Thursday, February 23, 2012

Neotoma albigula

N. albigula, the pack rat (rodent version)

Neotoma albigula is also known as the white-throated woodrat, but is more commonly referred to as the pack rat. The pack rat designation stems from the rodent’s tendency to collect and store various items in its nest. Anything which might capture the rat’s fancy – from food to shiny items, useful or not – is likely to be found in the pack rat’s nest. The normal range for N. albigula is the arid Southwest. However, two confirmed sightings of pack rats have recently been made right here in Kenai, Alaska.

My wife and I are moving to a smaller home. We are packing. The process bears a remarkable similarity to rummaging through a giant pack rat midden.

Pack rat thought process: “Oh! Sparkly rock! Must have!”

Wife’s thought process: “Oh! Bright quilting fabric on sale! Must have!”

Author’s thought process: “Oh! Cheap, shiny, new brass for a caliber I don’t reload… yet. Must have!”

The only distinguishing difference between the rodent pack rat and its human counterparts is the question, “What was I thinking when I dragged this home?”  I’m sure the rat is smart enough to ask itself that question. In contrast, my wife and I come up with rationalizations.

The answer to, "Button, button who has the button?"
“Look what I found at the garage sale for only a quarter! I think they’re quite old.”

“Those are lovely buttons, Sweet Cheeks. That’s what, less than half a penny apiece? You smart shopper! What are you going to do with them?”

“I don’t know. I’ll hold onto them until the appropriate project comes along.”

Holding onto them means dropping them into a twelve-gallon plastic tub with the other eighty pounds of buttons that have been collected, or passed down through the generations to my wife. If ever an international tiddlywinks championship marathon is contemplated, I feel confident our home will be in the running for hosting the event. Although, to be fair, there are some very interesting buttons in the tub. I found a button from a Civil War uniform in there, once. Foolishly, I didn’t set it aside. It has never been seen again, having become lost in subsequent layers.

Ready for my brother-in-law
Hobbies seem to be the root of our excess… umm… crap, for want of a better word. There have been many spirited discussions revolving around the various collections associated with our respective avocations.

“Another fishing rod? How many does one guy need?”

“This one has a medium action tip, perfect for silver salmon fishing. Besides, I need backups.”

“Backups? For what?”

“For when your brother comes to visit. Remember the time he broke three poles in a week?”

“That was in 1996! He’s been here four times since, with no harm done.”

Exactly! The law of averages is catching up. I need to prepare. Besides, let’s talk potting soil. How many bags of potting soil does one gardener need?”

“Don’t start. Seedlings need a starter soil, the roses need a higher nitrogen, the bulbs need something acidic and I use the water retaining soil for pots that sit in the sun. You don’t use just one type of bullet for reloading, do you?”

“That’s different.”

Some things one simply can't part with
The biggest problem, however, stems from a common passion: books. Between the two of us we’ve managed to make the house look like a storage annex for the Library of Congress.  “Where are all these books going to fit?” has become a constantly muttered rhetorical question. In an effort to winnow them a little, we started asking two questions. The first, “Is the author dead?” eliminated quite a few, and the second, “Is it old and bound in leather?” also helped. Still, we have a collection of medical texts from the late 1800’s, the complete works of Shakespeare and innumerable volumes of obscure history books to deal with, just for starters. Oh, and bibles. Scads of bibles. Bibles by the score. Enough bibles to start a combination missionary outpost and seminary in Botswana. (Seems both sides of the family had preachers way back when.)

I'm beginning to figure out why Neotoma albigula normally lives its entire adult life in one location.


  1. So don't know how much stuff you have until you have to move it. Good Luck!

  2. Ask your wife whether she got any of those buttons from our grandmother!