Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – August 25, 2004
Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – August 25, 2004 – Just a couple of months ago four baby racoons and their mother would steal into my garden at night to play in the water fountain and look for snacks in the flower beds. Now summer is almost at an end and they are babies no more. They no longer come with mama but in pairs or on solitary missions.
I know they’ve been visiting because they wash things in the fountain and pick out the brightly coloured marbles and glass stones. When they realize the glass is inedible they must play with it instead, because marbles ands stones are strewn all over the patio in the morning. Racoons look so adorable when they’re small that it’s tempting to pick them up or put food out for them. Neither is a good idea. They become trusting of people too easily.
They need to forage for their food, not be fed inconsistently and led to a false sense of the availability of their daily rations. The adults are large animals. I’ve seen them the size of a small dog (no – not a great Dane) – but sizeable nonetheless. This mother has a whole range of commands – cries, hisses and growls. Not being fluent in “racoon” – I’m at a loss – but the small fry don’t mess with her.
Alas – they don’t stay small for long and the babies are now the size of a really, really big cat. As they get older they seem to become territorial and the young ones are often prowling around by themselves at all hours – typical teenagers! I don’t know if racoons from the same litter remain friendly – but they fight like hellions in the lane behind my house. When they aren’t patrolling The Squirrel Highway they are climbing trees, rooting around in gardens, strolling boldly right down the centre of the well- lit lane or playing on the high cross-beams of my pergola.
I went to bed last night and had just settled down to get some sleep, when a horrific ruckus erupted outside my window. I tried to ignore it but the shrieks grew louder and louder. I could hear the rustle of leaves as tree branches were whipped around. After ten minutes of this aggressive, non-stop snarling there was a loud snap, followed by snivelling whimpers that sounded like a child in incredible distress. I closed my eyes, satisfied that sleep would now be possible. Not so. The mewling cries continued unabated. I finally got up and looked out the back window.
Hydro poles line the rear lane, and both hydro and phone lines run perpendicular to them, from the main poles into the individual houses that back onto the lane. A branch of about two inches in diameter had snapped off one of the big trees overhead and fallen straight down onto one of the wires running at right angles to the main line. It was shaped like a wishbone and the vee had caught on the wire. The distance from the wire to the ground was about twelve feet and the distance from the tree branch to an available downward fence pole was close to three feet. One of the teenaged racoons who had been involved in the fight was clinging desperately to the branch.
He had fallen clinging to the branch at least fifteen feet from the tree directly above. If the branch hadn’t caught on the wire, the racoon would have crashed onto the concrete lane below and probably been seriously injured or killed. I stood in my bedroom window and watched for awhile. He didn’t move for about ten minutes, and listening to his non-stop whimpering, I thought he must have been hurt in the fall. Gradually he tried to lower himself down one side or the other of the wishbone branch. As soon as he did this, the balance altered precariously and the branch threatened to slip over the wire and fall the remaining ten feet to the ground below. He hung there helplessly.
His next move was to shinny up the wishbone, a paw on either side, and curl his paws around the tree branch and the wire. He tried unsuccessfully to eat the wire. “Not a good idea”, I thought. He looked around and I could tell by watching him that he knew instinctively that his best option was to try and reach the downward fence pole three feet away that led to the ground and safety.
He was incredibly exposed there under the lights and I’m sure he must have been terribly frightened. He kept up a steady patter of cries and whimpers as he tried to hang onto the branch with one front paw and reach the pole with the other. Not successful. During one such stretch the wishbone branch slipped a little and moved about four inches closer to the pole. He could now swing closer to his destination but he couldn’t quite reach it. This made him mad and he started to scold the pole each time he swung out with one paw and missed securing a hold on the wood. He must have been getting tired hanging there and I was worried that he might fall or someone might walk through the lane, see him caught there and hurt him.
After half an hour he had clearly exhausted all his options. His attempts at extricating himself from this unfortunate predicament had been Herculean. It was time for the Racoon Rescue Squad to swing into action. Augie remained fast asleep, but Ziggy who had been watching out the window with me, and I crept downstairs through the silent house. I went out to the back yard, opened the gate and walked out to the lane. I was suitably dressed in my racoon rescue attire – shorts – sweat shirt and bare feet. What was I thinking? As soon as the racoon saw me he started to shake. He promptly released a steady stream of pee that splashed over my feet. Reason number one for wearing shoes when on rescue missions.
I grabbed both ends of the wish bone branch and tugged. I was either going to move it closer to the pole or have said racoon fall on my head. He chattered up a storm and then peed again. One more tug and it was close enough to the downward pole for my furry friend to grab a hold and escape from his wire perch. I shook off both feet and popped back into the garden. I watched from the gate and it was another ten minutes before he had the courage to swing over from his wishbone branch and back down to the top of the fence.
Once on a solid footing he looked up at the branch and let loose with a long, loud snarl. It must surely have been “racoon” for – “There I showed you, I wasn’t scared – not even for a minute”. Then he turned his back, lumbered along the fence top and disappeared.
The branch was still hanging from the wire this morning. I was tired when the alarm went off, but I had a warm, fuzzy, satisfied feeling that I’d been able to help this little soul. The smart thing would have been to wear gloves, boots and a jacket when dealing with wildlife because I can only imagine the outcome if said stranded racoon had fallen off the wire and landed on top of me. I have now officially retired my racoon shorts and sweat shirt, in favour of appropriate animal rescue gear – jeans, jacket and hiking boots which I will keep at the ready. Who knows what excitement tonight may bring – after all the branch is still there. Mr. Racoon may decide on a re-match!