I wasn’t happy about clearing out the packrat den that had collected in my outdoor shed over the summer. That animal had first started stacking sticks and juniper berries and cat poop and bits of plastic from my deteriorating buckets in the wheelbarrow parked in the shed. My fifty-foot garden hose sitting next to the wheelbarrow had several holes where the packrat had chewed clear through it, forcing me to buy a replacement hose. Even that didn’t make me unhappy. I was glad it had found shelter over the summer from the rain and my cat and snakes.
But the packrat knew the wheelbarrow would not be warm for winter, so it started building just below on the ground. By the time I dismantled the pile, the industrious little builder had excavated much of the dirt floor where I had no brick pavers and was digging into the earth walls of the shed. I shoveled the dirt and stones out and removed the usual juniper sticks, cactus pieces, cactus spines, stones, scaly juniper leaves and berries. But then I reached the sanctum sanctorum. A perfect ball of fluff made from a piece of jeans insulation, interwoven with black cat hairs. The hole hollowed out of the center provided a soft and warm place for the architect to sleep.
Earlier this summer, I had cast that scrap insulation outside under a tree, confident a packrat would find it. And it did. It also found food bits from my nightly toss of leftovers—eggshells, mango pits, avocado seeds. Also a heavy rubber glove I wore when I mixed lime plaster, and some lighter rubber gloves for mudwork on my outdoor mud walls.
I cleaned everything the packrat built on the floor, scattering on my land the sticks and dirt with hundreds of packrat poops.
I left the den in the wheelbarrow and put the fluffy nest on top of the pile, just in case the packrat wanted to reuse it. Then I wheeled it under my shed roof, safe from rain and snow, but not the cold.
Sad and feeling guilty, I checked the shed the next morning. I imagined the packrat surveyed the disappearance of its cozy den and shed a tear. And thought about the approaching bitter weather, and the necessity to get busy and build a safe wintering place. It left a piece of cat poop, a long freshly nipped stem from a rabbitbrush, and a cactus section. Then it wiped its eyes and went in search of a new homesite.
I hope it finds and reuses the sanctum sanctorum, that sacred center place of peace, warmth, and renewal. It deserves that. And a lot more.