Outwitted: Fernando

The other day I mentioned how technology is outwitting me at every turn these days. However, it is not the only aspect of life that is getting the best of me. No, I am also being undone by something small. Something unknown, sort of.

As part of Gunnison’s great rodent infestation of 2020, a creature has found its way back to my desk at work. This is no Farley, sleeping visibly in flower pots and scooping up sunflower seeds in the open where Lynn can catch her — this is Fernando, lurker in the dark. (I went with Fernando in hopes of avoiding Fernadette and a lot of little F’s.)

This is rather existential, so stay with me here: I do not know what Fernando is, only that he is. I discovered him, or his essence, the hard way: I left a muffin Lynn made for me on my desk one night, as I have done often over the years — but the next morning the baggie was chewed apart and all the nuts had vanished from the top of the muffin.

Over the next couple of days, calling cards were left in place: small rodent droppings where the muffin once reposed. And again in the space that recently held a stack of peanut butter crackers. Everywhere there was a whiff of food, there were small black pellets.

We have a customer who for the last two summers has ordered bandanas illustrating the scat of an assortment of wild animals, and I wonder, every time we print this, who on Earth buys such a thing. And yet, there Gilly, Kara and I were, poring over the print, trying to determine the difference between mouse and chipmunk leavings.

There have been no Fernando sightings, no flash of gray or brown. Just a chewed-on muffin and some scattered scat. He is out there, or in there, but we don’t know where. He also, so far, hasn’t been able to find his way into my desk, keeper of an assortment of snack foods that I ought to be moving before he gnaws his way in.

Although then I think I might find him; just open a desk drawer and find an overly fat creature passed out among the Reese’s Pieces.

When I first took over Pat’s and started storing food in a desk, it was a different location and a different desk, and the mice had no trouble finding their way in. I never saw them, but I did find food that had been chewed on.

Since we moved across the street, we’ve had few incursions, mostly chipmunks. Chipmunks seem to be more active — you get a flash of brown in the corner of your eye, or at least a sense of motion. I think we’ve had four in 17 years.

And one mouse, although we didn’t know we had a mouse — absolutely no indication of anything — until one was found, quite dead, in the toilet. (The same customer for whom we print animal-scat bandanas orders t-shirts that say, “Save a Marmot, Close the Lid” as basic outhouse advice.)

Now we have Fernando, whose behavior so far probably suggests mouse rather than chipmunk. But we don’t know.

I got out our live trap, and first had to take it down to the embroiderer a couple doors down, because I couldn’t figure out all the levers. Even after he showed me, I still couldn’t get all three of them to cooperate, so I just left one side down and focused on setting the trap at the other end.

The first day I baited it with a raspberry from home, since that was the embroiderer’s counsel. It worked: Fernando likes raspberries. And Fernando sprung the trap. But Fernando was not in the trap.

I checked, carefully, because in our quest to trap Sparky the chipmunk two summers ago, we forgot to put the trap locks in place. Without these wires locking down, all a rodent has to do is push against the end of the trap and away he goes. So my lock-wires were in place, the trap was sprung, the raspberry was gone — but no Fernando.

The first work chipmunk we trapped turned out to be too light for the live trap that we at the time borrowed from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (we have since purchased our own). I had a young woman working for me, a college student with the goal of becoming a zoo keeper. She sent the rest of us home one night and then waited in a darkened shop, away from the trap but with string in hand. Soon enough, the chipmunk (this was before we started naming them, I think) popped in, the string was pulled, the chipmunk caught, shortly thereafter released somewhere on the college campus.

I could see Fernando successfully extracting the raspberry without setting off the trap, but I’m not sure how both acts are being accomplished. There’s no good way for a rodent to break out — the holes seem way too tiny, and the locks hold the end plates in place.

I re-set the trap the next night, this time using half a peanut butter cracker as bait. Same result: snack gone, trap sprung. This happened about three nights running. My theory is that Fernando is getting in and out, and then springing the trap, perhaps bumping against it, from the outside. But I don’t really know.

Without pulling a college-student all-nighter, string in hand, or at the very least setting up an infrared camera, I can only theorize. And my college student, who did go on to zoo-keeping, is several states away.

Fernando has also, subsequently, rescued snacks from the trap without triggering it, so we’re probably back to a weight issue, although if he keeps eating half a cracker every night, he should soon be fat enough.

I did decide that I should not abet his stay at Pat’s, so I quit putting food in the trap. But with no Fernando sightings and no obvious leavings, there was no way to tell if he was still with us. I decided to try the trap again, to make sure he was still around.

I baited the trap once again with cracker, but decided to get more devious: I put it well behind the trip plate, so that Fernando would have to go completely across it. To keep the cracker in place, I set it on a piece of paper. The next morning the cracker was gone and there were droppings on the paper.

I tried again. This time I put cracker pieces on the plate, and on paper behind the plate. Fernando is no longer springing the trap, but all the food was gone, and droppings on the paper.

The other day I thought I’d get really smart. I put cracker bits on the trip plate, on paper behind the trip plate, and some under the trip plate, so that when Fernando went digging for those, he might spring the trap. It didn’t work. The food was gone, and so was the rodent.

I am now at my outwitted end, outsmarted at every turn by some rodent. If that isn’t humbling, I don’t know what is.

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