Magazine article Sunset

Rats of Topanga Canyon

Magazine article Sunset

Rats of Topanga Canyon

Article excerpt

"Pay no attention to those little black things! You get them all the time in Topanga, they come from rat packs, only rat packs, they are all over in the canyon, we love them, we don't hurt them!"

My then-husband and I, bewildered, stood precariously on a dirt slope passing itself off as a basement under a 23- by 23-foot cabin that clung to a Topanga Canyon cliff. The woman who lectured us was an 87-year-old German refugee, with a figure like a gymnast's from scrabbling all over this cliff pulling weeds.

"Rain always comes in the house during the winter! You can't fight Topanga rains!" Of course, if there'd been grouting between the boards, that might have stopped some of the rain, but we bought what the lady said, and bought the cabin, and the pack rats (which is what she'd meant), and a kerosene water heater that threatened us with extinction every time we needed a bath. We wanted to rough it, to make a home in at least the hypothetical wild West.

The rats stayed primly in the basement except for one winter when it rained and one took refuge in my daughter's closet. We spent the day trying to make it go away, but if it knew anything, it knew enough to come in out of the rain. It absolutely wasn't one of those ugly urban rats. He looked like an expensive brown purse, with kind eyes. …

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