Raccoon roundup. August 4, 2011Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
Tags: backyard critters, blog humor, raccoon facts, raccoons
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The other morning, our friend Ben saw something moving in the island bed surrounding the huge maple tree that marks the dividing line between our back lawn and our back garden, where our Cultivated Wild Meadow, Pullet Palace, greenhouse, raised beds, compost bins, rainbarrels, fruit trees, grape arbors, and etc. make their home. But even the tree is quite a way back from the sliding deck doors in the kitchen, where our friend Ben happened to be standing at the time, and, to quote James Herriot, “I am not at my best in the morning,” which is to say that there could have been an extraterrestrial moving around back there for all I knew. Clearly, I needed reinforcements.
I decided to start with the one closest to hand, our black German shepherd, Pioneer Hawk’s Haven Shiloh von Shiloh Special. “Psssst, Shiloh, come here! Do you see anything out there?”
No one could accuse Shiloh of lacking intelligence or not understanding commands, but “Come” is one that she hears only selectively, if at all. Unless, of course, one is asking her to come for some reason she considers worthy, such as to give her a treat or take her outside or share one’s own meager food supplies. But eventually, she deigned to head in our friend Ben’s direction. “Look out there! What is that?!”
The huge, upright ears swivelled back in my direction, and the head cocked in the characteristic “Oh dear, you need help” attitude. If she could have lifted a paw to her head and circled it in the classic “You’re insane!” gesture, she would have. Heaving a massive sigh at the absence of any form of refreshment, she left the kitchen ostentatiously and collapsed noisily, clearly exhausted by the lack of food, in the living room.
Oh well, no one ever said shepherds had been endowed with hunting instincts. Clearly, it was time to bring in the big guns. Heading to the bedroom, our friend Ben considerately roused the peacefully sleeping Silence Dogood with a well-modulated hiss. “Silence!”
“Hey, Silence, wake up!”
“Urk?!! Ben, what on earth is going on now? You know I can’t sleep at night now that it’s so hideously hot and humid. Can’t you let me get an uninterrupted hour’s sleep in the morning, for mercy’s sake? What’s the matter with you?!!”
Hey, it wasn’t my fault that things had come up for the past three days that required waking her up before 6 o’clock. But that didn’t mean my life wasn’t in danger, and not from whatever was prowling around outside. A diversion was essential before I was snuffed out. “There’s something moving out there,” I proclaimed dramatically.
“What thing? Out where?”
“I saw it from the back deck door.”
“Maybe it was the neighbor heading out to get the paper,” Silence muttered, unimpressed, preparing to roll over and try for another hour’s sleep.
“It was under our maple tree, and it looked like a fox.”
“FOX!!!” Silence was out of the bed and lurching for the back deck door before Shiloh and I could even turn around. Like me, she was scared by the concept of foxes because of our beloved backyard chickens. We did everything possible when constructing our Pullet Palace to protect our chickens from alien invasion. We used stout kenneling panels to make the sides and roof of the chicken-yard enclosure surrounding the coop, so the chickens would have room to roam without fear of aerial attack from hawks or agile climbers like raccoons who could easily scale an open-topped fence. Not even a bear could get in from above. And we laid an 18-inch-wide strip of chickenwire flat on the ground beneath the kenneling panels, 9 inches to a side, to try to discourage anything from burrowing under. But foxes are renowned for their ability to dig—thus the term “foxhole”—and 18 inches of wire probably wouldn’t be enough to stop them. We’d only seen one fox in the whole time we’ve lived here, romping through the field behind our property several years ago. But frankly, one would be enough to turn our poor chickens into sushi.
“Ben, that’s a cat!” Silence declared contemptuously, looking out. Now I was in for it. “No… wait… it’s not moving like a cat. It’s red like a fox, but it has a ringed tail like a raccoon, or a longhaired red cat. There’s no such thing as a ring-tailed fox. But no, I swear it’s not a cat. Get our birding binoculars, would you?”
Dear Silence, such a propensity for pointing out the practical and obvious, even at that ungodly hour. The binoculars! Of course. Our friend Ben retrieved them and handed them over.
“Ben, it’s a little raccoon. No, wait—it’s two little raccoons! They can’t be more than a few months old, they’re just a third the size of our cat Linus. I’ll bet they’re digging for grubs around the tree, trying to find nutrients and moisture given this drought we’ve been having. Here, take a look!”
