My foot has slipped on the glacier and I have suddenly found myself dangeling in space over a two hundred foot ice cliff from the end of the life line. I have driven an automobile, (unintentionally) off the end of a culvert and turned a summerset with it into the creek below, and I have spent long cold hours huddeling in the dark Abries while enemy planes droppd high explosives upon us from the clouds; but the scare of my young life was given me by an innocent little Pack Rat.
I was camping all alone one cold stormy night in a small shelter cabin many miles back in the wilderness. The nearest neighbors were the Indians down on the Reservation twenty-five miles below. Snow was sifting through the broken chinking and the wind was howling around the gables but I was comfortable and had no difficulty in going to sleep.
Suddenly, in the darkest stillest hour of the night I dreamed that a hnad, not human, had reached out of that inky blackness and clutched me by the hair. I awoke with a start and sat bolt upright. My eyes were stareing and icy chills were chaseing each other up and down my spine for those sharp clawed fingers were still entwined in my hair. Fortunately I was not kept long in suspense. The claws untangled themselves and a small animal leaped to the floor and scampered away. Next morning I found an old stove in another room completely filled with odds and ends of junk and in the middle of the pile, safely ensconced in a snug nest, was my friend of the night before.
My next experience with the bushy-tailed rats was in the old Bear Prairie Ranger Station a few miles below Longmire Springs. I was on Game Patrol late in the autumn and had stepped into the tumble-down shack to look around. The spooky silence of a deserted house in the wilderness was just beginning to make itself felt when something rapped lightly on the floor above. There were three or four sharp raps that sounded exactly as though a man had rapped with his knuckles. I listened and presently the knock was repeated. I'll admit I had a peculiar feeling for a few minutes. At the next rap I said "Hello!", but there was no response. After a long interval the the knock was repeated. I was certain it was made by something alive but I could hear nothing moving about. Quietly and slowly I climbed the ladder to the attic and peared cautiously into the gloom about me. It was several seconds before my eyes became sufficiently accustomed to the darkness to see objects, but then I made out the white belly, fawn back, and beady eyes of the little squirrel-like rat. While I watched he balanced on his tail, raised his two hind feet and thumped them palms down, on the floor with sort telegraphic clicks, then he rolled his big eyes in my direction, wiped an imaginary cob-web from his face with a hand-like front paw and continued the message he was drumming out on the floor. Since that time I have been entertained for hours - when I much preferred to sleep - by this incessant drumming.
These bushy-tailed woodrats, trade rats, cliff rats, or pack rats, as they are variously called are not closely related to the common barn or warf rats, but belong to a different family entirely. They are native to America, are widely distributed, and have few of the disreputable habits and characteristics of their imported relatives. Originally they were cliff-dwellers, these rats, and therefore, one of his numerous names. The others are equally appropriate. Although found in many sections of the country and ranging from sea level almost if not quite to timberline the pack rat is usually a forest dweller, always a wilderness dweller, and because of that justifies the name woodrat. The names pack rat and trade rat come from the peculiarities of behavior rather than habitation. Trade rat because of their interesting, though troublesome, habit of carrying off whatever small object which to them, and also to the victim, seems less desireable. Many a camper or woodsman has awakened in the morning to find his shoe, his watch, or his pipe missing and in its place some object; a bit of broken bottle, a stick, or perhaps some choice bits of garbage. If he will look he can usually locate his visitors "cache" either in the attic or beneath the house an there on top of a huge pile of miscellaneous treasures find his lost possessions. The same collection habit has also given them the name pack rat.
Pack rats are exceedingly industerious individuals and work from dusk until dawn if uninterrupted. Because of this nocturnal activity, which effectively banishes sleep from any but hardened woodsmen. A favorite winters evening diversment enjoyed by Park Rangers is trapping woodrats or sitting on a box in the attic taking pot shots at their nefarious little neighbors by candle light.
They are omniverous feeders but vegetarians by preference and though they much prefer some sort of fresh hay they will occasionally gnaw a boot or a saddle. Vernon Bailey, who knows all about pack rats, insists that they are splendid meat and classes them with quail as gastronomic delecies. Personally we have associated with pack rats a great deal and have come, almost, to the place where we enjoy their company but we have never yet become that intimate with the little rodents.
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