Our weekend (or, The Pack Rat Adventure)

About ten years ago, my mom and stepdad bought a shack on two amazing acres of wooded, bouldered mountainside, with a intermittent creek running between the house and their own small meadow, in the mountain village of Crown King, a former silver mining town, accessible only by an hour+ drive over switchback-filled dirt road.

They bought it for the property itself, fully intending on rebuilding, because the “house” was, truly, a shack — literally covered in tar paper, falling apart at the seams.  It was built, so my understanding is, as a bunkhouse for itinerant cowboys, in the 1930s, but don’t quote me on that.  Its only redeeming feature was a huge native stone fireplace, and the lot itself.

They started remodeling it about seven years ago…  Zoning and regulations and inspections were a BEAR to deal with, so in order to keep it as a “remodel” and not a total rebuild, they had to retain one wall of the original structure.  So, they did.  The wall they kept was about 15 feet wide and 7.5 feet high, and they totally encased it in new material.  They also kept the fireplace and the concrete slab of the original structure.  They entirely altered the home, turning it from about a 700 s.f. structure into a 1600 s.f. house.  It’s primarily constructed from SIPS panels, and was designed by my dear husband.

What they didn’t foresee, though, that it would be seven years later, and they’re still not entirely done.  A big part of the problem is that it’s hard to find skilled, reliable workmen, either locally, or willing to make the trek up the mountain from Phoenix or Prescott.  Neither do they have any construction skills or knowledge themselves, and they are both pretty limited, physically.  Add to that is the fact that their first construction foreman misspent much of their money, and had such a poor reputation in town that many people would not work for him.  He was a friend of my parents’;  they had no idea how shallow ran his character.  Once that hard lesson was learned, and that relationship, unfortunately, totally abandoned, construction proceeded much more quickly, but “quickly” is a relative term.  My brother-in-law, Adam, took over much of the construction, and though he did great work for a while, he moved to Colorado a couple of years ago…  Now, my mom & stepdad have a local guy overseeing the construction, and he’s the best resource they’ve yet had, both in terms of trustworthiness, skill, and knowing the locals.

The house, finally, is habitable, with a toilet that flushes, and a kitchen with working appliances.  Some of the interior finishes aren’t done, like door trim and floor covering, and there is no proper furniture in it, save a dining room table.  But it’s now a HOUSE.

After I threw my back out horribly, and we had to cancel our camping plans, we decided to take my parents up on their offer of spending the weekend at the cabin.

I wish I had pics.  This was the first vacation of any sort that we’ve ever taken where I don’t have pictures.  My camera is still with my dad (who is attempting to fix it), and the battery ran out on my phone (and I don’t have a car charger, and didn’t bring my wall charger).  Bummer.

Each of the three mornings we spent on their lovely, huge deck in the cool air, sipping coffee, listening to the birds chirp, Sibley guide and binoculars nearby, and being slow about making breakfast.

Nighttimes, we spent ’round the table, playing cards and watching the pack rats poke their heads out of holes in the fireplace.

My mom was MORTIFIED.  She’s not the sort to be mortified.  A good 99% of the time, she doesn’t really give a rip what other people think — which can be good and bad.  She’s very independent in action and thought.  But, when the pack rats showed up…  well, there’s nothing like a 12+” rodent to make your heart drop into your stomach, especially when everyone is sleeping on air mattresses on the floor, even if that rodent isn’t as evil-looking as a normal rat.

During the remodel, beams that supported the roof of the original structure of the house were removed.  Two of them had rested in the rock and mortar of the fireplace, and upon their removal, left two gaping holes which, apparently, pack rats found.  We think they had worked their way up from a small root cellar, displacing small rocks, and chewing through insulation and the expanding foam sealant that had been put in the gaps between the wood floor and the fireplace.

The second day we were there, after my husband and stepdad, Joe, sealed the gap that had previously been filled with foam with decidedly less-chewy Quikrete, Martin said to Ethan, our 12yo, “Go choose five smooth stones.”  Ethan has an old-fashioned sling shot that he was zinging about, exerting his dominance over every tree and boulder within a hundred yards’ radius of the cabin.  Martin decided it was time to put Ethan’s skills to use.  Upon Ethan’s confusion, Martin elaborated, “You’re going to kill a giant named Goliath.  A giant pack rat.”  Ethan’s eyes brightened in excitement and disbelief.

That night, Martin, Ethan, and I were playing Dutch Blitz after everyone else had gone to bed.  Sure enough, Goliath peeked out.

Right about the time that Goliath made his presence known, Fiala woke up, and I went to comfort her.  While I was out of the room, I heard a, “Tink! rattle, rattle,” followed by the ill-suppressed laughter of Martin and Ethan.  When I made my way out after Fiala was calm, Ethan looked to be in shock, and Martin was belly laughing while imitating a convulsing rat.

Turns out, Ethan nailed him.  On the forehead.  On the first shot.  Like David to Goliath.

The rat fell from its perch to a different rock ledge, about 6″ lower, convulsed uncontrollably for about five seconds, then disappeared back into the hole, never to be seen again.  We hope he’s not rotting in the recesses of the fireplace or elsewhere in the cabin.

