Renaissance Rodents

Across the street, Renaissance Park beckons.  It calls to me with its manmade hills hiding secrets left behind by the manufacturers who occupied this park long ago.  And before that, the civil war soldiers who crossed the Tennessee here at Ross’ Landing.  And even before that, the Cherokee on their tragic walk on the Trail of Tears.

I don’t know what all was encapsulated in the mounds of Renaissance Park, but Renaissance is a good name for it.  Reborn from the pit of industrial waste it had become, it’s now a haven for birds, butterflies, the occasional deer, perhaps a fox family, and for sure coyote.

The thing is, you don’t get predators if you don’t have prey.  Fortunately, prey doesn’t care if the hills are manmade or if the wetland was created by a backhoe, or that the plants were carefully inserted into the earth by the hands of a human being.

The fact that the western hill in Renaissance is covered in native grasses and flowers means it’s a living feeder.  It feeds the American Goldfinches who love to cling to the stems of flowers that have gone to seed while they munch away.  And, underneath the foliage, it also feeds a more mysterious colony of life.

This colony becomes massive in the fall when the young have matured enough to rustle amongst the long grass on their own.  They scamper and disappear quickly enough that all I’d been able to determine is that they were rodents.  I’ve been afraid to consider the possibility that they’re rats.  Not because I’m afraid of rats but because I fear the reaction of the public to the notion of a large population of rats nesting in the park.

To me, this just makes the hillside a better feeder–it provides food for more than one link in the food chain.  But, for many, the word “rat” causes a different reaction.

When Tisen and I walked into the park a few evenings ago, these mystery creatures were showing themselves.  In fact, one sat on top of a clump of grass staring at me.  I was so caught off guard, having tried to see what they looked like for so long without success, that I barely had time to process what it looked like before it took a closer look at Tisen and decided to duck back under cover.  It looked a lot like a small brown rat.  I decided I’d better bring my camera over the next evening.

Back we went, me armed with my 70-200mm lens.  As Tisen’s tags jingled, the little critters scampered around, not holding still long enough for me to get a look, let alone a shot.  But, finally, I spotted one sitting still.  I am happy and relieved to report that it is not a rat; it’s a Meadow Vole (I think).  After all, no one ever got up in arms about exterminating a bunch of cute little voles, did they?  My favorite hawk feeder is safe.

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