We moved to a nice little house in suburban New Jersey that was near a brook. The brook attracted all sorts of wildlife, from deer and foxes to coyotes and (more than once) bears. I remember one fall looking out to see a chunky, long-tailed critter of some kind with three little babies trailing behind. She and her entourage were making her way up the hill toward our garage from the brook, clearly having had their fill of water and now seeking food or shelter. They walked around the side of the garage and disappeared, presumably into the nearby woods.
After looking online for a photo of these cute little critters, I decided they were voles. Since, according to my reading, voles like to burrow underground and eat plants, I figured we’d leave them be.
Winter came. The brook froze over, and every warm-blooded creature sought refuge from the cold. One day, I went to the garage to move the garden refuse cans in order to reach some boxed Christmas decorations, which were close to the back door of the garage. The first thing I noticed was that a portion of the wood frame around the garage door appeared to have deteriorated. It almost looked as if…it had been gnawed away. What, I wondered, could have done that?
I pushed the Christmas decorations into the center of the garage and then went to move the garbage cans back against the garage door. I figured we’d find out what was eating away at the door frame, but in the meantime, maybe I could block its access with the heavy plastic garbage cans.
I started to move one of the cans, and then I saw it. A hole had been gnawed into the garbage can I was reaching for. That was when the garbage can started to move by itself.
I screamed and let go of the can, which promptly fell over. Out ran four fat gray rats.
Clearly, the mama and babies I had seen in the fall were not voles. Lucky for me, I had the garage doors open, and the rats ran away.
My husband had to dump all of the Christmas decorations out in the garage and go through them thoroughly to make sure no other rodents were seeking shelter from the cold in our garage. We fixed the doorframe and replaced the garbage cans. And I kept a close eye on just what kind of faunae the creek attracted from then on.