Did you know that raccoons were probably the first Native Americans roaming the Americas for the last six million years? Christopher Columbus amazed Europe with his descriptions of the raccoon, one of the many oddities he found in his travels to the New World.
Although preferring the forest, raccoons have made themselves at home throughout the continent, from the swamps of Louisiana to the Canadian wilderness.
Raccoon’s faces are masked like bandits. They’re obnoxious, ill-tempered beasts with sticky, grasping paws and are often mistaken for Congressmen. I met my first one the same night I hung up our first bird feeder about 20 years ago. I was enjoying that late-night activity called ‘sleep’ when a 1938 DeSoto roadster fell from the sky and landed in our back yard.
At least that was my first thought, standing bolt-upright at the horrific, metal-rending noise. Turns out it was merely a spectacularly clever and corpulent raccoon that had leaped off a high branch, wrapping all four grasping paws around my expensive 24-hour-old bird feeder on the way down.
This extra burden entirely exceeded the capacity of the decorative chain, dashing feeder, raccoon and five pounds of sunflower seeds onto the flagstone below, spread out for the waiting maws of the raccoon family that poured out of the dark like so many zombies teeming out of a crypt.
Raccoons have a litter of about four annually. I started with a quartet of raccoons twenty-five years ago; that bunch had an octet; and they had whatever “tet” makes 16, then today I’m left with the disquieted feeling that a huge opportunity in the Coonskin Hat export trade has passed me by.
The problem is not the considerable noise the raccoons make while attacking our bird feeders at night. No, that’s not the problem. Our dogs are convinced that if we don’t stop the raccoons in the backyard, they’ll gobble all the dog food in the front yard.
Our dogs go immediately to full bugle, convinced the raccoons will doubtlessly tremble at their fury. They also start hopping on my head to make sure I’m awake enough to save them if a raccoon ever made it in the door. The raccoons ignore all this, munching blithely away. By now every dog in a half-mile radius is howling at the top of their lungs and pretty soon the neighbors are all barking too. Chaos reigns. Doors slam. Phones ring. Lights come on all over the neighborhood just as the cops pull in the drive. That’s the problem.
Thanks to Google, I found plans and built an anti-raccoon contraption that made the neighbors nervous, but succeeded in driving the furry pack of midnight ramblers off to greener backyards. Peace reigned. Then, a couple of nights ago, it started all over. The screech of rending sheet metal reverberated through the neighborhood and the dogs erupted like a leaky gas grill.
I flipped on the lights to behold the Incredible Hulk of all raccoons, standing there on two legs, casually munching on the bird feeder like it was a Baby Ruth candy bar. By this time my wife was perched next to me, peering over the windowsill down at the scene below. “Good Lord,” I gasped, “look at the size of that raccoon!”
My wife slowly turned and stared incredulously, “You may need glasses. That’s a bear.”
Hmm, so it was. But it made me wonder, how many bears in a litter? What’s the export market for bearskin rugs?