Several months ago, shortly after moving to a new office at work, I noticed a chipmunk in the foliage outside my window. It is, of course, a reflection of our modern urban society that seeing a chipmunk was a rare event for me, and a somewhat exciting one at that. I decided to try to make it a semi-pet, a mascot if you will. So at lunchtime, I stopped by the grocery store and looked for something a chipmunk would like. The nuts and seeds section seemed obvious, and I settled on Cornuts™. Arriving back at the office, I sprinkled them around the window and hoped the chipmunk would return and try what I hoped would be a delicacy for him.

No action that day, but within a day or two I noticed the cornuts were disappearing. I kept a sharp eye out, and shortly spied a rat who'd taken an interest. He'd dart out from the bushes into the little open area next to the building, sniff around, pick up the most scrumptious-looking nut, and scurry back into the bushes. Thirty to forty seconds later, he'd be back for more. Edward and I have debated whether he's storing them somewhere, or it just takes him that long to eat it.

Over the course of a week or two, we never did see the chipmunk again, and finally decided he'd either given up the ghost or departed for greener pastures (ingrate!), with the former seeming more likely. We were given some false hope one day. The second batch of cornuts I bought was a variety pack, so at one point I decided to see if there was a preference for any particular flavor. That night I put out one or two piles of each flavor (plain, chile limón, barbeque, ranch, and salsa). In the morning they were mostly all gone, but one pile apparently had been sampled repeatedly until a final downvote was given: in the place of the cornut pile was now a mound of thoroughly nibbled remains, quite as large as the original pile. No single cornut had remained untouched. We speculated that perhaps the rat had carried off all the others, while the chipmunk may have been working on that one. We'll never know the facts there.

But we had entered into an informal pact with our rat; we provided easy pickin's and he entertained us once or twice a day. Edward set up a camera and connected it to a computer which would record images when it detected movement, and over the course of a week we got quite a few shots of the rat, which provided amusement for our coworkers.

Then the rat was gone.

What happened to it? Who knows. Presumably it was eventually cut down in our urban jungle. Had we perhaps made life a little too easy for it, and made it careless? We could only hope not.

Eventually, though, another rat appeared and was provided for as had been the original. This one was a bit smaller, and it didn't take long before we saw that there were actually two of them. Mostly we only saw one at a time, but on occasion they would both come for the vittles together. On some of those times they even seemed to be cooperating: one would stand at the edge of the bushes and keep watch while the other made a dash for a mouthful (which by this time could be any of cornuts, peanuts, or sunflower seeds).

And then they were no more, also. One night at the office, a day or two after it seemed likely that we'd lost them too, I saw a cat walking around outside the window. Maybe no coincidence there. More time passed. One day, there was a large possum scouting the area, but apparently didn't like the lay of the land. Saturday night, I saw a raccoon, also a transient visitor. But Monday we had a rat again. I quickly threw out some sunflower seeds, then got some more peanuts at lunchtime. He's still with us.

But this evening, Edward and I were leaving the office and noticed a stream of water running through the parking lot. The upper balconies of the building were being washed down, and the water was coming out through a storm drain that runs under the walkway around the building. The mild weather of Santa Barbara means that those drains go months and months without feeling the touch of water, and it's not unusual for an efflux of pine needles, leaves, etc., to be ejected at the first rain. Such was the case tonight, but in addition, there were eight tiny baby rats a short distance from the mouth. They were about an inch and a half long, and apparently hadn't opened their eyes yet. There was still water exiting the drain, the current steady and not fast enough to carry them away, but more than they could stand up against. Two of them appeared to be trying to walk and one had gotten a few feet, though we thought it was dead; most of the rest were lying, some on top of another, and seemed to be breathing rapidly and with great effort, as their noses were not always clear of the water.

We studied them for a bit. Edward suggested that here was my opportunity to have the pet rats I've said I wanted, but this wasn't exactly the way I wanted to get them. But I did pick them up and set them up on the walkway. I thought that that didn't seem to suit them, as by the time I got the eighth one up there, some of the earliest transplants seemed dead. But Edward was sure they were just sleeping (and possibly resting after their endeavors in the water). We didn't know how long they could go without food, but he said we had nothing we could give them; that all they could handle would be milk delivered through a tiny nipple. But we hoped the mother was around somewhere and would take them back into her charge.

I don't know what I'm going to see on that sidewalk when I arrive at work in the morning...

The next day.... There was no sign of the rats this morning. Hopefully that's a good thing. In case you're interested there's a picture of them at

Update: September 15, 2002 I saw a new rat outside today. His body was only about two inches long, and I'm wondering if it's one of the babies. How much does a rat grow in three weeks?

Update: September 20, 2002 I'm told by people in the know that that was a mouse.