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Peering down at odd bluish chunks in the graveled driveway, I say to the real estate agent, “That’s soap! Why is Irish Spring bar soap trash out here?”
“Oh, that wards off packrats,” she replies. “They can be annoying – everyone has them out here, but they can be controlled; they hate Irish Spring.” (Later we learned otherwise, when a neighbor snorted and told us they love to line their nests with it.) Seeking to distract us, she gestured over to some admirable cactus groupings, popular xeriscaping. Not much water out here, and one makes do with Mother Nature. Best to use what the desert offers to enhance your property. The owners here had done a splendid job. “The saguaro cactus, whose bloom is the Arizona state blossom, is a dramatic icon out here,” she said. “See how many this property has?”

But I was too dismayed, appalled, viewing the blue bits with alarm, to be so easily diverted, as impressive as the monumental cacti were. We were besotted with the property – wonderful view of the city spread out in the distance – and intended to make an offer. But what were we getting into? Packrats so rife you needed to sow soap in the driveway? Good grief.
Images from childhood flickered through my mind. I again hear my Dad bellowing about finding acorn bits on his dresser right there where his money clip had been. The critters steal and swap. One imagines a little wee conscience plying payments for thievery. I envisioned vermin scurrying with bright shiny things in their paws and teeth, stuff they’ve stolen and are hauling back to their nests. Keys, buttons, bits of foil from gum packets – a diamond ring? – like magpies, any shiny thing that hits their fancy – leaving maybe a discarded nut as payment. Strange varmint. In my childhood home, rustlings in the walls and on rooftops turned out to be, yes, packrats.

I didn’t wish to have any on my beat. And I knew they were already there, as witness the messy display of Irish Spring.  We bought the house and called in Mr. Pack Rat, ecologically kind capturer and releaser of the furry, furtive, little beasties.


He educated us: Prevention is kinder, cheaper and more effective than extermination. He pointed out bits of trash collected in one little area around a prickly pear. “That’s a sign to look for,” he said. “They nest in cactus root systems, making walls of thorny spines for protection. Pretty smart, these guys.” We nodded, glassy-eyed. “And you must clean up piles of brush debris around your acreage. They love those for nesting.”


He rid us of all nests he could find, and we carefully did what he recommended. Then found more. The previous owners were a combo couple of artist and professor, minds adrift on other than packrats. Would you believe the rascals took over an outside barbecue grill?  And in the nighttime we heard scuffling sounds over our heads. Maybe bobcat? More likely pack rat.

What to do? Prevention is best. But forget the Irish Spring.


13 Responses to THE PACK RAT

  • Cute!

  • Yeah, one always learns new things living with nature …

  • Hi Michelee!
    Always love your posts. You’re on a roll. Keep ‘em coming! Fun to read about life in the desert when we recently dealt with 3 Nor’easters dumping several feet of snow. More is predicted next week. On verra!

  • Well, I need to know what happened next!?

  • Buyer beware. Thank you, Michael Lee for this excellent story. As you know we have recently moved to Tucson. Our real estate broker, the same one that you used, NEVER, EVER uttered a word to us about pack rats or things that we should know about living with and in nature in a desert environment. Keep these knowledge packed, wonderful stories going.

  • Buyer beware. Michaelee, as you know we have recently moved to Tucson. And we used the same broker as you. But NEVER EVER did that same broker utter the word “pack rat” to us. So thumbs up for you
    for this wonderful story. Please please, keep the stories coming about adventures with wildlife in the desert environment in urban America in Century 21..

    • Dear Rachel,
      I’m glad you bought into the scene, even tho packrats!
      You do understand don’t you that the Irish Spring soap chunks were what brought up the subject? If we hadn’t seen them we’d never have been enlightened. Hardly data for a sales pitch. Desert life is what it is, a constant trip of discovery.
      We look forward to your return.😍

  • Ah well. Now Rachel, I think the packrat is so ubiquitous a creature and so much a part of the fabric of the region’s life, it’s no surprise your agent failed to mention it. The only reason the subject came up with me was the curious presence of the Irish Spring. Some things in a new environment one must discover on one’s own. Like snakes, cockroaches, spiders… just part of life. Always smart to keep the eyes open for clues, such as the many whimsical mouse cars of Truly Nolan’s pest control service scooting along Tucson’s avenues.
    See you soon!

  • I run into these guys often. And hear of them eating electric wires that are insulated with something made of vegetable fiber, such as are found in engines and home lighting. I nearly always set a solar or timed light wherever these occur, or where I think a rodent could squeeze into. They shun the light.
    I am sorry to miss you this year, do you have snake fences up, too, or do your owls take care of them?

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