The Natural Enquirer: A raccoon story, part 2
He sniffed at the foot of one bag and then crossed to the other and walked deliberately between the embers and the sleeping man, as if reveling in his boldness and daring.
A few feet away from them he found a canvas pack on which the straps had not been refastened, and with a bit of fumbling he managed to open the flap and begin rummaging. He showed no interest in a plastic container filled with fishing lures, nor in a tightly rolled-up rain slicker. But when he found a white paper sack filled with hard candies, he ripped it apart, strewing them in all directions. He bit one of them in half, but appeared not to like it and spat it out, then turned his attention to a small can of lard.
It took a little while for him to figure out what to do, but finally he managed to pry open the lid with his teeth while holding the sides of the can with his front feet. He sniffed gingerly at the white material, and then stuck his front paws into it in turn, each paw scooping out a heavy gob. He licked it tentatively, decided he didn’t like that, either, and began rubbing it off on the ground.
“Hey! Get out of there!” A beam of light speared the darkness, and the startled raccoon jumped and spun around. Dad was sitting upright, reaching for a shoe which his flashlight beam had locked on. His son sat up, awakened by the commotion.
Curiously unafraid, the raccoon loped off and entered the woods again on the opposite side of the camp, not even bothered when the shoe thumped to the ground to one side of him. Behind him the irritation in the voices dissolved into chuckles and then became laughter.
He traveled a fairly direct course now, heading straight for the backyard of a home which fronted in part on Maple Lake. But as he approached, it he became more cautious. There were dogs here, dogs that were only too eager for an opportunity to nab such an interloper as he.
With frequent stops to listen carefully, he made his way past the garbage cans near an open garage.
In the garage he climbed onto a bench and poked about in a variety of containers, spilling nuts and nails, bolts and other hardware materials to the floor, and now for the first time a dog barked uncertainly. He didn’t pay any attention to it, and continued his rummaging.
He stepped off of the bench unto a stack of buckets and the whole stack fell over. Though shaken up he wasn’t injured, but the noise frightened him badly, and so did the savage barking which came immediately after. At once he plunged for the doorway, which appeared open. It was screened, and he struck the screening a tremendous blow, ripping it. Slightly dazed, he squirmed through the hole he had made, ripping it wider in his passage, and then he was in the yard and running toward the adjoining marsh.
The dogs were not far behind, and as he shot a quick glance over his shoulder, he saw the lights in farmhouse and barn flare to life. Both dogs were whining and growling as they ran, and suddenly a deeper fear bloomed in the raccoon as he realized how very close to him they were, and he put every ounce of his strength into out distancing them.
The dogs continued to close the gap between them, but now the soil had become spongy, and he was entering the marsh area. Heedless of the racket he made, he thrashed through the dried cattails and spattered through deeper pockets of water which he knew would help hide his scent. Before long he was swimming more than running, and now he slowed and proceeded more quietly.
The dogs were barking again as they splashed through the swampy shallows, their cries filled with frustration at having lost the raccoon’s trail. Satisfied, he continued his measured progress, and the barks grew fainter with the distance.
The raccoon traversed nearly the whole of the marsh before finally stopping on a small island upon which a single dead tree stood, its naked arms stretching upward to greet the breaking dawn. Shaking himself to rid his fur of water and mud, the raccoon now felt a weariness overtaking him. He had had a busy night.
With the assurance of one who had been here before, which indeed he had, the raccoon ambled over to the tree and ducked into a small opening at its base. Inside it opened up to a moderate-sized den with a bed of dry leaves and grasses, and here he curled up and immediately fell asleep.
To be continued…
Peter Dring is a retired nature biologist and phenologist who lives in the Land ‘O Lakes area. To comment on this story, visit the “Outdoors” section of StarJournalNOW.com.