Last Fall, I met a new adversarial ally in my life, in the form of rodents—pack-rats mostly— who were chewing on the wiring and insulation of my car, necessitating expensive repairs, and animating the hungry ghosts of my financial fears. At the behest of friends, who found my accounts most amusing, I set down highlights in a blog post, “Meesh’s Meeses.” As the tales have continued, an update was requested.
In that last chapter, I had tried all combinations of tricks I could afford in order to discourage the creatures from their persistent mischief. And among all the substances and applications I tried, the most successful, and also the cheapest, trick was to leave the hood up, which made the engine compartment a far less warm and private place to hole up in (pun intended).
At the time, this gnawing away at my equanimity by creatures smaller and, seemingly, far less sophisticated than myself was paralleled with my simultaneous battle to evict another opportunistic creature, Candida, whose residence in my gut and other tissues had been eating away at my well-being for years. So, while I was inclined to view my rodent issue as anything but accidental, I was still quite flummoxed as to how to resolve the matter.
Nothing was truly successful, nothing fool proof, until this lucky fool became able to park her van inside the garage; it was thus that I left the gnawing problem of pack-rats outside and received uneasy respite. While I could still hear rodents in the attic of the house through the cold winter, I could not begrudge them a warm haven, and any damage they were doing was not threatening to wipe out my precarious and tenuous pretense of security.
Then, in January, I made a trip to Arizona, to scatter my share of my father’s ashes. It was a very good visit, revealing to me how, still, after all these years of change and adaptation, Arizona felt like the homeland, far more than New Mexico ever has. After a beatific 24 hours at my father’s resting place— in which I danced with silence, sound, past, present, sun, moon, and a half dozen big horn sheep— I descended into Phoenix for reunions with old friends. In these environs, if I encountered rodents, it was only an occasional bunny, always fleeing appropriately.
Until, that is, an otherworldly encounter in far west central Arizona. I had rendezvoused with my friend Jay in Quartzsite, where vast RV cities spring up in winter on what is a mercilessly hot and barren wasteland in summer. On the outskirts of one of these parks, we were in a zone called the Magic Circle, where public nudity was allowed, and aging snowbirds lounged in deck chairs against their rigs, caressing their chihuahuas and sunning their distended bellies to a golden brown. Here, I had no night intruders. (The locals might have been repellent enough.)
Knowing this nature girl loved to be away from the ticky-tacky and psychic clutter of humanity, Jay was excited to take me to a campsite he’d discovered out in the hills. It was rather remote, and after many hills and turns we pulled up to an isolated campsite in the shadow of a looming, globular, rock-formation the color of dried blood. Normally I love red rock. But even en route to this place, before I knew anything about it, I had become increasingly agitated, with pain and irritation mounting in my body and psyche. I thought that perhaps this was a need to eat.
So as we pulled in and got out of our vehicles, Jay approached, almost proudly, avid to hear what I thought of this cool hideaway. But I was supremely out of sorts, addled, and feeling quite contrary. All I could say was that I didn’t like being in the shadow of the boulder, because the sun would set so early, and that I needed to eat before anything else. But as I stood there, I was unable to ignore a sense of anger that seemed to be throbbing from the rock formation. I stood tuning in, trying to get quiet enough to hear more clearly.
I told Jay that there seemed to be an angry entity in that rock, and I went into silent negotiation with it, reporting to Jay afterward that I’d asked if we could be here, and it seemed to begrudgingly tolerate my request; it seemed contemptuous of people more generally, because most he knew of raced ATVs in donuts around a nearby, smaller, brighter-red boulder in his shadow, resting in the sandy clearing between the flat of our camp and this larger, more masculine and curmudgeonly monolith. Having acknowledged and addressed this rancorous spirit, I set about tending to blood sugar. And, afterwards, I had a much sweeter communion with the feminine spirit in the smaller boulder, encircled by loud rings of tire-tracks. After that interaction, I relaxed some and decided it would be okay to stay the night.
It was a Sunday, and Jay and I watched Downton Abbey in his rig. Then I retired to my van. Around 2 a.m., I was awakened by the tell-tale sounds and rhythms of chewing rodents in the engine and undercarriage of my vehicle. It was actually a challenge to hear where they were and how many. And the more attention I gave them, the more manic they became— and the more manic I became. After well over an hour of this (maybe two), and after I had gotten out once or twice and thumped the car, it sounded, as I lay in bed, like they were inside the car with me now, chewing trash on the floor boards.
I somehow knew I was being tested. And my psyche was being messed with, so that all my tools for detachment, equanimity or surrender were inaccessible or impotent. I felt under siege, not unlike a quiet place accosted by a careening caravan of dune-buggies.
