My park is the Rainier Playfield. It's not far from my house, and it has two tennis courts, two basketball courts, two fields (one for baseball, one for football), and one playground. The park has only five pine trees, two of which are near a bench that has the best view of the park and is in front of an almost always full trash can. Two years ago, a young man was shot dead behind this bench. This murder, which was never solved, had, many believe, a connection with another murder that happened around the same time but under a large deciduous tree across the street from the park.
One of the two pine trees by the bench shelters a set of steps next to piles of dark- and light-brown wood chips that cover a short slope. At the top of the slope is an evergreen hedge and the sidewalk, which leads to Rainier Avenue; at the bottom of the slope, an evergreen hedge that separates the area of the basketball courts from that of the tennis courts. Now that I have established the setting, let me get to my point.
Two days ago, I saw two rats that were neither small or large tumble down the wood-chip covered slope. But it wasn't really a mess of mindless tumbling. It was more like two kids locked in a game of king of the hill and rolling down the slope together (you roll over me, I roll over you, we roll over us). What surprised (if not shocked) me was how free of any care these rats were.
It was nowhere near dusk. The time was around 5 p.m. The sun was still high in the sky. And these rats, if my eyes did not deceive me, were just having fun and not worrying about the giants whose presence usually puts the fear of God in them. They did not scurry or dart or dash. They instead pranced about the wood chips like students in a high school musical.
I had never seen anything like it. Rats enjoying the park as if it were made for their enjoyment alone. I watched them for a good two minutes and decided to put my foot down.
At this moment, our bodies had a conversation, because that is how humans communicate (body language) with synanthropic animals, animals that are wild but live close to us.
My body: You are rats, dammit!
Their bodies: You are a human?
My body: Yes, I'm a human!
Their bodies: And usually we are supposed to flee from you?
My body: Yes, this is what you are expected to do.
Their bodies: So, you want us to do that right now?
My body: Exactly. Do it now. Va, va, va! Hide somewhere.
Their bodies: Well, if you insist.
The two rats came to their senses and half-heartedly darted to the cover beneath the hedge. I returned to the bench. Some order was restored in this small corner of the city.
While walking home, it occurred to me that the removal of a large number of humans from the streets and parks, due to social distancing and the statewide stay-at-home order, might be changing the behavior of synanthropic rodents. They are seeing less and less of us and more and more of the city they share with an animal that only wants to see them dead. What a wonderful opportunity COVID-19, a virus the rats obviously know nothing about, has presented. It's almost a vacation from the monsters of their world. The time to have fun in the sun is now. We shall tumble down the slope. Let us hop, skip, and jump.
While waiting for a green light on the corner of Rainier Avenue and South Oregon Street, I turned and had one last look at the park. I wanted see if other rats were also having a good time. But instead I saw low in the sky directly above the playfield an urban raptor. It looked like a Cooper's hawk.