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Raccoon Ruckus

Source: Personal experience

Read this and other stories in the book, Noticing Nature, by Chuck Bonner. Also available in e-book format for Amazon Kindle.

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One spring morning, my school was abuzz with stories of a huge raccoon wandering right through the city.

I sort-of think I know "... the rest of the story."

This was in Dover, Delaware, over thirty years ago, when I was in high school.

One Saturday morning, my friend and I were on our way to explore the woods behind a local farm for the umpteenth time. We stopped to chat with the Lazy Farmer for a while.

As I described in another story, the Lazy Farmer didn't do much farming. He leased his land to a large corporate farm, and they did most of the farming, even bringing their own equipment when it was time to plow or harvest. That left the Lazy Farmer free to concentrate on less profitable pursuits, including his small flock of chickens.

When my friend and I stopped by the barnyard on our way to the woods, the Lazy Farmer was patching a hole in the chicken wire. Seems a raccoon had tried to get into the chicken house the night before. Fortunately, the dogs had started bawling, and the Lazy Farmer woke up in time to chase the raccoon off before he actually got inside.

I'm sure the Were-Chicken would have been able to hold his own against a marauding raccoon, but the hens, the chicks, and especially the eggs were in very great danger.

What a coincidence! Just a few days ago, my friend had received a brand-new live-catch trap through mail order.

In moments, we had the plan and the permission. We would set the trap out near the pond, under the assumption that the raccoon would stay away from the chicken house for at least a few days after his fruitless attempt the night before. We had often seen raccoon tracks around the pond, so this should be the ideal place to set the trap. Then we would release the raccoon in the woods near my house, on the other side of town.

A couple hours later, it was done. The trap was well hidden between the two soybean fields in a weed-choked hedgerow that connected the pond to the woods.

All we had to do was to wait.

The next morning, my friend called with the thrilling news. We had a raccoon!

After church, I rode my bike across town to my friend's house. We hurried out to the farm a couple of blocks away and retrieved the trap, along with the very unhappy animal.

I may have mentioned elsewhere on this Web site that the raccoons in Delaware tend to be rather large. This one was a prime example. We had weighed the empty trap at ten pounds, and the raccoon and trap together bottomed out our largest fish scale at 35 pounds. (It didn't occur to us to use a bathroom scale.) So this raccoon was clearly heavier than 25 pounds, and I would not be a bit surprised if it weighed 35 pounds.

The Lazy Farmer was interested to see the raccoon up close and in broad daylight, but mostly he was delighted that he would be rid of it. He didn't care much that we planned to release it in the woods on the other side of the city, as long as it was well away from his precious chickens.

My friend's mother, who was surprisingly patient and indulgent about such things, drove my friend and me and the raccoon back to my house on the other side of town.

My neighborhood was a typical suburban subdivision, but I lived right on the edge of it, abutting a more undeveloped area. Still, there were no farms nearby that would be greatly troubled by a raccoon. My next-door neighbor grew only alfalfa, and the next-nearest farm grew only soybeans. There was a large corporate feed-corn farm about a mile away, but that was it.

So we carried the raccoon back into the woods behind my house and opened the trap. The beast required no persuasion at all, but instantly bolted from the cage and up into a large oak. He eyed us from thirty feet above with a look of total bewilderment, and remained motionless for as long as we cared to watch.

And that, we figured, would be the end of that. The raccoon would discover the rich supplies of crayfish and tadpoles in the little brook, make himself a nest in one of the large old trees, and live happily ever after.

Well, it didn't quite work out that way.

The next morning in school, everyone was talking about the enormous raccoon. It ate cat food on someone's back porch and scrapped with the cats for a while. It ran along the top of a fence with dogs barking at it from either side. It ran across a couple of busy streets in a very urbanized part of the city. A bunch of kids waiting for the school bus watched as an ad hoc pack comprised of every unleashed dog in the neighborhood chased the raccoon down the sidewalk and into someone's back yard.

My friend and I didn't say much, but we listened a lot. We were able to piece the story together by noting where the raccoon was seen and at about what time.

Evidently, the night was nearly half-gone before the raccoon emerged from the woods where we had released him. He entered the city from the southwest, near the eastern end of "my" woods, and pretty much made a bee-line toward the northeast. As of the last reported sighting, near the bus stop, he still had to cross U.S. Route 13, but then it would have been smooth sailing back to the Lazy Farmer's farm.

I have no doubt at all that he made it. But we never mentioned any of this to the Lazy Farmer.

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