Eventually, after getting up a couple of times, starting the car, honking the horn, turning on the lights and stereo and driving around, all to repel or dislodge the critters, I parked, knocked on Jay’s door, reported my distress, apologized for the noise and then returned to my lonely battle. Repeatedly, I tried simply lying down and surrendering. I could do nothing but watch my mind try to control, fail to cope, fail to let go, and become more knotted. I screamed with rage and desperation, at the rodents, knowing I was screaming at something else. In a last hurrah, I turned on Stuart Davis music full blast and drove donuts around poor mama boulder.
When I came to a stop and returned to bed, it did not take them long to resume. I was pickling in an intensity of fury quite unnatural to me. I curled up and prayed to every angel and aspect of the Divine Self I could enlist to bring the healing of my mind that would bring peace: Peace within my warring self, peace to the Being harassing me, and peace to the rodents. After hours of this, I was eventually able to give up and sleep fitfully, noticing that as I did, the rodents’ activity gradually tapered off, until, at dawn, all was quiet, except the echoes of unrest in my psyche and the effects of no-rest on my body. I rolled over and slept hard for a couple of hours before rising, like a ghost from a train wreck, and hoping, for Jay’s sake, that he did not come too close; I could have ripped anyone a new asshole.
He approached cautiously, understanding that I needed space and that we would not stay long beyond breakfast. My body was racked, and after an attempt to ground with food, I went for a throttling walk up a ridge to alter body chemistry and attitude with endorphins; this to little effect. It was the sort of scrabbling climb to the top I would have loved in another time, but today, I was suffering what felt like the oppressions of years of the Dark Night concentrated into one morning, and no elevation gain could lift me out of it. Something in me knew this was purposeful, there was a fierce Grace around me; but plenty of voices in my field were objecting, shrill and indignant; I could not breathe easily, and I didn’t really want to be in my body.
We packed up and drove away, and within a few miles, my nervous system began to relax and discharge, and a vice was removed from my psyche. (The episode now reminds me of Casteneda’s account of being harassed by The Ally in A Separate Reality.) We got to where there was cell reception, and I called a psychic peer of mine. After an hour of remote reading and healing work, she was able to restore some sense to my field. And we agreed that the experience was a perfect storm that ultimately catalyzed the necessary release of some very deep, old psychic material. But it was intense enough to jam my circuits like I’d not have been able to survive even months before.
Jay was remarkably understanding and flexible through this. We returned to our spot in the Magic Circle, and as I normalized, we resumed a lovely visit. For my remaining two or three nights there, rodents were active in my car each night, and I would hear them, and then soften, let go and return to sleep.
Upon returning to my house-sit in near Santa Fe, I continued parking my car in the garage, and all was peaceful until, some time in March, when the thaw was still a dream and the scent of Spring was apparently detectable only to noses far more attuned than mine, I became aware that someone was chewing nightly upon the dense black plastic mouse-proofing brush installed along the bottom of the garage-door. They had not bothered this material before. It began only after I returned and began sleeping in my vehicle inside the garage.
It was hard for my mind not to make this personal: The Great Rat Spirit had it in for me, or the Universe, through these messenger mice, was trying to tell me something, a message which I seemed unable or unwilling to comprehend.
Though it seemed to be only a single agent at a time, the barrage intensified. Nearly each day, whether I had slept in the garage or not, and even whether or not I had been in the house, there would be a new deposit of brush bristles on the ground, as if someone had received a hair cut. And at night I would wake to the banging and rattling of the garage door under diligent drilling.
Soon there was a passable hole in the brush barricade, and mouse turd trails began to litter the garage floor. I was pretty sure these were only mice, not the wood-rats who had chewed my car vitals; but because I wasn’t empirically certain, I couldn’t relax entirely. And I had to face my ambivalences: about finances, about the prospect of lethal deterrents like poison or traps, and the core ambivalence about life and my own worth, a human’s right and will to demand comfort or primacy in a territory when in competition with another creature, whose species might have been here first. Kinda deep stuff. What makes one creature more deserving of life than another?
I was starting to consider Have-a-Heart traps, if only to identify of the garage invader.
Meanwhile, the weather was warming, and so I was taking cushions out on the porch seats during the day, and, having learned lessons the previous year, bringing them in at night to keep them intact. Although it wasn’t nesting season, why risk losing half a cushion to a pack-rat looking to redecorate for spring?
The spring has been quite unsettled, with weather that makes any creature burrow for shelter. So it didn’t surprise me when I would tune in —or have other psychic friends tune in— and be shown that the critters just wanted to be inside to make babies. To discourage the mice from widening the gaps under the door, I had taken to blocking the central area they targeted with rocks both inside and out, pouring urine and peppermint oil along the area, laying a length of one-by-two wood against the hole, and blocking the area with a large vertical floor tile braced with rock or two.
