Li Du ran to the ground and picked up a shovel. For this task, he would need to use a round point shovel; the square point shovel would not do.
Carrying the shovel, he went over to where Ah Meow had first discovered the rat hole.
Godzilla and Big Quinn had just finished plowing the land, and the entrance to the rat hole had been blocked by the soil. Li Du tried to scavenge by hand and after sweeping away a layer of soil, he found a hole the size of a child's fist.
Hans put on his coat and went over; he asked with enthusiasm, "What're you going to do?"
After spending some time on farm work, he was no longer cold and regained his chirpy demeanor.
Li Du rubbed his hands and said, "Wait and see. I'll get you something to eat."
When he heard that there was something to eat, Godzilla, who had been working furiously, stopped in his tracks. After pressing the wooden frame to push the colters deep into the ground, he asked, "Something to eat?"
And so, Big Quinn and he stopped work. They went over to where Li Du was to watch the fun.
Seeing the four of them gathered together, Mr. Li, who had been smoking at the edge of the field, asked, "What are y'all doing? What's up?"
Li Du replied, "Looking for a rat hole. I want to dig into itthere's crops in it."
Mr. Li shook his head. "Not necessarily. This is too close to the county. There are garbage dumps nearby. The rats would search for food there instead of storing crops."
"Even if there were crops in there, why would you want to go digging it out for?" one of Li Du's uncles laughed. "Why do you need to dig it? Whose house is still short of food now?"
"Exactly. Xiao Du, you've got foreigner friends with you. Fancy you showing them a rat hole? Would they think of China as a rural and backward place?"
Li Du said, "I'm doing this for fun. I have not dug into a rats' nest since pre-university. There's bound to be food in this rats' nest."
An onlooker nodded. "Well, the farm has been growing crops here, and if the rats are willing to store crops, there could be items like peanuts, rice, peas, sweet potatoes, and potatoes."
Li Du guessed that there would be food in the rat hole as the rat that Ah Meow had caught was plump. Its fur was not dirty, but glossy. This meant that it had stored sufficient grains and the place for storage was relatively clean.
One would know after some deduction that the glossy fur had meant that it didn't live at the garbage dump; the plumpness showed that food was in abundance and the amount of exercise was low.
The conclusion was that this rat had hidden a lot of crops in the hole. It had stayed in the hole every day to hide from the winter chill, and so it was plump and clean.
Using the shovel, Li Du dug into the rat hole. The rat hole was winding downwards, and even after digging as far as three feet, Li Du had yet to reach the cave. Instead, he discovered two separate tunnels.
Bewildered, Hans said, "What's going on here?"
Li Du said, "In our culture, we've got a saying: 'the wily hare has three holes leading to his burrow.' It's the same in the case of the rat. Leave it to me, I'll hunt the nest down."
He was undertaking this task for fun and so he didn't make use of the little bug to explore the two tunnels to find out which was the rat's barn.
As he dug downwards following one of the holes, the shovel dug up some peanut skins and corncob fragments a couple feet into the digging.
Seeing this, Li Du perked up. Well, something's brewingalmost reaching the nest now.
As expected, as he dug on, he got to the cave at the end of the tunnel. At this point, he used his hand to remove the soil gingerly and widened the access to the cave. As he removed the top of the cave, the contents of the cave were unveiled before their eyes
The cave was quite large, covering almost three-square-feet. Other than being irregularly shaped, there were also several small holes leading away from it.
Each of the small holes contained foodmainly peanuts, followed by corn, some sweet potatoes, and potatoes. Some of the sweet potatoes had germinated while the potatoes were well-preserved.
In addition to these crops, there were several eggs in this cave.
Li Du counted five eggs; their eggshells were greenish and had a bumpy surface. They were gleaming and smooth to the touch. They seemed smaller than chicken eggs but were much larger than sparrow eggs and quail eggs.
It was his first time seeing such an egg, and so he picked one up and went to his father. "Dad, what kind of egg is this?"
Mr. Li, who had been chatting away with some people, looked up. Someone's eyes lit up. "Hey, pheasant egg? This is a true-blue pheasant egg."
In many places, pheasant eggs were also known as "wild eggs." In Li Du's hometown, pheasant eggs were eggs laid by pheasants. As the place was surrounded by wetlands around it, there were many pheasants.
Due to dry weather, the water volume in the wetlands decreased. In addition, as many people had farmed around the lakes during the 1970s and 1980s, most of the wetlands had been destroyed.
By the time Li Du was born, the surrounding wetlands were pretty much non-existent. There were only a few small lakes and large ponds left, and the wild birds and pheasants had either been caught or had run away.
Now that the government had started to attach importance to environmental protection, some areas in his hometown had been converted from farmland back to forests and lakes. Gradually, the wildlife was returning.
Li Du had never eaten a pheasant egg. Mr. Li said, "This thing is tasty. Where did you find it?"
"From the rat hole," he said. "This is a pheasant egg? Could it still hatch? If it could hatch, then don't eat it. Go home and get a hen to hatch them."
Mr. Li shook his head. "No, it's too cold. Since the rat dragged the pheasant eggs into the hole, with no mother hen incubating them, the chicks in there are already gone."
There was no other way about it. They had to eat them. Otherwise, it would be too wasteful.
With the help of the other three men, Li Du dug out all the food in the rat hole. This rat was very industrious and had raided many crops to be kept in the hole.
There was a bag in the three-wheeled tractor. Using it, Li Du managed to fill up more than half of the bag.
Bringing the crops to another side of the field, he found some dried hay and got Big Quinn to build an oven in the ground out of clay. He then said, "Come, let's roast some peanuts and sweet potatoes."
Taken aback, Hans asked, "Can these be eaten? Had you not just dug them out from the rat's nest?"
Li Du answered, "Why yes, why can't they be eaten? There is a saying in our hometown: 'With a great harvest from the rat hole, even the frogs are croaking happily.' This is a form of enjoyment."
"Would there be the plague virus or something similar?" a worried Hans asked.
Li Du said, "Maybe."
Hans shook his head. "Then can't eat it. I'm definitely not eating."
Li Du chuckled. "Better for us if you're not eating. With one less mouth to feed, the rest of us can have more."
Big Quinn started the fire, while Li Du used water to clean off the mud on the surface of the sweet potatoes. Then, along with the potatoes and peanuts, he threw them all into the fire.
Soon, as the flames burned, the exterior of the peanuts got charred. Li Du used sticks to pull the peanuts out and then called, "These are ready. Roasted peanuts are delicious."
Godzilla didn't really care if they were delicious. All that mattered was whether they were edible. Although the peanuts were piping hot, he stuffed them straight into his mouth.
After chewing, he nodded. "Hm, yummy."
Picking up the peanuts, Big Quinn peeled one and ate it. He said in agreement, "Really fragrant."
Hans shook his head with disdain, indicating that he wouldn't eat any. Li Du ignored him and started shelling the peanuts to pop them into his mouth in enjoyment. Ah Meow smelled the aroma and came over. Li Du gave him one, which he devoured happily.