Procyon lotor

Last night Xander and I watched as four raccoons deftly walked the length of the back section of our fence. It’s a wood privacy fence, which is a sort of quiet, suburban luxury that’s new to me. Three of the raccoons were small, most likely babies about 5 or 6 months old. The big one in front must have been their mother. The image of their dark silhouettes against the blue-black twilight and tiny pinpoint constellations of stars was stunning.

I know lots of folks don’t like raccoons, because they can be so destructive and disturbingly sly. They often tear up attics and ransack garbage cans and compost piles, waking humans in the night with tiny, slender, scratching sounds. They’re in your attic. They’re making themselves more comfortable as you grow more weary. They make us do our cumbersome daily tasks twice because of their mess (I know from first hand experience that they like to roll apples down and out of trees after they’ve stolen and eaten them. Little opportunists). But I still think they’re kind of amazing.

This past summer, Xander and I were visiting the zoo and were able to see a young keeper training the two raccoons that live in a warm, dark enclosure in the nocturnal house. After Xander and I watched them play with each other for a while with one another, they suddenly froze, then clambered for the little hidden door on the enclosure wall. We watched as a trainer entered their home, using a hand clicker (like those usually used to train dogs), and lead the raccoons around their mossy, damp home. She coaxed them up on their hind legs, around in circles, up to their small tree dens, and finally into her hands where they ate dried fruit from her palm. Before they climbed back to their trees, they nuzzled her legs, and rolled onto their backs so she could scratch their stomachs. Clever things.

The ones here have been eating the hostas and digging in the pansies. I noticed that this morning. You’re supposed to sprinkle cayenne pepper around your plants if you want to keep them away, but I don’t have any cayenne pepper, only sweet and savory spices. I can offer them cinnamon, or nutmeg, or brown sugar. Or maybe a little bit of everything to flavor their pilfered apple cores.

This morning a cat was sitting on the big fence, right where the raccoons were last night. There are three cats from next door that love our front and back gardens, but I’ve noticed them hanging out more in the back. I’ve seen dozens of chipmunks back there, scurrying out of the homes they’ve made in the kudzu and into the moss, picking up acorns that have fallen.  The cats must be waiting for one of them to drop an acorn or be distracted by a blue jay’s menacing shadow from overhead.  Then they will pounce, breaking tiny neck bones in strong jaws. They’ll place their prey, still warm, on their owner’s concrete stoop.

The blue jays have been fascinating me as well. I like the way they peck at the ground for a while and then cover up the little burrow they made with a leaf.

The moss that the chipmunks and blue jays like reminds me of the tundra and the muskeg. Sometimes I have the urge to pull it up by the fistful and rub it against my face.

Forever fueling my new-found love and understanding for the green, tree-lined vintage suburbs, I am listening to this right now.


12 thoughts on “Procyon lotor

  1. Gosh, I love the musicality of your prose. Though I live in a very urban setting, I enjoy watching the creatures that visit our garden. I’m especially fond of the squirrels this time of year, as they gather and bury the walnuts falling from the tree out back. It amazes me that they can find them all later.

  2. A psychic once told me that raccoons and foxes were my spirit guides. It is my aim to delight all those I encounter, but I usually do impose some frustration along the way.

  3. I’m often troubled by how we relate to other animals, like raccoons (who threaten our dogs and make messes of our areas) or deer (who eat our gardens). We call them nuisances, but aren’t we the nuisance to them?

    One of the many moments in which my BIL won my heart was when we found a raccoon that had been hit. (This is not a pretty story, but my BIL’s soul is beautiful.) My BIL frowned, lifted the raccoon with tears in his eyes and broke the raccoon’s neck.

    Later, he picked up one of my sister’s teddy bears and mock-wrung its neck with a look of horror and self loathing on his face. I hugged my BIL and said I commended and respected him, because it takes so much strength to end someone else’s pain at the cost of increasing your own.

  4. I think that’s a beautiful story, Deb. Very, very brave of your brother in law. Is that what BIL stands for? I’m out of the acronym loop.

    And I think you’re right about animals. They are here, with us, can’t we form some kind of peaceful bond? Do we have to lord over them with such an iron fist? They’re so beautiful and pure of heart. We might be beautiful, but we are usually not all that pure of heart (unless we’re children, or child-like mentally).

  5. I love that you give, here, a paean to animals otherwise denigrated (by me, for one!). It was a pleasure to read here this morning, and I love the last drawing. Reminds me of The Fabulous Mr. Fox.

  6. 🙂 Wait until you hear my classical chant, “An Ode to Opossum”, aka Didelphimorphia. Isn’t that an interesting, lovely latin name? It sounds like a gothic silent film.

  7. I’m pro-raccoon, and pro-critter in general. Even when friends complain that they dig up their yard, I silently hope that they don’t kill the moles/raccoons/groundhogs who are being a nuisance, yes, but are scavenging to survive…

    Wonderful piece.

  8. It hurts my heart physically when people use the killing kind of mousetraps, too. The humane ones only cost a few more dollars! Or you can play wild kingdom and get a cat as a natural alternative to critter traps. Then you get both a pet and a solution.

"... all my lovers were there with me, all my past and futures."

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