Previously in Speaking of Nature . . .
When I was about 8 years old, I was on a camping trip in the Adirondacks with my family. One night I was allowed to stay up late while the adults in our group played cards. I was lying on a cot, staring out into the darkness where my uncle had put out a slice of pie. I saw something moving at the edge of the lantern light. Then, whatever it was looked in my direction and I saw a pair of eyes glowing in the darkness.
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 bird feeder in a different position than it had been the night before and totally empty.
And now, the exciting conclusion . . .
I had a pretty good idea what was going on, but I got the proof later that summer in a most startling way. I had gone out onto the porch in the middle of the night to see what the stars looked like. I hadn’t turned any lights on because I didn’t want to screw up my night vision. As I stood there in the dark, I got that strange feeling that I wasn’t alone. Then I heard the noise.
It wasn’t so much a hiss as it was the sound of a person loudly pronouncing the letter “F.” Deer do this at night, as do raccoons and bears. I did not want it to be a bear. My eyes were as big as they had been when I was 8, but I couldn’t see what was making the noise. I backed up, found the door handle, and hopped into the house with a little more energy than I care to admit. Then I turned on the porch light and took a look outside. It wasn’t a raccoon . . . it was five raccoons!
More specifically, it was a mother raccoon and her four babies. In the best possible terms, I knew I was in trouble because young raccoons can create more mischief than a box full of kittens and these babies were already wrestling and exploring while their mother loaded up on food.
Night after night, the family would visit until I eventually had to stop leaving the bird feeders out at night because the mother simply ate too much and it was getting expensive.
Many years have gone by and many generations of young raccoons have learned that my porch is a good place to look for a meal. I don’t think the original female is still alive because she had a certain comfort in my presence that was really quite endearing. There was even a summer a couple of years ago when the raccoons seemed to disappear for a while.
Recently, however, I heard that telltale thunking and when I turned on the light I found a pair of adolescent raccoons lounging on the porch. I don’t have any dogs and I don’t take any hostile action against raccoons, so they are really quite comfortable in my presence.
There was even something in the way one of them seemed to be reclining in comfort that told me they were somehow related to that first female who brought her babies to my house for dinner.
Bill Danielson is a professional nature photographer and author living in Altamont. Contact him at www.speakingofnature.com.