As usual, Silence was right. The reddish color we thought we’d seen must have been a trick of the early-morning light. The twin raccoon kits were adorable as they attempted to forage furtively in the “bush,” completely ignored by nearby birds who would never have treated their parents with such contempt. Silence and I asked ourselves, but where was their mom, anyway? Male raccoons tend to head off after mating, leaving the females to raise the young alone. But mama raccoons are usually diligent about their responsibility, taking the kits through their first season of life and showing them how to survive. These two were on their own.
Our friend Ben actually forgot about the little raccoons until a few days ago, when Silence was watering the houseplants in our home office. “BEN! Remember the baby raccoons? I just saw one of them break from the front-yard island bed and head around the side of the house!” Silence and I rushed for the deck door, convinced that we’d see them come up on our deck, as many an adult raccoon had before them, to our dismay. But there was no further sign of the little ones. Silence speculated that perhaps they’d headed into the waterless but still-damp creekbed of our stream, Hawk Run, to check out holes in the bank for crayfish or other edibles.
Then the next morning, I took Shiloh out for her 5:45 bathroom break. As I headed for the ring of trees Silence and I have dubbed “The Circle of Doom,” I saw one of the baby raccoons waddling furiously for one of the walnut trees surrounding the circle. Slowly but deliberately, it began to climb the tree. Following its progress, I saw the second raccoon already on a high branch of the tree, awaiting its twin. I told them calmly that we meant them no harm, and Shiloh, fierce watchdog that she is, ignored them completely. They didn’t seem particularly alarmed, either, regarding me with interest as I attempted to communicate, rather than showing the least sign of panic.
I haven’t seen them in the last few days, but after three sightings, I assume they’re out there. Are they a threat to our tomato, pepper, squash, tomatillo, and fruit crops? Probably. Inept as the yearlings are, they’re still bound to be hungry. Raccoons, like humans, are omnivores, and like us, they’ve proven adaptible to even urban environments; I’ve seen them on the wire fire stairs of inner-city homes, and our friend Edith had a horrendous (or at least horrendously expensive) encounter with a raccoon family that had taken up residence in her urban-suburban attic.
They have large brains and dextrous hands. (That would be the raccoons, though one could say the same about Edith.) It’s no challenge at all for an adult raccoon to reach into our half-barrel water garden, take out a snail, and extract it from its shell, as the empty shells we find on the deck when raccoons are spotted in the vicinity amply testify. Frogs, baby birds, birds’ eggs, fish, crayfish, shellfish, insects, earthworms and the like don’t stand a chance.
Neither does cat food, dog food, or any other food if a raccoon can squeeze through your cat door or otherwise worm its way into your house. (Yet another excellent reason not to install cat—or, yikes, dog—doors, since rats, ‘possums, and God-knows-what can take advantage of them as well as pets.) And don’t think they can’t open your kitchen cabinets or the fridge door; we know of one raccoon who consistently broke into a friend-of-a-friend’s home, opened the fridge door, and extracted the diet cheesecake, carefully opening the package, consuming the contents, and depositing the wrapper on the floor before departing.
Clearly this was a combination of the world’s most selective raccoon and the world’s most habit-bound human, or it couldn’t have happened more than once. And our friend Ben of course has to wonder if the raccoon was watching its weight, or hoping to become the next spokesraccoon for Weight Watchers, or if the rest of the food was so appalling that it made fat-free cheesecake look decadent by comparison. Or if those rumors are true about diet foods containing addictive chemicals that keep people (and raccoons) coming back for more no matter how awful the taste, look, and texture. But I digress.
Returning to the subject, I decided to find out more about raccoons. I had read Sterling North’s Rascal as a child, about a boy and his pet raccoon. I had seen Fess Parker in his coonskin caps as Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett on TV (neither man actually wore one, FYI). As an adult, I had of course heard about rabid raccoons, how you should keep well away from the normally nocturnal creatures if you saw one lurching around in broad daylight like a wino who’d just polished off a couple of bottles of Mad Dog 20/20. (But some perfectly healthy raccoons, like our twins, will occasionally appear in daylight, so use their behavior rather than the time of day or night as a rule of thumb.) And Silence and I had seen the enormous size adult raccoons could reach with our own eyes, since they’d sometimes arrive at our deck at night to eat our outdoor cats’ food and fish in our water garden. Definitely not something you’d want to tangle with in the house, even if it wasn’t rabid!
