Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Fall To Remember by Victoria Chatham

 John Keats’ Ode to Autumn caught my attention at an early age. I love the sensations that the first line, Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, engenders.
Maybe it’s because September is my birth month or maybe it’s that my imagination warms with the rich visuals Keats offers us. I’m no poet, but I love poetry. It’s a different way of writing, a different way of conveying scenes, senses, characters and sometimes packs more of an emotional wallop than does prose.
Of all the seasons, I find fall to be the most peaceful. The promise of spring rushes into the bustle of summer but then, when those first fall mists creep over the fields, when those dew-dropped cobwebs form on bushes and fences, there is a quiet expectancy as the world waits for winter.

I was fortunate to live for several years in a 300-year old house in rural Gloucestershire in England. Of all the houses in which I have ever lived, I loved that house the most. My mother could never understand why I gave up a modern double-glazed, centrally heated home in favor of a draughty, stone and brick built not-quite-heritage house but it had its own charm. It also had its regular fall visitors.
Sometimes mice and other critters decide to move in to a home. It may be because of a food source, it may be to construct a cozy nest but in our case we knew that when those mists started forming over the surrounding fields and the temperatures cooled, then we could expect an influx of field mice. These were dealt with in the traditional manner of traps and cheese, and less traditional by the animal rights supporter in the household who stalked and pounced with as much joy as a Yorkshire terrier on the hunt. The offending creature was then taken outside and released. This was all very well, but one year I had the feeling we were in for something else when my daughter asked, “What does a rat look like?”
I live now in Alberta, Canada, which is a rat-free province but even so everyone understands the damage of which this rodent, and indeed all rodents, are capable. I did not want one living in my house but as we lived very close to a farmyard the only surprise was that we had not been visited by one before. 
After my daughter’s first sighting of said rat there were more positive signs that we had an extra and unwelcome house guest. These were more sounds than signs, scratching and scraping in the walls, scurrying and squeaking up and down the chimney breast which ran from the living room up through my bedroom and the attic bedroom above it. As these sounds happened late at night when most of the household was either in bed asleep or not yet arrived home, my comments were met with some scepticism.
Grocery day came. Bags and boxes of groceries were hauled in from the car into the house to be stored away in our large walk-in pantry. I opened the door, reached in to switch on the light and came face to face with a large brown rat. All I can say was that it looked extremely healthy with a rich mahogany coat, long and plentiful whiskers and bright, black eyes. Its naked tail hung down over the edge of the shelf. Before I could blink it jumped down, ran over my feet and headed up the stairs. The blood drained from my face at the same time as all pandemonium broke loose.
My dogs, Sue, Charlie and Tim took off up the stairs after the rat. My children took off after the dogs. I got my wind and blood back at about the same time and went after all of them. On the first floor landing the children had come to a halt, deciding that maybe it would be better if the dogs did the catching as they really didn’t want to get bitten. Baying like a real pack, the dogs had run the rat to ground under the water tank in the attic bedroom. I pushed the dogs aside and shone a flashlight under the tank and could see the reflections of those beady eyes and the gleam of twitching whiskers. Then the rat was gone, melting into the fabric of the eaves like a wisp of smoke dispersing in fresh air.
The animal rights supporter was all for making a cage for a trap and release operation. I felt this would be a direct invitation for the rat to return. No, the only solution as far as I was concerned was to call the town council’s pest control department. This was duly done and, on the appointed day, the rat catcher arrived.
I’m not sure what I expected but it certainly wasn’t the lady who arrived on my doorstep. Her face was tanned and textured like a dried out old apple with more lines than an ordnance survey map. Out of this leathery visage peered a pair of bright, brown eyes disconcertingly similar to those of our rat. She wore a battered blue felt had on top of her grey curls and was dressed in brown overalls.
“Afternoon,” she said in the dialect of deepest Gloucestershire, making the word sound more like ‘addernoon’.
“Hello,” I responded. “Can I help you?”
At this point I was sure she was a tinker after some knife grinding work or looking for old scrap metal.
“No, I’m here to help you, m’dear,” this apparition replied. “I be Amy. I’ve come for your rat.”
“Oh, well, yes,” I stuttered. “You’d better come in.”
Amy stepped out of a pair of Wellington boots that had seen much better days and padded into my house on feet clad in purple wool socks.
“Where did you last see ‘un?” she asked.
I took her up to the attic and pointed at the water tank. “Under there, but I mostly hear it in the chimney.”
“They old walls in that chimbley be just like a staircase to one ‘o they,” she declared.
I watched Amy get down on hands and knees. She shone her flashlight under the tank, just as I had. A big game hunter on the African veldt couldn’t have been more determined than Amy. She puffed and panted, grunted and got up, dusting her knees off.
“Could you see anything?” I asked.
“Oh, ar, reg’lar ‘ole highway through there. We’ll stop ‘un.” She removed the lid from the bucket she was carrying and scooped out a measure of green-dyed grain. “Warfarin,” she said. “Should do the trick, ‘specially if there be only one. Keep the kiddies and the dogs away from it but if they little beggers gets into it, doctor ‘em right away.”
I said I would but how, I wondered, had Amy got to be a rat catcher.
“Twas the war,” she said, answering my unasked question. “Well, when they men went away, someone had to do it and I was better ‘n most. Then when they bliddy men came back I warn’t goin’ to be put out of a job so I told they council gaffers I was staying and I did.”
The rat caused us no further problems. Maybe the news went around the local rat and mouse population that our house was not a friendly one because the following fall, and for the rest of my time there, we had no further problems.
Keats I am definitely not, but that poem still intrigues me and sparks my imagination. It      enables to me to, I hope, convey scenes, senses and characters of a fall season which I will never forget. 
Is there a poem that prompts your recollection of a particular season, if so what might it be? 

Check Victoria out at these following links: