, the dams were gone again, and this time Grandpa had one dump truck after another hauling in glass pop bottles.

    The bulldozer would lay down a layer of dirt and the dump trucks would lay down a layer of coke and pepsi and other glass bottles, then Grandpa would drive a dozer over the glass bottles till they all were shattered. Then came another load of dirt.

    This went on till both dams were completely rebuilt. In fact they were larger than ever before.

    Grandpa said that he wanted them to live but they had to let live on his property. He told me that if they tried to dig again (ever) into one of his earth dams, their little paws would get cut and they would quit digging where they were not to be.

    I still saw them, and from then on they swam in the lake and the pond, they also went up and down the creek too. They dug their homes in the sides of the creek bed.

    One last comment, some people eat muskrat too. Never tried them, but I would say that you might have missed out on a free meal? 🙂

  16. Just Julie says:

    Ugghhhh—no muskrat meat for me! 🙂

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