Raccoons’ intelligence, dexterity, intrepid nature, problem-solving skills, adaptability, and omnivorous habits are certainly worthy of respect. But they can also lead to tragedy. Silence Dogood once told me of the heartbreak suffered by one of her coworkers who left her baby securely in the car seat, car door open, while rushing into her rural house with the groceries. She returned moments later to find her infant under attack from a large, hungry raccoon. The child survived the attack, but required extensive plastic surgery, and the guilt and shock almost killed her mother.
The lesson, which we humans seem so slow to learn, is that wild animals, and especially baby animals, may look cute, and they may act cute when we observe them going about their lives, playing and goofing off, but ultimately, they will be true to their nature. It behooves those of us who live or go among them to keep that in mind, especially when the creatures concerned remind us of something we already know and love: a kitten or puppy, a stuffed teddy bear, the Lion King, Tarzan’s chimp companion Cheeta. It’s one thing to try to find the common links between all life, and quite another to discard the essential differences between us to our own cost.
But again, our friend Ben is straying from the point, which is that I found some pretty amazing facts about raccoons in their Wikipedia entry. Like me, you may be interested to know that:
* Raccoons are now thought to be related to those much-larger furry omnivores, the bears. Both share many common behaviors.
* The smallest known adult raccoon weighed just 4 pounds, the largest, over 62 pounds. (The average is about 8 to 20 pounds, though 30 pounds is not uncommon.) They put on enormous amounts of weight to prepare for the lean times of winter, actually doubling their size, and try to consume as many calorie-dense foods like nuts as they can find.
* Raccoons can live 20 years in captivity, but seldom survive even 3 years in the wild.
* The raccoon’s ancestors evolved in Europe 25 million years ago, crossing the Bering Strait (like human beings) to come to the Americas.
* Despite many languages naming raccoons for their tendency to wash their food before consuming it, animal behaviorists claim that this behavior has only been observed in captivity, never in the wild. They say it’s a displacement activity the captive animals use to reproduce hunting along streams and rivers for fish and other aquatic prey. This would make perfect sense, except for one thing: Then why do so many ancient names for the raccoon refer to its food-washing? Surely names like the Powhatan and Proto-Algonquian for raccoon, from which our own word raccoon is derived, were taken from observations in the wild, not from pet raccoons or zoo specimens! Hmmm.
* Humans and birds of prey are called “sighted” species because by far our strongest sense is our sense of sight. Dogs’ strongest senses, by contrast, are their sense of smell and hearing. But raccoons’ dominant sense is their sense of touch, typically expressed through their super-sensitive front paws. Their brains are specialized to focus on touch more than any other animals’ that have ever been studied, and they can recognize objects by touch alone. However, that’s not to say their other senses are lacking. Their eyes are well adapted to seeing in the dark, their sense of smell is excellent, and their hearing is astounding—they can actually hear earthworms moving under the ground.
* Raccoons are no dummies, either. They can quickly learn to open different kinds of locks, still open the locks when their arrangement was dramatically changed (such as turning them upside down), and remember what they’ve learned three years after a short initial training session. And they can tell the difference between boxes containing two, three, and four grapes, as well as “instantly” being able to distinguish between different symbols, according to research. (No wonder that refrigerator and cheesecake carton proved no challenge.)
You can read the Wikipedia article to find many more fascinating raccoon facts. Meanwhile, we wonder if our apparently orphaned twins are still hanging around. If so, Silence and I have decided to name them Crispin and Pippin. But turst me, we’ll enjoy observing them without attempting to make friends!
Anticipation. April 29, 2009Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: container water gardens, goldfish, raccoons, water gardens
Spring is typically a time of anticipation. Our fellow garden bloggers are anticipating all kinds of wonderful things—a new home or deck, a potager or chicken coop, new lambs or kids, the arrival of the first hummingbird, the unfurling of beautiful leaves and flowers as their gardens return to life, new vegetable beds and the appearance of those tiny, precious seedlings from the sea of fresh-dug soil. It’s a delight to read blog posts and revel in the excitement and inspiring photos.
Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood are experiencing a different sort of aniticipation here at Hawk’s Haven, our cottage home in the precise middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania. That’s because it finally got warm enough to reestablish our container water gardens this past weekend. We’d had them both filled with water for weeks so it could warm up, and had put the piece of clay pipe horizontally in the bottom of the deeper container so our fish would have a “tunnel” to hide in if they needed to escape from predators. We’d already put the oxygenator plant anacharis in the water, too (it grows like a weed in our indoor aquaria so we always have plenty to spare for our outdoor water gardens). It was going to be a hundred-degree weekend. It was time to get going.
So last Sunday, Silence and I trekked over to Aquatic Concepts and came back with three goldfish, six snails, a water lettuce, a water hyacinth, a variegated papyrus, a variegated cattail, and a pink-flowered arrowhead. Mind you, we already had water hyacinths, water lettuce, and papyrus overwintering in the container water garden in our greenhouse, so we’d assumed we were in great shape until a power failure occurred one frigid winter night and, by the time we woke up, the plants had departed for that big pond in the sky. Back to the drawing board.
Once home, we divided the plants and snails between the deep and shallow container gardens and floated the goldfish bag in the deep container until the water temperatures equalized, then released the goldfish into their new home. And here’s where the anticipation comes in.
For the past several years, we’ve had a raccoon come through here for a couple of weeks in the spring and a couple in the fall. It apparently considers Hawk’s Haven like a motel stop en route to wherever it’s ultimately going. While it’s here, it pulls down our tube feeders and eats the birdseed, empties the outdoor cats’ food dish, and fishes in our water gardens for goldfish and snails. (See our earlier post “Raccoon 1, gardeners 0” for more on this.) We have seen it at the cat-food dish and it is big. And it seems to have an unerring insinct as to when to arrive, since it inevitably appears about the second we’ve planted the water gardens.
Well, we’ve made it to Wednesday without an attack. (You can always tell because some plants are shredded and the water’s all muddy, even if you don’t see partially consumed fish floating on top or hurled to the ground nearby.) As always, we’re hard-pressed not to hope that this year we and our goldfish will be spared. But we once again bought inexpensive goldfish, having learned from bitter experience not to pay for the premium specimens early in the season. And now… anticipation. It’s making us late, it’s keeping us waiting. And not in a good way.
Is vinegar harmful to a raccoon? March 25, 2009Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: blog queries, humor, raccoons
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Is vinegar harmful to a raccoon? This was the question that led not one but two people to our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac, early today. We have gotten a lot of curious enquiries over the year we’ve been blogging, but frankly, this one takes the cake. How can we resist wondering what led to such a question:
* Someone carefully dressed a salad with extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar and set a little plate outside for the raccoon. But wait, is vinegar harmful to a raccoon?
* Someone carelessly left a bottle of homemade apple cider vinegar out on the deck. The next day, the empty, uncorked bottle was lying on the deck… Is vinegar harmful to a raccoon?
* Oops, that bottle of red wine “vinegar” migrated out the back door and, well, you know how it is, I guess some critter must’ve drunk it. Is vinegar harmful to a raccoon?
* I read that a vinegar rinse was good for adding red highlights to dark hair. But, oh, dear, I didn’t really mean to practice on that raccoon…
* I’ve been swigging down a shot of vinegar ever’ day since I heard it’d cure whatever ailed you. I aim to live to be a hunnert! But, dang it, thet raccoon up and drunk my shot. Is vinegar harmful to a raccoon?
* I read that predator urine would scare critters away from the veggie garden, but I didn’t have any, so I dumped a bottle of vinegar around the garden bed instead. Is vinegar harmful to a raccoon?
* A vinegar rinse is supposed to get your sheets and underwear whiter than white, right? But last time I saw my sheet, a raccoon had taken it off the clothesline and was carting it away. Is vinegar harmful to a raccoon?
* I read a tip online that vinegar and newsprint would give your windows a shiny sparkle. I was outside washing the windows when I saw this raccoon…
Raccoons are omnivores like us, and dextrous omnivores at that. Our friend Ben suspects that vinegar is just as good, bad, or indifferent to raccoons as it is to us. And given our dog’s, parrots’, and chickens’ preference for dressed salads, I think a raccoon would love some mixed greens dressed with a tasty vinaigrette. Maybe with a few water-garden goldfish as fresh sushi topping.
Whatever the case, we’d love to know what prompted this question. And as always, we’re grateful to our alert readers for giving us something to laugh about!
We can get wild. November 6, 2008Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: 'possums, cats, Mark Knopfler, raccoons
Things are getting pretty wild here at Hawk’s Haven, our friend Ben and Silence Dogood’s cottage home in the precise middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania. The winter birds are making their presence known—no juncos yet, but lots of chickadees, titmice, finches, bluejays, cardinals, nuthatches, and woodpeckers. Squirrels and chipmunks are rustling around collecting black walnuts, shagbark hickory nuts, and butternuts for their winter larders. Our chickens have finished their autumn molt and put on their dense, shiny winter plumage, even as our trees and shrubs start to lose their leaves for the season. Rose hips, juniper and privet berries, and pokeweed berries are all unusually abundant, as are honey locust pods and fir cones. Nature is definitely trying to tell us something.
But last night, we had our biggest wildlife night ever. Silence was setting the table for dinner—mashed yellow potatoes from our CSA enriched with liberal amounts of half-and-half and butter; huge organic CSA carrots sliced, quartered, and glazed with butter, curry powder, and garam masala; fresh-picked CSA spinach wilted over sauteed sweet onion and mushrooms; and an incredible salad with Romaine lettuce and tons of hearty greens as well as diced red bell pepper, scallions, shredded carrot, green and kalamata olives, cubes of feta cheese, and our new favorite dressing, a mix of ranch dressing, olive oil, lemon juice, and fresh-cracked black pepper. (See Silence’s post “Fabulous easy salad dressing” for more on this.)
Urk. I seem to have gotten a bit distracted thinking about food; sorry. Anyway, Silence was setting the table while I was opening a bottle of wine, when she started screaming for me to “get over here NOW.” Our ancient round oak dining table looks out the sliding glass doors to our deck. Silence rushed to the door and flipped on the outdoor light, revealing the most enormous raccoon we’d ever seen.
There he was, calmly eating our outdoor cats’ food and ignoring the cats, the light, and us. No Butterball turkey has anything on this raccoon, let me tell you. It was bigger than most medium-sized dogs, and a lot fatter. I’m sure he would make a succulent substitute if you fancied roasted game for your Thanksgiving repast (and somewhere, a turkey would thank you).
Meanwhile, our baby cat, Marley, and his uncle Simon had taken refuge up on our grill and were watching the raccoon polish off their dinner with horrified fascination. At least they had the good sense to keep out of its way.
By the time our supper was on the table, the raccoon had finished his own dinner and waddled off. But before Marley and Simon could even come down off the grill to inspect their bowl, there was Snout, one of our two resident ‘possums (along with his brother Sprout), arriving to finish what little the raccoon had left behind. Our friend Ben has observed that none of our outdoor cats, not even the big, tough toms, Danticat and Beau, will take on a ‘possum, however small. Snout and Sprout had been mere babes when they first appeared on the deck, but after a summer of free food, Snout was now a ‘possum to be reckoned with (though certainly no competition for the monstrous raccoon). Marley and Simon wisely elected to remain up on the grill and avoid a confrontation with his toothy, alligatorlike snout.
Mercy! We’ve seen a lot of wildlife, including baby skunks, here in our day. But a monster raccoon and a ‘possum on the same night? This is a first. Thank heavens no skunks or, God forbid, bears followed in their footsteps. Our friend Ben and Silence sadly agreed to bring the outdoor cat food bowl in when the sun went down henceforth. Our outdoor cats won’t be pleased about this, but it should reduce the competition. Yes, we can get wild, but we’d as soon not get quite as wild as this.
Note: The title of this post, “We can get wild,” is a song by Mark Knopfler from his album “Kill to Get Crimson.” Mark Knopfler is one of the greatest musicians of our day and one of the greatest guitarists of all time. If you haven’t heard “Kill to Get Crimson,” our friend Ben suggests that you head on over to Amazon and check it out. You’ll be glad you did!
Raccoon 1, gardeners 0. May 26, 2008Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening.
Tags: garden pests, raccoons, water gardens
*&%$!!#@! raccoon. Our friend Ben discovered a goldfish (dead) and snail (mercifully unharmed) lying on the deck yesterday morning, and a muddy, ripped-up mess where the container water garden had been looking so lovely and serene. As feared (see my post on setting up the water garden, “A good day for gazing balls”), the wretched raccoon had discovered the all-you-can-eat buffet on our deck and bellied up for its dinner.
As the earth awakens from its winter rest and gardening season moves from a longed-for dream to a blister-inducing reality, raccoons emerge from hibernation, mate, and bear their young. By May and June, the females have hungry mouths to feed (including their own) and the males are footloose and fancy free. Just as your first crops are ripening, you’re likely to see these big, smart, adaptable omnivores casing your produce or pet food—or worse, see the path of nocturnal destruction they’ve left in their wake.
