I hate rats.
Like Winston Smith, the protagonist of George Orwell's futuristic horror tale "1984," I am just completely freaked out by the little slick-tailed buggers.
I don't like mice, either. They are, after all, just miniature rats, but there's something especially creepy about the full-sized Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus, also called the brown rat or sewer rat).
It's so (what's the word I'm looking for?) - rat-like.
With that in mind, then, try to imagine my horror when I looked out earlier this summer to see a couple of rats in the back yard, scarfing up spilled seeds under my nice new bird feeder.
The next time I looked, there were three, then four. In fact, one time there were as many as six - a veritable rat convention - all grazing on the concrete path that meanders beneath the feeder, right in there with the small birds that scavenge the feeder overflow (actually these seeds get tossed down by very sloppy birds that seem to flip as much out into the air as they get in their little beaks) and the occasional squirrel.
Before we go any further, allow me to mention the bird feeder, because it's a beaut, and I'm disgustingly proud of it. It's one of those jumbo-sized Yankee Flippers, with the battery-powered perch ring around the bottom that allows birds to land and eat from one of four feeding ports. But, if a squirrel gets on the perch, its weight causes the ring to spin and flings him off into the bushes.
What used to be purely irritating is now great family entertainment. ("Hey, everybody, there's a squirrel headed for the feeder - hurry, or you'll miss it!")
Equally awesome is the fact that I didn't spend the $100 to $150 that these wonderful contraptions usually sell for. I got it at an estate sale in Garden Home for (and I kid you not) $3.
So, I developed a two-part plan and declared war on the rats.
First, I needed weaponry. So I went to the Tigard Big 5 store and bought a CO2-powered, semi-automatic pellet-shooting air rifle.
Because the rats were getting so comfortable, they were coming out in the middle of the day, while we sat on the deck, making it pretty easy to get a bead on them. And, because it was a measly 10 feet from our patio furniture to their feeding ground, it wasn't hard to hit them.
And even though I know I hit two or three with my new gun, I never found any dead rats, so I assumed the wounded critters were limping back to their holes where they regaled the rest of their wide-eyed little rat families with stories about how they received their wounds.
Recognizing that firepower wasn't doing the job itself (and with the advice of a co-worker who wages a similar war at her house), I initiated part two of my battle plan: poison.
Frustrated by the absolute lack of rat poison at my local Fred Meyer store, I took my friend's advice and tried Bi-Mart, and - voila! - rat poison central.
Bi-Mart, I discovered, has almost an entire rat poison aisle. It bordered on too many choices (not unlike the tequila selection of a Mexican supermarket). Still I settled on two different kinds of pellets, which my friend had advised pouring directly into the holes I'd seen around the base of the bird feeder stand. So I did.
A few days later, I found a dead rat in the flower bed. A big one, the size of a Chihuahua. I scooped it up with a shovel and got rid of it.
A few days after that, another - this one even bigger, closer to beagle size - was lying at the top of the steps going from the deck to the woods in the back of our place. Scooped him up, too.
Last weekend, as I was cleaning and treating the wooden deck, I noticed a funny smell in one section. But, because it wasn't that bad - and because there's no way in hell I'm crawling under there to investigate - I chose to ignore it.
I don't want to get overconfident, but I believe I'm holding my own in the war with the rats.
It did smell like victory.
I'm in this thing for the long haul. My rifle rests beside the back door, just in case. And I've got plenty of poison standing by.
The other person who lives at our house thinks I'm nuts, but she also wants me to take down the Yankee Flipper, and that, in my book, is crazy talk.
No way am I wasting that $3 investment - and giving up the entertainment value of flying squirrels.
So, come on, rats. Bring it on.
(Former managing editor of the Beaverton Valley Times and The Times, serving Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood, Mikel Kelly handles special sections, puts together the Living Here section and contributes a regular column.)