As we head into autumn, food will become scarce for the many woodland creatures that live here. Most will survive on the slim pickings in the forest, some will hibernate and some will become very determined thieves. Thieves, that’s right—I’m talking about raccoons, the terrorists of the woodlands.
The way to keep raccoons away is to convince them that your house is not a food source. My mother, a fervent animal-lover, never completely grasped this concept. After she bagged the garbage, put it in a big trash can, stretched two bungee cords over the lid, and put some bricks on top of that (I’m not exaggerating), she would leave a dish of scraps out for the raccoons because she felt bad that they might be hungry.
She said that, over time, the raccoons grew very bold. Whenever we sat out on the patio in the evening, they would sneak up, go under the table, and we would all jump as we felt them brush against our legs. On a few occasions, they followed us into the kitchen. We would hear cabinets opening and suddenly realize they were in the kitchen with us.
On one occasion, Mom put four ears of freshly cooked corn on the deck, and when we came out with more food and drinks a few minutes later, all we saw was a bare table with forks and napkins scattered everywhere and two grey-ringed tails descending the stairs.
Raccoons are like toddlers. They look cute and cuddly to deceive you into letting your guard down before revealing that they have the destructive force of a tornado.
I’m not like my mother. There’s no plate of scraps for raccoons at my house. I am on to them. I think they are organized. I think they meet in secret and work out who covers what neighborhood. I remember this one female raccoon a few years ago, I named her Rachel, who repeatedly tore open the screen of a window and let herself in my house. She would hiss at me as I tried to shoo her out with a broom. One night she brought her two pups with her—I guess she couldn’t get a sitter—and the three of them made off with a box of Cheerios. When she came back the next night after pulling off a piece of plywood I had nailed over the window, I told her she was not setting a good example for her kids. Thievery is not a job skill.
While I was lecturing her, I caught sight of a very big raccoon in the backyard. He was probably her old man. He looked tough, like he had taken on more than one Labrador in his lifetime. Plus, I’m sure I spotted a tattoo on his arm with two Rs. Until then I thought that the Raccoons Rule gang was just a rumor, but there it was in grey and black. It’s hard to believe a raccoon could get a tattoo. I know they could pay the tattoo artist with real clams, which are legal tender on Shelter Island, but you still had to be 18 to get a tattoo. He could not have been more than 8 or 9 years old. It’s possible his mother signed a consent form for him, but most of the older raccoons can’t read.
I spoke to Rachel about her choice of a mate. I mean, if he’s supposed to be a provider, why wasn’t he the one tearing open my screen, instead of her? Rachel suddenly got very defensive. She told me that Ricky wasn’t part of that awful gang anymore and she was helping him get back on his feet. At the time, she claimed that he was in rehab for his Dorito addiction and that he was even taking an acting class, following an old dream of his. She then grabbed a muffin and stormed out of my house.
I’ll be honest, Ricky kinda sounded like a loser at the time. Turns out, I was wrong about him. He eventually did make it into Hollywood as an actor, starring in a very successful science-fiction film that came out just last summer. I think it was called Warriors of the Universe or something like that. And like so many celebrities on Shelter Island, Ricky hangs out here with his family for peace and quiet.