We’re not the only ones who’ve suffered raccoon depredations in the past few weeks. Melissa at Zanthan Gardens (http://www.zanthan.com/gardens/gardenlog/) had a raccoon trash her water garden, too. And the Weed Whackin’ Wenches (http://www.weedwhackinwenches.blogspot.com/) had a very humorous encounter with a raccoon attempting to raid their garden and have since posted the formidable Diva Dog on guard duty to prevent any recurrences. Our good friend Edith had the ultimate horror, a family of raccoons in her attic. (Given the noise even a solitary squirrel makes overhead, our friend Ben shudders to think of the racket, not to mention what else might be going on. It probably sounded like boot camp in progress.)
From one end of the country to the other, the raccoons are active… and they’re hungry. Our friend Ben understands that they’ve even become naturalized in Europe, and are up to their usual tricks in urban and suburban areas there, too. Yikes!
What makes raccoons more of a menace than those other backyard marauders, groundhogs (aka woodchucks), bunnies, skunks, and ‘possums? (Note that I did not say deer. if you have a deer problem, you probably laugh at raccoons. But that is another story.) It’s a combination of intelligence, dexterity, omnivorous habits, and size. Did I mention that raccoons are big? A fullgrown male can weigh 35 pounds and be 36 inches—that’s 3 feet, folks—long, not counting the 10-inch tail. The largest raccoon on record weighed more than 50 pounds. It takes a fair amount of food to fill an animal that size, and the critter can do quite a lot of damage just waddling around among your plants.
Raccoons are dexterous because they really have hands rather than front paws, and they certainly know how to use them. And like us, raccoons are omnivorous. (Unlike us, they have a fondness for garbage cans, and have absolutely no trouble pulling off the lid so they can climb in and explore.) They’ve been known to open screen doors, climb in open windows, and squeeze through pet doors to get to the coveted kitchen, then open cabinets and refrigerators, removing choice treats from their wrappers and leaving a pile of wrappers and an open fridge door, much like a distracted teenager, in their wake. (Cheesecake is apparently a favorite; our friend Ben can sympathize.) The very word “raccoon” derives from a Virginia Algonquian word meaning “he scratches with his hands.”
Another famous thing raccoons do with their hands is wash their food before eating it—the Norwegian word for raccoon means “wash bear”—though scientists will hasten to assure you that they’re not actually trying to get the food clean. (Just what they are trying to do is still a matter of debate.) Unfortunately, this means that a water garden provides one-stop shopping: The raccoon can select its meal and wash it in one convenient location.
What to do? Putting netting over the water garden is reputedly effective at keeping raccoons (and other predators like herons) out, though it hardly enhances the water garden’s aesthetic appeal, which is surely the reason we have them to begin with. (Since most raccoons are nocturnal, I suppose you could net the water garden at night and remove the netting every morning, but what a pain.) Our friend Ben is hoping that a barricade of container plants will at least give our raccoon pause. (By contrast, our outdoor cats love them, lolling on the deck in the shade of the plants’ foliage and doubtless dreaming of the jungle.)
Incidentally, you may wonder how we know that it’s a raccoon and not the outdoor cats attacking the water garden. Fortunately, it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure this one out. While the cats do exhibit a preference for drinking the water in the container gardens rather than the fresh water in their own bowls (gross!!!), they don’t fish in them or tear up plants. Battered, knocked-around plants and muddy water are sure signs of raccoon feasting.
Here at Hawk’s Haven, we have two other things going in our fishes’ favor: First, we laid a section of clay pipe horizontally in the bottom of the water garden to provide the fish with a safe haven, then put in lots of plants for cover. And second, in past years this raccoon has appeared practically nightly for a couple of weeks, then moved on for the rest of the season. Maybe the other fish (and snails) will fare better. If not, our favorite water-garden store, Aquatic Concepts, is fortunately just a couple of miles down the road. We’ll just wait until there’s no further sign of depredation and restock.
For someone like our friend Ben who grew up with Sterling North’s heartwarming book Rascal, his real-life story of growing up with a beloved pet raccoon, to make the transition to viewing raccoons as pests isn’t easy. But one look at the helpless fish, the hapless snails, and the ravaged plants is enough to cause an attitude adjustment. Not to mention the very real threat of rabies to our outdoor cats—37.5% of reported rabies cases are in raccoons.
This morning, the water garden is once again unmolested. The water is clear, the plants are recovering, and I can see the two surviving fish swimming peacefully in the depths. But our friend Ben knows better than to assume that the worst is over. Once the raccoon has a chance to size up the situation, it will be raccoon 2, gardeners 0. It’s going to be a long couple of weeks.