In late spring, my daughter and I were playing in the back room. The sun was beginning to set when a sudden movement outside caught my eye. A raccoon froze from its casual stroll across our backyard as our eyes met. Excitedly, I called my daughter’s attention to the raccoon, and we rushed to the screen door to watch.
But she made another appearance a few days later, so we knew she was still around.
A few weeks later, my husband and I were awakened by the sound of animals fighting. We have cats, so at first we thought they were the culprits, but we soon realized that the scuffling and squeals of pain were coming from the attic. The next morning confirmed that a large animal had gotten into the attic via some missing and torn soffits from the eaves. It became apparent that the raccoon had chosen our humble attic as the birthplace of her brood.
I didn’t really mind much. The nocturnal noise was annoying, but given that we’ve had a lot of rain this summer in Colorado, I couldn’t begrudge the raccoon her desire to find a dry place for her family (and our landlord had neglected to fix the missing soffit in the eave for years). Even my husband was won over by the cuteness of raccoons when one of the babies scampered down a tree outside our dining room. But we knew that eventually, they would have to go.
Fortunately, the landlord chose a pest removal company that specialized in live traps (and release in the woods at least an hour’s drive away). Two traps were set, and we waited.
And we waited.
I was beginning to wonder if the raccoons had moved out on their own. We had been running the attic fan a lot lately due to the heat, and I had read that loud noises could dissuade raccoons from urban areas. But then this morning, it happened.
After he left for work, I cautiously went outside. And sure enough, there she was. At first, she was motionless; only a slight breeze ruffled her luxurious fur. As I walked around the trap, though, she raised her head and watched me warily. And I cried.
Later, when I calmed down, I woke up my daughter and took her outside to see the raccoon. I was very careful to use masculine pronouns to refer to the raccoon; movies which featured the death or separation of mothers from their children tend to devastate her. She was intrigued (although disappointed that the raccoon’s tail was hidden from view), happy to finally see the raccoon up close.
I came back home to work for the day; the pest removal person had indicated he would pick up the raccoon sometime today and I wanted to be there. So I went back out, and I apologized to the raccoon.
She has soulful eyes. Yes, I realize that I am personifying this creature, projecting my feelings of guilt and inadequacy as a mother onto her, but I’m really torn. I called my husband. “I just want to let her out,” I told him. “She just wanted a safe place to raise a family.” “That’s not a good idea,” he responded.
But why isn’t it?
Yes, I know raccoons carry disease. Everything carries disease these days, it seems. But I’m probably exposed to way more pathogens as a mother and as a teacher. And we never go up into the attic. Yes, the raccoons do damage to the insulation and siding, etc. (This page outlines the possibilities thoroughly: http://www.raccoonatticguide.com/) Yes, they’re noisy at night–but so is my daughter. Over her brief lifetime, she has woken me countless times, and I never once considered calling a pest removal company (well . . . almost never).
This raccoon just wanted a safe place to raise a family. I understand that drive, that compulsion, that need.
I was okay with getting rid of the raccoons until I saw her up close. Until I looked in her eyes. Perhaps if the other trap–still empty–held her children, I would be okay with all this because then at least I would know that they would be released together.
I don’t know how old her babies are (I haven’t seen them). A page on National Geographic‘s website tells me that “Females have one to seven cubs in early summer. The young raccoons often spend the first two months or so of their lives high in a tree hole. Later, mother and children move to the ground when the cubs begin to explore on their own” (http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/raccoon/). Are the babies self-sufficient enough to live on their own? Might they find their way into the other trap soon? Will the pest removal person release them in the same place as their mother once (if) they are caught? Is the cost of insulation and siding greater than that of the lives of her babies?
Rattling from outside caught my attention, so I went back out to check on the raccoon while I waited for the pest removal person to arrive. Sure enough, the raccoon was trying to raise up the trap’s door, but she immediately cowered as I approached. My neighbor happened to be outside as well: turns out that they have frequently seen two large raccoons on our roof for a few months now. Maybe the raccoon in the trap is the male. Needless to say, I’m not getting close enough to find out.
But look at those eyes.
It’s my hope that when the pest removal person arrives, he will be able to give me some assurances. If this is the female (or when we trap the female), will he venture into the attic to remove the babies? Or is the cost of insulation and siding the separation and likely death of the babies?
Update: The pest removal person has collected the raccoon and is in the process of transporting it to a wilderness area. He was pretty sure that the raccoon was a male, and he indicated that if we had seen the mother out with her babies (which my husband had), then they probably were not in the attic any more (especially given how warm it has been lately). So that is a huge relief.
But at the same time, this experience only makes me more aware of the lengths to which we go to separate ourselves from the natural world. When I spoke with my neighbor about the raccoon, they only focused on how much damage the raccoon was most likely doing to the attic. Yeah, I get that to some extent . . . but couldn’t we try to find better ways to co-exist with our local wildlife? One of the articles my medieval ecocriticism class read last spring dealt with finding nature in our backyards (rather than traveling great lengths to get to national parks and wildlife reserves, etc.). We’ve had foxes hang out in our backyard, and we’ve watched several litters of rabbits come and go over the years. Recently there has been a pair of gorgeous woodpeckers hanging out. One morning this past spring, a raptor was messily finishing its breakfast in the tree in my front yard. Another morning, about a year ago, as the kiddo and I left for school, a mother duck and her three ducklings casually meandered down the street. Of course, I’m perfectly fine not having a mountain lion show up in my backyard, or a rattlesnake, but I love these little close encounters. Although it will be nice not being woken in the middle of the night by the raccoons.
What do I take away from all of this? I’m not really sure. I’m relieved that I’m not condemning baby raccoons to an early death. I’m sad that I’m depriving an animal of its home, although I’m hopeful that it will quickly adjust to its new one (and raccoons are smart, hardy creatures). I’m thankful for the opportunity to look into that raccoon’s eyes and, I think, to understand some of its fear. After all, how safe are we in these houses that we build–literal and metaphorical?
Goodbye, sleepy raccoon. Best wishes on the next stage of your life.