love cuddly wild animals. We immortalize them as stuffed toys
and exalt their antics in stories, paintings, pictures, and cartoons.
When we encounter familiar and appealing creatures, we attempt
a relationship and try to petinize them. Although
were warned by a variety of protection agencies that human-wild
animal associations are unhealthy, we disregard the warnings.
top the list of loveable, squeezable animals. Its the mask
that attracts us. But here again, we humans disregard an emblem
that signifies danger. With the exception of the Lone Rangers,
masks symbolize robbers, marauders, and vandals. But on a raccoon
we consider the mask charming. The ruse works for these ring-tailed
beggars. And with their cutesy antics, these masked bandits manipulate
summers ago Marian and I became enamored of a seemingly intelligent
female raccoon. She knew how to take hold of the metal pole attached
to the guardrail of our deck and rotate it sufficiently toward
herself to grasp the bird feeder that hung off the poles
end. Marian provided her with slices of bread and cookies. In
evenings, when we relaxed on our deck, this creature of the forest
would join us, and recline on the banister. We felt we had established
a congenial relationship.
the winter, we learned that Ms. Raccoon became a mother and the
following summer she brought her two adorable cubs. Early on,
the cubs were afraid to come on the deck. Instead they frolicked
and cavorted below the bird feeder while their mom tossed them
sunflower seeds. Eventually cookies enticed the youngsters, but
unlike their mother the little ones did not make a friendly connection.
They, instead, remained aloof, cautious, and wild.
develop quickly. By early autumn the cubs took on teenage habits.
They became boisterous, rambunctious, and sometimes downright
obnoxious. We began to call them the Wrecking Rackets.
Soon word that the place to party was on the Modlins deck
traveled through the Big Cove raccoon population and they began
to entertain their rowdy friends.
adoration of, and tolerance for, raccoons quickly waned.
evening at about 11:30 p.m., when I was alone drinking scotch
and watching TV, a commotion erupted. Drowsy and unstable, I stood
and watched ten robust raccoons chase each other trying to retrieve
the tube of sunflower seed that once hung on the pole attached
to the banister. Their roughhousing knocked over flowerpots, overturned
the birdbath, and flipped several deck chairs.
is too much, I yelled, grabbed a broom, and barged onto
the deck ranting and raving. The chaos stopped momentarily. The
raccoons stared at me. But I could feel their thoughts: Who
does this guy think he is? They continued their roughhousing.
Angered by their insolence, I swatted and swept the furry bandits
from the deck. But as soon as I reentered the house, the marauders
and yelling like a depraved warrior, slamming the broom against
the deck while in full run, I chased the bandits toward the steps.
But my inertia carried me forward over the edge and onto the steps.
I grabbed the rail, tried to check my speed, but instead spun
off balance. My bottom crashed onto the deck while my left hand
gripped the rail. I bounced and rotated down each step and finally
came to rest on the ground. When I stood, I noticed that the palm
of my hand and the rest of my arm were locked into a backward
position. No pain, but I had dislocated my shoulder.
debilitated, I ambulated up the steps like a misshapen Frankenstein.
I turned and looked toward the yard. I could feel twenty or more
glowing eyes fixed on me. Although I could not hear their victory
cheer, I did feel the air tittering. When I left for the emergency
room, the deck was empty. For the next eight weeks my arm hung
in a sling and the only raccoon to visit our deck was mom.
above essay aired on WLRH, 16 July 2002.
The episode below describes an encounter that happened almost
ten years ago. Since that time, rambunctious raccoons have not
plagued Wrensong, the home where my wife, Marian, and I live in
North Alabama. That is, until about three weeks ago, when again
a raccoon family with three rowdy youngsters appeared. Rather
than destroying myself as I did in 1997, I live-trapped the raccoon
family and four of their friends and transported them to a place
far, far away where they could enjoy life and so could
Modlin is an Emeritus Professor of Biological Science at The
University of Alabama in Huntsville. In his retirement, he has
focused on his love of writing. He has authored a travel memoir
titled Malachite Lion, which describes his adventures in
East Africa, and has just completed a narrative memoir of his
birding exploits and encounters in various parts of the world
titled Chasing Wings, which is searching for a publisher.
Richard can occasionally be heard on WLRH, the Huntsville, Alabama,
Public Radio affiliate, reading some of his shorter pieces on
the SunDial Writers Corner. He is the Historian/Archivist for
the Alabama Writers Conclave, on the Advisory Board of the
Huntsville Literary Association, and member of the Tennessee Writers
Alliance. Read more about Richard Modlin on his Web site, www.richardmodlin.com.