Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Rerun - Raccoons!

 I'm flying out of Boston today to San Diego. The following is a piece from August. Enjoy ...

As you know by now, three weeks ago I came back from a conference and a family visit with a bad leg cramp which turned out to be sciatica. Here’s what I left out:

My housemate Paul informed me we’d had two raccoon visitors. We live way out in the country, 3,500 feet up in the mountains. We get our fair share of four-legged visitors around here. Sometimes visitors with no legs.

It seems the raccoons had squeezed through the cat flap and had helped themselves to Bullwinkle’s cat food. Bullwinkle’s feeding station can best be described as a gravity-operated kibble silo. It seems that the raccoons had gotten in the habit of tipping over the plastic silo and helping themselves to several weeks of cat food.

I recalled just before my trip seeing evidence of their handiwork. I had attributed the effort to Bullwinkle, whose motive would have been my own negligence in failing to fill up the container.

But I was wrong! It was raccoons!

Can man outwit nature? We could close off the cat flap, but that would effectively make Bullwinkle a prisoner in her own home. Moreover, we would be conceding dominion to the interlopers.

Leave it to me, I assured Paul. I may only be a city boy, but I was up to the challenge.

I placed a metal coffee can which happened to have batteries in it on top of the feeder. Then I set an aluminum baseball bat atop the coffee can, with the top end leaning against the wall.

We know Bullwinkle won’t tip over the feeder, I explained to Paul. As for the raccoons ... I dropped the bat onto the entranceway concrete floor for effect.

The perfect booby trap. The noise would frighten away the raccoons.

In scientific terms, the amygdala, which mediates fear and arousal in the limbic system of the brain, would kick off the raccoons’ fight or flight response. The raccoons know they are encroaching on our territory, I explained to Paul, so their amygdalae will be on hair-trigger alert, Then we would just keep resetting the trap till the no-good bastards wised up.

A few days later, I drove forty miles out to the desert for my weekend water volleyball. My leg was still acting up, but I figured the pool exercise would be good for it, along with some good long soaks in the hot tub. Later that evening, I stopped in at my favorite eating spot, just a mile from the Mexican border. It was Sunday. The July Fourth weekend was wrapping up, business was dead, and it was just me and one other customer in the place.

Plenty of time to chat with Michelle, my favorite waitress of all time. Michelle is a genuine mountain girl, who grew up 10 or 12 miles from where I now live. Maybe she had some insights into raccoons.

In the place where she used to live, she related, she heard an unworldly banging noise in the middle of the night. The racket was far too loud to come from a mere animal, she figured. It had to be a human intruder.

“So I grabbed my shotgun,” she said in the same casual voice a city girl would use to describe choosing a Versace handbag. “And I was holding the barrel in the same hand as my flashlight.”

She entered the garage-basement ...

A giant raccoon was splayed on the top of a garbage can, trying to undo the clasps holding down the lid. With each effort, the raccoon would literally lift the container off the ground and crash it to the hard concrete.

Never rule out the resourcefulness of a mountain girl. Michelle found a high vantage point over the raccoon, loaded, and ...

Emptied a container of her own freshly-minted piss on the critter.

“Never saw the raccoon again,” she told me with a smile.

Michelle also advised me that she employs the piss option to keep the coyotes away. Literally, she flings the stuff into the bushes and the trees. That way, her cats stay safe.

It’s all about the cats.

I returned home and set my canvas bag on the table, and decided to call it a night.


One in the morning. I opened the door to investigate. The cat feeder was down. No raccoons in sight.

Man vs nature. Score Round One to man. With great satisfaction, I reset my booby trap and went back to bed. Bring it on, heh-heh-heh ...

At four in the morning, I heard a scratching sound from outside the bedroom door. Bullwinkle was asleep with me. It had to be the raccoons making a return visit. I braced myself, awaiting the inevitable crash ...

No crash.

Scatch-scratch-scratch ... Something was wrong. The raccoons were mocking me, holding a raccoon party, here, in my own territory. The nerve! Calmly, cooly, I reached in the dark for my nearest Gutenberg Bible and threw it against the bedroom door. Instantly, from outside, came the sound of a flapping cat door and the skittering of mother nature’s furry psychopaths in full retreat.

I reassured Bullwinkle, and psychically instructed her to stay put. Then I went out to investigate. The cat feeder was untouched. But my canvas bag was off the table and on the floor, half-way to the cat flap. Inside was the prize, one microsecond from being unprized - half a leftover tuna sandwich.

The raccoons had wised up alright. Score Round Two to nature.

Speaking of nature, nature called. Now it was my turn to wise up. I found a plastic cup and aimed. Then I went outside and scattered the contents outside the door and immediate environs. Then I reloaded and marked my territory further afield.

That was more than two weeks ago. The raccoons haven’t been back since. This, despite the fact that my worsening sciatica rendered me virtually defenseless to future furry onslaughts. As I triumphantly explained to Michelle, mountain girl extraordinaire, it’s a good thing I’m an alpha male - otherwise the raccoons would have laughed at my piss.

Let that appear on my gravestone: “Raccoons respected his piss.”

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