June 26, 2023
When I published my first book a year and a half ago, I created a new Facebook author page. I’m not very experienced at marketing so, as of last week, it only had a handful of ‘Likes’ and 89 followers. FB says I need 100 followers if I want to access my page stats. So, over the weekend I put out a plea on my personal Facebook page and asked my friends (and their friends) to help. As of this morning, the page has 120 ‘Likes’ and 161 followers. As a little token of my gratitude, and to cool things off on a warm summer day, I’m sharing one of my wintertime short stories. Enjoy!
The Packrat Did It
In 1993, I decided we needed a garage on our little family ranch in Nebraska. Our budget required thriftiness, so we built a pole barn. The three-sided structure, open on one end, kept snow and ice off the vehicles and provided semi-dry shelter for equipment storage, which should have been more than adequate. But my plan failed to take into account something quite important. It didn’t keep animals out.
Marijuana grows wild in northern Nebraska. Technically, it is industrial hemp, a crop locally grown during the Second World War for manufacturing rope. Hemp is a variety of Cannabis sativa specifically grown for industrial use. Area farmers quit cultivating it after the war, but the fast-growing plant escaped from agricultural fields into roadside ditches, and to this day it continues to spread—like a weed.
North central Nebraska is also home to Bailey’s eastern woodrat, a type of packrat. I can attest that despite their prominent status on the federal endangered species list, these pesky little creatures are plentiful. A medium-sized rodent, it looks like other packrats and has the same habits. Because of this, we kept feed sacks, tarps, and other chewables in metal containers with tight-fitting lids. Fighting packrats seemed to be a never-ending—and unwinnable—battle.
One foggy winter morning, I backed my car out of the pole barn and headed for my job in town, seventeen miles away. I turned off the dirt road onto the pavement, cranking up the defroster and the radio as I tooled along the nearly deserted highway.
A few minutes later, my nose caught a whiff of burning vegetation. The smell reminded me of the hallways in my college dormitory on Friday nights many years before. I noticed little wisps of smoke curling lazily from the defroster vent.
I pulled over to the shoulder, exited the car, and walked to the front. When I flipped open the hood, the stink hit me full in the face. On top of the air filter housing, I saw a neatly-built packrat nest, made of wild hemp, emitting little puffs of smoke as the motor warmed the surrounding air.
I looked around the engine compartment, half expecting to see a laid-back woodrat resting on one elbow, saying, “Hey, man, pass the chips.” But the nest builder didn’t appear to be anywhere in the vicinity.
The gush of fresh air rushing in under the now-open hood provoked the smoldering hemp into full flame. Using my mittened hand, I scooped the nest off the motor and flicked it onto the road shoulder, right into a dense patch of dried grass. It took only moments for it to kindle.
It had been a dry fall and winter and we hadn’t yet seen any snow. The cold wind pushed the little fireball into thicker grass and I began chasing the flames, stomping on them with my winter boots. The moment one burning clump died down; another tuft flamed nearby. Had any vehicles passed, the drivers might have wondered why a woman in a parka was dancing in the pasture. But nobody saw me except a couple of crows perched on a barbed-wire fence.
Breathing a sigh of relief, I finally beat the fire out before it escaped into a large expanse of unburned grass. I examined my sooty boots and the burn hole in my mitten, looked at my watch, and realized I had just ten minutes to get to work. I jumped into the car, started the engine, and pressed the accelerator nearly to the floor. Thankfully, there was no traffic.
I saw him just as I topped the final rise before reaching town. I tapped the brakes, hoping he hadn’t seen me. The patrol car sat half-hidden behind a shrub at the edge of the road. I sniffed, and could still detect the telltale odor of burning hemp. Cripes, I’ve been speeding, I thought. What if he stops me?
A glance at my dashboard assured me my rate of travel was now within the posted speed limit. Keeping a steady pace, and with both hands visible on the steering wheel, I looked straight ahead as I passed the deputy.
In my rearview mirror, I saw him pull out on the highway and fall in behind me. Oh no! What will I say if he pulls me over? I began silently rehearsing. Honest, officer, I just put out a fire in a packrat nest on my engine. It really stinks, doesn’t it?
Now sweating, I switched off the heater and kept watching the patrolman. He did not turn on his red flashing lights, so I kept going. When I got to town, I put my blinker on and went left on the side street that led toward my workplace. My heart sank when the patrol car turned there as well.
But when I veered into the parking lot, the deputy continued down the street. I dared to look at him as he passed, and I could have sworn he was grinning.
Copyright © 2023 S.G. Benson. All Rights Reserved.
Photo by Ryan Donelly on https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/24482304
6 thoughts on “Thank you to my new FB author page followers”
Gretchen Lorette says: June 26, 2023 at 7:54 pm
Love your stories!
Gretchen Lorette says: June 26, 2023 at 7:55 pm
You are a great storyteller!
Gretchen Lorette says: June 26, 2023 at 7:56 pm
More stories PLEASE!
Sandy says: June 26, 2023 at 8:16 pm
Thanks, Gretchen…coming soon!
Margo Tracy says: July 20, 2023 at 6:26 pm
Sandy: My name is Margo Tracy… Lucy and George were dear friends and we met you when you worked in Escalante, Utah. I got a bee in my mind and the minute I saw the picture I could hear your mother laugh.!..So Sorry she is gone… Both Jerry and George were in the Saving and Loan business. Thanks for sharing her with us..I did not know how to get in touch with you. so I tried this form as I am not on Facebook and still live in Hemet.
Sandy says: July 22, 2023 at 3:45 pm
Hello, Margo. I do remember you! That was so long ago, but so full of memories. I’ll email you soon.