Word spreads fast in a tiny town, and several people at the general store had suggestions about how best to trap/kill a rat, and a neighbor dropped by with a massive trap, which he kindly set up.  This turned out to be the same neighbor that, earlier in the day, bought Audrey a new lollipop, after the one she triumphantly showed to him flew out of her hand and splintered into a million pieces on the floor.  So, kindness runs deep in his heart, apparently!  Bless God for good neighbors.

Unfortunately, Goliath’s little brother reappeared the next night, in spite of everyone’s efforts… so Martin and Joe spent Labor Day morning filling the holes with sawed-off beams (to be the base of a tall mantel), and mortared some more stone into the remaining gaps.

In spite of the Rat Adventure, which I would rather not have weathered, except for the laughter, and to hear Ethan’s swollen chested proclamations of, “Rodents, beware!” we had a fabulous time.  I said once (and thought numerous times), “This is how kids should be raised:  spending the day climbing boulders, whittling sticks into swords, walking ¼ mile to the store to buy 15¢ lollipops with no fear for their safety…”  ~sigh~  I think I could totally live in that cabin, and be very content.

For now, though, I’m happy that it’s done enough to stay overnight in;  I can’t wait until we get another chance to go back.

I just hope there are no more rats.


About Karen Joy

I'm a partially-homeschooling mother of six -- 3 boys ages 19, 17 and 15 years old, and three girls: 11, 8, and 3. I like birding, reading, writing, organic gardening, singing, playing guitar, hiking, the outdoors, and books. I very casually lead a very large group of homeschooling families in the Phoenix area. I have a dear hubby who designs homes for a local home builder and who is the worship pastor of our church. I live in the desert, which I used to hate, but now appreciate.

Posted on September 9, 2009, in Arizona, Babies, birding, Family, Funny Stuff, Furniture, Loving Nature!, Motherhood, Summer Plans, The Dear Hubby, The Kids, Travelling. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. I can relate to this…only our family cabin (recently upgraded from shack…but still no running water or electricity) in Canada…the only one on a lake in Canada…on the island of that lake…an old trappers cabin. Not appropriate spot for family vacation with little ones. I long for the day we can all go up there again! Such peace, such beauty, such ….everything life is not right now! Glad you had a chance to enjoy some time away…and the memories you have made will last a lifetime!

  2. Karen, you make it sound so inviting. I have lived in the valley forty 40 years and have been to a lot of places in AZ but never Crown King. By the way found this home schooling link, thought you might find it interesting if you have not already seen it. It’s a bulletin board format. http://www.rr-bb.com/forumdisplay.php?f=58

    • I’ve never seen that forum, Jane! I don’t visit homeschooling forums very frequently, but my favorite is the one specific to the curriculum I use… http://www.sonlight-forums.com

      Crown King is a lot of fun if a) you like the woods or b) you have a quad you like to take off-road. We’re in the (a) category. The (b)’ers drive me nuts. 🙂 There’s also a lovely little lake about 25 minutes outside of Crown King, called Horsethief Basin.

  3. glutenfree4goofs

    Poor convulsing Goliath. I do hope he made it outside the house to kick the can! Love your re-telling of events. Sounds like such a nice time.

    I can’t stand the b) type either they shatter the quiet of the woods and blaze new trails in places they don’t belong. Rrrr! I ran into some on horseback the other day and I was bummed because we had no wildlife sightings that day. Wonder why!?

  4. Hi Karen what was interesting about that link is that it is a Christian based bulletin board with very strict guidelines. While reading it found siginificant leagal help for home school family if ever challenged by a local school board. Also some one was asking for help with algebra and I saw how fast the others jumped in to help her find a resouce. Anyway, it’s a good tool to keep in your back pocket if you were to need to ask an internation group of expert homeschoolers something and get a real fast answer.

  5. One year while in Canada…we ran into loggers! Ouch! What damage and mess and disturbing of the peace they are capable of!

  6. So glad you had a sweet time Karen – and I am happy to hear this may be a getaway for your family in the coming years. Woo hoo! Did you see any interesting birds? Bruce got a photo of a Lincoln’s sparrow on our water fountain yesterday! How cool is that? Love you tons. (I’m going to have to try the Dutch game – any suggestions on where to purchase it?) (And lastly – I can’t WAIT to see you at bookclub – did you enjoy the book – I thought it was awesome!)

    • I saw a Black Phoebe, a pair of Western Tanagers, and a whole bunch of White-Breasted Nuthatches. Then, there were a couple of birds that I didn’t get a good enough look to ID for absolute certain, but I’m almost certain I saw a Magnificent Hummingbird and a Williamson’s Sapsucker, both females. Any bird is cool, but I’d already seen the first three elsewhere, so it would have been extra-special to add those last two to the list. I’m more certain about the hummingbird than the sapsucker, but I don’t add them to my list unless I’m at least 95-98% certain.

      We got Dutch Blitz through http://www.cbd.com. It’s been a fave for a good five years now… It’s for 2-4 people, best with 3-4. 🙂

      I… umm… haven’t read the book. I would protest that I have “too much going on” but the fact is I put it on hold at the library, then didn’t pick it up, and it got checked out to someone else, and I haven’t bought it, either… May I borrow your copy??

      • Karen, you can certainly borrow my copy but the bookclub is this Saturday! I will be at Ben and Jenny’s kinship tomorrow night (Tuesday) which is at Hammel’s – can you pick it up there? It is a fast read. Let me know. Kathy

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