When I was 18, I took a job at a bookstore. My boss was a witch.
I told this story in more detail in I is for Intuition The relevant point is how I approached my Path moving forward from there.
I read a couple of books about witchcraft and magick in general. I bought some Tarot cards, muddled with them for a while, and spiraled out from there, trying different things, talking to different people, reading different books.
Funny thing is this: I never read a single book, magazine, or article about Native American mysticism, shamanism, totemism, none of it. I didn't talk to a single medicine man or woman, nothing of the sort... and yet, somehow, I started talking to animals.
Not Dr. Doolittle style, mind you- they don't chirp up and say, "Excuse me, chap, could you pass the vinegar? These chips are a touch dry. There's a good lad." Nothing like that at all. More that I could... hear how they felt, what they needed. The thing that made it really interesting was the fact that they could tell that I could hear them, and they really seemed, generally, to appreciate it.
All of that to say this: a few summers ago, Susan and I were mucking about on a weekend, doing not a lot of anything. I told her, apropos of nothing particular, that I wanted to go to a pet store we used to frequent. No special reason, mind you, I just heard a wee, distant voice in my world, and wondered who's voice it was.
So off we went. Being that sort, I shuffled directly back to where the snakes, lizards, and spiders were kept- those are the kinds of critters that talk to me the most. I spent 30, 45 minutes back there, driving the staff crazy by asking to handle this snake, then that tarantula, and pestering them with questions about how old they were or where they'd come from.
Susan, meanwhile, stayed mostly out front, playing with the bunnies and the ferrets and so on.
I (erroneously) concluded that whatever I was hearing wasn't coming from there, and we went back home.
Susan mentioned, semi-offhand, that she thought the rats they'd had out there were really cute. I was a little surprised by that- I'd never have pegged her for the "rat" type- and I told her that I thought so too, and I used to have rats when I lived in California, MANY moons ago. She asked why I hadn't said anything. I asked why SHE hadn't said anything.
We batted it back and forth for about 10 minutes, then got back in the car and went back to the pet store.
Fast forward about a year: we had two boys (Alder and Ash [Alder was the very first]), two girls (Caper and Clove) that we adopted from a lady who had too many "pets" (gods and fish, how I loathe that word), and a third boy (Linden) who lived in his own little house because of his grumpy disposition, who we adopted from an old friend of Susan's (the old friend was moving and her animals couldn't move with her).
People have some strange, and incorrect, ideas about rats. They're "dirty," they're "mean," they "stink," they "bite"... the list goes on and on.
The last time I checked, all of the above can apply to people... dogs... cats... you catch my drift, I'm sure. The truth couldn't be more different. Rats are basically like tiny little dogs that don't bark and don't have to be "walked." Our ratkids have been some of the sweetest, friendliest, and most fun friends I've had in my whole life.
Alder, in particular, was an incredibly smart and affectionate little guy. If you held your fingers to his face, or held him up to your face, he'd give little rat kisses. They liked to play games, like bobbing for peas (we'd put frozen peas in a bowl of water on the table- it has to be seen to be appreciated). Susan bought a toddler's play set at a garage sale, which we fixed up with tubes and climbing apparatus and called Ratty Playland.
Alder, Ash, Caper, Clove, and Linden are no longer with us. One of the painful downsides to being a ratfriend is the fact that they don't live very long- a couple years, 3 or 4 at the outside, and that's it. There are several health problems that they tend to suffer from, and the average "pet owner" (*teethgrind*) doesn't know enough to do research into what they should be fed or what their other needs are (for instance, most commercial "rat" or "rodent" chow has ingredients in it that can and will cut a rat's lifespan by as much as half), so a lot of houserats are probably not treated nearly as well as their people would like to think. We took damn good care of our kids, and as painful as it was to watch them pass, we're confident that they were grateful for having a safe, comfortable place to live, with the right food and plenty of love.
Mandrake and Sorrel are our boys, now; Hazel, Hyacinth, and Zynnia are the girls. Sorrel and Hazel are hairless rats- they look something like this. I found them to be sorta horrible looking when I was first made aware of their existence... but they grow on you. What's really amazing to me is how each and every one has a distinct and different personality (kinda like people, eh? Imagine that...)
I still get a bit teary, sometimes, when I think about our ratkids that have moved along; maybe it sounds silly to some of you, but I miss the little hairballs. They're not gone, though, not completely; as long as they're remembered, they'll always be around.
If any of you out there have ratkids, or are thinking about getting some, feel free to drop me a line with any questions you might have. We (ok, mostly Susan) did a lot of research when we got Alder, back when, and we've worked pretty hard to make sure ours are the most spoiled rats around. We'd love to help, and it's always fun to meet new ratpeople.