My first memory of raccoons goes back to when I was 6 or 7 years old. It was during a family camping trip in the Adirondacks at a place called Camp Little Notch. Composed of some 3,000 acres of uninhabited mountains, with a lake and streams, this place was the paradise of my youth.
One of my favorite campsites was a unit called Sleepy Hollow, which had an old Adirondack-style lodge and several small cabins and tents. The lodge itself was particularly fun because it had a big stone fireplace and was open on one side. This is where my first raccoon memory was born.
Watching the darkness
It was late at night and the other kids were all asleep. I was the oldest, so I was allowed to sit up and watch the adults play cards. I really had no idea how the game was played, but it was fun to be up late.
Eventually, I got tired and went over to the old Army cot where I could doze until it was time for everyone to walk down to the cabins.
A gas lantern provided light for the game, but while it was sufficient for illuminating the lodge it did not reach too far out into the darkness. As I lay on my side and looked out into the forest, I could see the huge, dark trunks of 100-foot pines and the lighter trunks of beech trees. But most of what I saw was blackness. It was wonderfully spooky.
My uncle had put out a slice of raspberry pie just at the edge of the light’s reach, and he told me to wait and watch. So I did. Uncle Gerry always knew what to do. The adults were quietly talking, my eyes were getting heavy and I was in a state of contentment. Then, just as I was about to surrender to the sandman, I saw something.
There was a movement out in the dark. The adults were concentrating on their game and didn’t see it, but I did. I never said a word and I felt that thrill of knowing about a monster, but not being able to tell anyone it was coming.
And then, the monster looked my way. What had been a blurry shape in the dark now had bright, reflective eyes that were staring right at me.
I have no memory of being scared. Uncle Gerry told me that raccoons liked raspberry pie and that they might come to visit if we left them a treat. It had all been explained to me ahead of time, so I wasn’t afraid at all. I was riveted, amazed and delighted to finally see the raccoon, but never scared.
Missing from life
Raccoons became a part of many of our family camping trips, but never really played a role in my regular life growing up. We always had big dogs and that probably kept raccoons away from the garbage cans. Years went by (most of my life in fact) before raccoons would again become a part of my daily life.
In 2005, I bought a house in Altamont. I immediately put out bird feeders and had quick success with the birds, but as we all know you can feed more than just birds with a bird feeder.
The first hint that something was amiss came when I found the feeder in a different position that it had been the night before and totally empty.
What happened next? I guess you’ll have to tune in again next week to find out!
Bill Danielson is a professional nature photographer and author living in Altamont. Contact him at www.speakingofnature.com.