Ordinarily, I talk about my garden on my craft blog, Knoontime Knitting. But I learned something this summer and it clarified itself yesterday. The boxes of our lives are created as we live them, and if we don’t question them – think out of the box, if you will – then we get stuck in them. We know that.
Sometimes we get stuck in them without even knowing it. We get blocked.
I’ll answer that question, but bear with me. There’s a story here.
In my studies to find tools that work for me in terms of creativity, writing, and trauma recovery, I’ve looked at various journaling methods. Journaling has long been a tool of psychologists and artists, and many times for the same goals. Tristine Rainer has done a lot of research on the subject of autobiographic writing and she mentions a Japanese treatment that involves a lot of journaling and “light manual labor” in a rural location with lots of greenery and fresh air.
Gardens, quite literally, are in the ground, unless of course you have a container garden and create the ground yourself. (I can see the precise among you saying, “But what about air gardens?” Chill, dude. I’m makin’ a point here.) The idea of light physical or manual labor appeals to me because it’s a way to put ourselves into our bodies, and for many of us who are writers, we have a tendency toward over-intellectualization. You can’t think a plant strong. You have to give it what it needs: dirt, water, fertilizer, food, light, and a good growing environment.
Hmm. Mayhap there’s a metaphor there?
Which brings me to my point about yesterday. My coauthor, Rachel Wilder, and I are together for our autumnal retreat. We met with our Founders Circle group at the end of September for a literal mountaintop retreat (I’m not kidding, the place was on the top of a mountain – awesome), and then we came home to Chicago to do a bunch of projects, both writing and homemaking. Yesterday, we put the garden to bed.
That’s where it gets complicated. What about the rats?
I’ve been gardening here for over fifteen years. Four years ago, the City of Chicago had an abnormally warm winter, followed by another warm one. Last year was a deep cold snap, but it didn’t kill off the rats. They’ve become a serious problem on the north side and the park district has signs all over the river park about not leaving trash out to attract the rats. Unfortunately, my raised bed garden, my little, tiny corner oasis of fifty square feet (ten feet by five feet, people, we’re not talking huge) is a rat Mecca. They love it.
Now, you might ask, Noony, what do you do about rats?
This is the short, and utterly useless, “How-To” section of this post:
- Call the city and tell them you have rats, so they’ll come out and bait the alley.
- The city will come out and bait the alley.
- The rats, apparently, laugh in the face of danger. And hide. In my raised bed.
- Call the city and tell them we have rats in the raised bed.
- They send a guy who is a professional rat assassin to come and assassinate my rats.
Tangential: have any of you seen The Rats of N.I.M.H.?
My rats aren’t like those rats. Jus’ sayin’.
Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes. 6.
- Last year, Year 3 of the Rat War, the dude the city sent came out in his customary bluish grey overalls. (By the way, romance novels that have pictures of sexy rat assassins on their covers, who woo passersby with their sultry charm, are LYING!) You know what his brilliant advice was?
“Whatcha gotta do is call your friends and have ’em come over. Give ’em each a shovel. Stand around the raised bed in a circle. You’ll have to have someone next door in that yard, since ya got a fence right there. Yup, have ’em climb right over the fence and stand there with a shovel.”
“What’s the shovel for?”
“Well, ya gotta getcherself some road flares. The kind you snap open and they spew out that flame stuff. Get a brick, and light the road flare. Stick the road flare down the rat hole and put a brick on it. When the rats come boiling outta the garden, you and your friends chop off their heads with the shovel.” Pause. “Oh, and watch out. ’Cause they bite.”
And that, my friends, is the wisdom of the city of Chicago’s rat assassin.
- Purchase your own rat poison and put it down the rat holes; put a brick on top of it and plug up all the rat holes. I looked it up; the poison won’t affect the plants that you’re growing – like, say, tomatoes that you want to eat.
On the other hand, you can’t compost dead rats, so I’m not sure what they have to say about dead, poisoned rat carcasses rotting in one’s garden, but I digress.
- Build a cage around your garden. I think this is what we’ll try next year, if we’re still living here in Chicago. I don’t have the skill to do this, but my husband does, so we’ll see.
- Buy rat repellant. Don’t laugh. No, really, it gets better. They apparently make the stuff using fox or ferret piss.
I’m imagining buying a bottle of yellow liquid on the internet and having it shipped. What if it breaks, leaks, or otherwise vents its precious cargo all over my poor package carrier? I’ll never get Amazon again.
Apparently, they pelletalize the stuff. You read that right: they turn it into pellets. (Wouldn’t THAT be a fun job? “Bobby, today your project is to figure out how to take this,” pats the jar, “and turn it into inert, odorless pellets that little old ladies can use in their gardens to repel pests.” “Uh, boss? That smells like piss.” “That’s because it is, Bobby. Isn’t chemistry fun? Oh, and I’ll need it before lunch, ’cause the boss is waiting on it. His wife has a garden problem.”
So we bought some.
I read the ingredients. Mint is high on the list. It’s apparently a rat repellant. The other stuff on the list is some organic foo-foo that doesn’t actually involve a canid’s pee. So I think my landlady either got confused, or tried something less noxious than milking a ferret.
So I planted mint. A lot of it.
Then there was the garden vandalism incident.
That’s right, folks, my garden was vandalized by the basement tenant. She flipped out and hacked off all my plants, then piled all the dead stuff on the few remaining live plants. Which killed almost all of the mint but one clump, which I’ll get to in a second. But the point is, I don’t know if mint repels rats.
It certainly doesn’t repel crazypants tenants, I know THAT for sure.
- Give up.
I’m not really there quite yet, but getting close. This year, my coworker and I went in on a community garden and I had 200 square feet (which felt like a wealth of land next to my meager raised bed) to play with. We had a bumper crop of tomatoes, and even some Romas and beefstakes (which, if you’ve been reading me awhile, you’ll remember I don’t have luck with here due to lack of enough sun, though my cherry toms do great). We also had rabbits.
Rabbits like lettuce, chard, kale, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, in case you were wondering.
They are, however, cuter than rats. And the repellants for them are much the same: predator pee.
Seriously? Who thinks this stuff up?
Next year, we’re going to plant herbs – lots of mint, since it supposedly repels rats and not neighbors; chamomile, lavender, marjoram, thyme, chives, cilantro, and a few other things I’ll think up between now and then. Also, we’ll plant flowers: some more lilies (because the crazy neighbor killed eight Lily of the Valley plants and all three of my big lilies that I don’t know the name of but I think are called star lilies), snapdragons, marigolds and calendula (which I read are actually two different plants), pansies, Johnnie-Jump-Ups, daffodils, and whatever else will grow in partial sun.
You know, a’la rat.
What about you, Dear Reader? Any rat tips?
And for those of you still with me, the point of all this is that the shrinks were right: gardening IS grounding, and it does help us get back on the page. I just blasted out this blog post, for example, and actually have some inklings on what to do next on the novel that’s stuck in the mud. (Maybe I’ll put some rats in the novel and then kill them off in various creative ways.) (Just not with shovels and road flares, KTHXBI.)
And if you’re still with me, some pictures: