Rat Palace (Book exerpt)

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERARat Palace

From a journey to the western plains:

March 22, 2011
Christmas Canyon Well
West of the Monticello Box Canyon

My field journal is specifically for recording field notes, not poetry, but I made an exception as it is a bit of a hike from this well back to the truck and the thought was too precious to lose. I took the liberty of recording a poem and it will remain there for others to reflect on, a twinkle of humor amongst field notes and measurements.

Perhaps one must have an intimate relationship with the pack rats to really appreciate their efforts; I have lived with them for years and have come to admire them. In fact, I have too often shared my home with them from as far back as my children’s childhood when we lived in the old homestead cabin at the Hammett Ranch. Ronnie kept a pistol loaded with bullets full of bb shot and we would lie in bed at night and wait for the telltale scurry to alert us of their presence. When he heard a rat he would shine his flashlight in that direction and then shoot it!

Pack rats, or trade rats as they are also known, are true to their name as they are not only avid collectors but will also leave things in exchange for whatever they take with them, a rock or a stick, whatever is handy, even a flower or a piece of cedar branch. So too they roof their dens by adding something from every trip and in the process amass huge piles of debris which leads to ornate dwellings built at the foot of trees or cactus, sometimes in some truly wonderful locations!

Christmas Canyon is to the west of the Monticello Box Canyon and overlooks the sweep of the San Mateo Mountains whose ridges run north and south to the eastern boundaries of the canyon. Looking to the south one can see clear to the border of Mexico, many miles away. Standing there on the crest beside a lone cedar tree whose base was wreathed with such a collection,I wrote in my journal:

Rat Palace

“A home with a view,” he said to her. He commenced to build a rat palace at the foot of a dead cedar tree overlooking the San Mateo Mountains from the crest of Christmas Canyon.

What that I could find a man with such vision and ambition!

Two days later I paid a visit to some friends:

March24, 2011
Wahoo Ranch Headquarters
Dusty, New Mexico

When I am working in Dusty I am always invited to stay at the Wahoo Ranch Bunkhouse and I make a point of doing so. While I am there I try to stop in and thank Donna and Cecil Muncy for their hospitality for they are cordial hosts. Besides, it is a genuine pleasure to see them; I have a tremendous amount of admiration for these two people and so enjoy their company. They are both my age but having been born into a life on the Plains they have chanced to live my dream in ways I have not. Where I step in and out of their world it is for them a constant as they manage the ranch and cattle here upon the Plain. Unlike some of the people here they hold no grudge against the life they live; they made the choice to remain here for the last twenty five years. Theirs is a rare love as well, enviable in comparison to anything I have ever experienced in my own for these two people treasure each other’s company immeasurably. Their adoration for each other is evident in everything they do and it makes their house a home.

I stopped in for coffee and could not resist sharing my poem from Christmas Canyon with them, though I begged them not to misunderstand my sense of humor as it so reminded me of them. The simile is clear as it compares so closely to their teamwork and the effort they are making to construct their own home for the inevitable time they will need their own place. They are but caretakers here and in the end only hired hands living in limbo as the ranch has sold and will soon change ownership. (They have since moved!) I then read them my Rat Palace poem from the day before and Cecil grinned and announced, “She has lived there!” as they laughed together. Before I drove off I penned a song for them…………….

For Cecil & Donna Muncy

The Rat Palace

Build me a rat palace
Up amongst the trees
Way up in the canyon
Just for you and me
Oh what a view we’ll have
Of miles all around
Our beautiful rat palace
A home for you and me

I read a poem
To him and her
As it turned into a song
He grinned and said
We’ve lived there yes
At times for far too long
She’s seen that life
Oh yes she has
And borne it just as well
We’ve had a happy life
You see
Even when it’s gone to hell

Oh, build me a rat palace
Up amongst the trees
Way up in the canyon
Just for you and me
Oh what a view we’ll have
Of miles all around
Our beautiful rat palace
A home for you and me

He told her:

We can listen to the wind
As it howls through the trees
Sit out on the porch
And feel the gentle breeze
Look out on the ravens
As they spin and dive
Think of all the joy we’ll have
Just to be alive
Sit here through the winter
And watch the snowflakes fall
Look out on the treetops
Without a care at all
We’ve both our own rat palace
As fine as it can be
We’ll live our lives within its walls
Alone, just you and me

Oh, I’ll build you a rat palace
Up amongst the trees
Way up in the canyon
Just for you and me
Oh what a view we’ll have
Of miles all around
Our beautiful rat palace
A home for you and me

I awakened to a scurry
I’ve company it seems
It sounded like a rat
Or was it just a dream
A vision of a canyon
With ramparts oh so high
The place that I have dreamed of
Where I’d live until I died
I’ll call it my rat palace
And share it if I must
With the furry warm wild creatures
Who are so industrious

Oh, build me a rat palace
Up amongst the trees
Way up in the canyon
Just for you and me
Oh what a view we’ll have
Of miles all around
Our beautiful rat palace
A home for you and me

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