Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Raccoon Encounter

Richard Modlin


Humans 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 we’re warned by a variety of protection agencies that human-wild animal associations are unhealthy, we disregard the warnings.

Raccoons top the list of loveable, squeezable animals. It’s the mask that attracts us. But here again, we humans disregard an emblem that signifies danger. With the exception of the Lone Ranger’s, 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 us.

Several 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 pole’s 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.

During 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.

Raccoons 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.

Our adoration of, and tolerance for, raccoons quickly waned.

One 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.

“This 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 returned.

Stomping 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.

Wounded, 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.

 

The above essay aired on WLRH, 16 July 2002.

EPILOG: 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 we.

***

Richard 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.

 

© Richard Modlin

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012