Saving a muskrat the hard way

He was almost or completely full-grown. I wasn't sure which, because he was the first living muskrat I'd ever seen. He looked up at me from the bottom of the 16-inch-deep window well into which he'd fallen. He was pacing anxiously.

I was pretty nervous myself. Obviously it was up to me to get him out of this part of my home and back to his home - the marsh bordering the cornfield at the rear of our property. The four neighborhood kids who had brought him to my attention stood looking back and forth from him to me, awaiting my next move.

The incredibly simple solution, which to you may be as plain as a pancake on a plate, didn't hit me until days later.

"Does anyone have a net?" I asked the kids. "We do!" said one. He ran home and was back in a minute with a large fishing net with a long handle.

"Perfect," I said, and lowered the net into the window well as Mr. Muskrat pressed himself against its corrugated metal wall. I turned the net, forcing him into it and swiftly, triumphantly, brought it up, my chubby little hostage weighing down its bottom. But before the net cleared the top of the window well, it became light as air, because that's all it contained.

Faster than an editor can cut copy, my toothsome friend had cut a huge hole in the net and dropped back to Square One.

So I got my cat carrier, a gray cardboard affair with air holes and "I'm Feeling Much Better, Thank You" printed in red on its side. I opened the carrier and placed it on its end in the window well. With a leafy branch, I gently convinced Mr. M. to enter it. Then I slapped its cover shut, hoisted it up and, with my entourage of kids, started for the marsh. We hadn't gone 10 feet when they doubled over, shrieking with laughter and pointing at the carrier. Yellow "Bugs Bunny" teeth were scissoring, fast as a laser beam, a saucer-sized circle in the side of the carrier. Incredibly, the saucer circle was already 50 percent complete. We all began running, the carrier swinging wildly, and were within 20 feet of the marsh when the muskrat burst from the carrier and hightailed it the rest of the way on his own.

Am I belaboring the obvious when I tell you that I realized days later that all we had to do was prop a wooden plank or branch in that window well and walk away? Mr. Muskrat would have sashayed out and gone home the same way he'd gotten into the window well - on his own.

Now I put escape planks, branches, and twigs in everything from window wells to dumpsters to bird baths - wherever creatures large or small can get trapped. Nature never intended them to have to cope with humans' stark alterations of wilderness compositions.

Cheers to you, Mr. M, wherever you are. Take care.

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