Thursday, December 18, 2008

Winter Food Chain

The interpreter went for a walk in the forest as soon as he got to the park. He liked to be the first on the trails after a snowfall, before animal signs were trampled by visitors and their dogs. Even if he found nothing of note, it would be rewarding. The soft sounds and gentle shapes were soothing.

He came to an area of grand conifers--ramrod-straight western hemlock and Douglas fir. Ahead on the trail, in a patch where the snow was thin, a small creature sat hunched. The interpreter approached. “Rat,” he said. It was a black rat, as revealed by its long tail and small size. A foreign species, native to Europe, but found just about everywhere.

The rat did not run away. It didn’t move. It was having a hard time in the cold. The interpreter felt pity for the creature, despite its status as loathed vermin. He crouched down. “Hey,” he said. He felt in his pocket and found a little package that contained two Fig Newtons. He opened it and gave one to the rat. It started nibbling immediately. The interpreter stood and watched. It was a hungry little vermin.

From not far off-trail came the drumming of some kind of woodpecker. The interpreter picked his way through snow-covered sword ferns and leafless salmonberries, hoping to identify the bird. He went a hundred yards into the forest, following the sound, until whatever it was fell silent. He retraced his steps to the trail just as the rat was finishing its Fig Newton. It snuffled left and right hopefully and the interpreter gave it the remaining Newton. It resumed eating.

The interpreter felt a poke at his pant leg. He turned. A raccoon had followed him out of the forest and expected that it too would be fed. “I’m sorry,” said the interpreter.  He held out open hands. “I don’t have any more. I gave it all to him.” He pointed at the rat. The raccoon examined the interpreter’s empty hands, and then the rat. And then the raccoon jumped on the rat and rolled it violently on the ground like a tube of dough. The rat squealed and Newton crumbs dropped from its mouth, forming a line in the snow as the raccoon rolled it back and forth, squashing its organs.

“Hey!” yelled the interpreter.

The raccoon leaned down, grabbed rat’s head in its jaws and with a single strong tug ripped it off.

Hey, what are you doing!?” yelled the interpreter. “You can’t just...”

The raccoon growled, picked up the body in its mouth, and vanished into the undergrowth.

“Holy f...,” the interpreter was about to say.

A woman with a small fluffy-dog on a leash came around the corner.

The interpreter pushed the sad little head aside, off the trail, with his boot.

“Hello, What a gorgeous day!” said the woman.

“Hu-uh,” said the interpreter. 

7 comments:

Aunt Debbi/kurts mom said...

Yikes

PSYL said...

Imagine what would happen if you still have a Fig Newton left over...

Hugh said...

Aunt Deb: Yikes indeed. Thanks for picking it despite the carnage.

PSYL: I dunno. Peace? Maybe that's all it takes. More Newtons!

swamp4me said...

Heh, heh...it's a raccoon-eat-rat world out there.

cherb said...

ARgh! Is this real? How horrific! So much for sweet little forest critters! I guess racoons need to make a livin' too. :(

Northern Shade said...

I bet the raccoon was not expecting to get a pre-stuffed entrée.
Rats never really recovered from their Public Relations fiasco during the Black Death, and rarely get any sympathy. Anyways, this gives you something new to worry about. Instead of checking for signs of Hantavirus, you can be checking for plague symptoms.

lisa said...

The food chain breaks for no one. At least the raccoon didn't manage to bite or scratch you, they carry rabies quite often. At least the rat had a nice last meal.