I rather assumed they would just chew through another place in the expanse of brush. But for a while they much preferred their first portal, thank-you-very-much, and just moved the rocks.
I repeat, they moved the rocks! (And the wood, of course.)
But I’m glad. Because it was one of those nights I was sleeping in the van, and I heard my fortifications being jostled and budged. Eventually, I got up, opened the hatch of the van, turned on my lantern and got still. In due time, my little mystery stirred: Just a shadow of a dumpling, darting here and there in the corner, startled by the movement of her own shadow. I shined my light her way and took in her form. A tiny one, which would fit spaciously within my palm and be welcome there. I saw this creature, this minute package of concentrated life-force and—yes—cuteness; this little embodiment of survival instinct, persistence and what, in mouse terms, was “super-human” strength; this one-pointed missionary for perpetuation of her species.
I was humbled and not a little awed. My heart softened; polarization and vexation gave way to admiration. This was a moment prayed for—not the solution to all problems, but a change of mind that made the way for renegotiation of all.
I continued to block the central passage, and she decided to try a different place in the brush for her hole, this one hidden away at the end of the door, harder to block. Gotta love my MENSA mouse. Meanwhile, the rains came, and I knew I would not stop her, and that was okay.
However, back on the porch, in the space of 48 hours, I had forgotten twice to bring in the cushions placed out on clear afternoon and neglected overnight. The first night I got away with it. The second night, the nest-decorators pounced and took their due. The rains also brought mud. And one morning I left my mud-caked hiking shoes on the porch to dry. The rain resumed, I forgot them, and by morning, one was well-along in its process of becoming a sandal. Old Mother Hubbard got air-conditioning.
And then last week, a most poignant moment:
I arrived back from an overnight in Albuquerque. I opened the garage door—scanning, as I always do, for the furtive scurrying of a dust-bunny-size missile at the back wall. I noticed that one of the screens leaned against the side wall had fallen to the floor. And as I stepped in to right it, I saw a little mouse trapped underneath.—Ha! A better mousetrap! Didn’t even bait it! —And it was with curiosity and faint mixed feelings that I approached the scene and the poor hapless creature, who, after all my forbearance, had brought her own fate down upon her. But as I stepped close, she started awake; eyes opened. Imagine her fright: Trapped in the path of an approaching giant.
I tried to slide the screen, and her with it, toward the door, but, naturally, I didn’t want to cause her more suffering, so I tilted the screen up, and she tried to bolt, very impaired, either by stiffness or internal injury or disorientation. I was able to block her way with my shoe and she returned to the relative safety of her abuser: She climbed the screen I was using to corral her toward the door. So I carried her upon her dubious magic carpet out to a site away from the house. Poor creature was convulsing, either with fright or injury, but determined still to cling to screen and survival. What a teacher she was for me! I had a devil of a time cajoling her to reach for the friendlier surface of a fallen tree or the desert floor.
Once she relented against gravity enough to find the ground, I watched her for some moments, to glean what I could of her condition, of her chances. I also let go of analysis, to give her the healing of good will and admiration: One life cheering for another, having done all I could to help. Yes, I had left her outside, where a predator might find her, but these were the rules. And I figured that she would find cover, and if she was viable, would recover and find food and water out here. My conscience was clear; my heart glad and piqued with that ineffable longing, joy and purposefulness these encounters evoke.
The past two nights, the wind has buffeted the garage door so loudly that I cannot be sure; but I think the work on the door has gone no further.
There is still the matter of the pack-rats, who not only claim and scar any textile left out for them, but who also place a “mine-field” of cholla cactus thorns, twigs and debris outside any door a human might emerge from. I am anthropomorhphizing, of course. I don’t actually know why they do this; but, since the more I sweep, the more deposits are made, it is, again, hard not to suspect there is an impish, but serious, guerrilla war for territorial supremacy here. Cholla thorns are vicious.
And I can only imagine that when I park my car outside, they will resume their insulation harvest soon enough. And like an elephant, addled by a tiny mouse, I marvel at the sense of confounding impotency I feel in my inability to negotiate with these creatures, when all I want is to co-exist in harmony. It’s all I think I want, but there must be a part of me still bent as they are on survival, and equating their mischief with a threat to it.
“To defend is to be attacked” says A Course in Miracles. And I know it to be true. No “other” can be a threat unless one’s own mind deems himself powerless. And somehow, my own mind is in the way of my harnessing the unapologetic power these creatures tap in their will to do what they do and live.
In Casteneda, the giant “Guardian” was a gnat. Imagine, my teacher in reclaiming the roar of my lion, is the mouth of a mouse.