If you're a writer and have an interesting or informative article you'd like to see published here, send it to me and I'll review it.
There were wet footprints on the porch. And a puddle of water around the dog dish.
My Shetland Sheepdog, Pixie, slipped past me and raced out into the yard, barking and growling. I looked up at the platform bird feeder 10 feet from the back door. And there they were -- four young raccoons, huddled together, watching me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a fifth one, waddling off into the darkness toward the safety of a large pine tree at the edge of the yard.
"Come on, Pixie," I said. "You'd better go back into the house for the time being."
With great reluctance, my Shetland Sheepdog left the yard and went through the door that I held open for her.
I turned toward the bird feeder.
"Ah, ha," I said, "so it's you, isn't it. It's been you all along."
For the past several weeks, "something" has been eating the dry cat food that I put out in our barn for the stray cats, something that knocks the dishes off the shelf where I put them to keep the dogs from eating the cat food, something that makes a muddy mess of the water dishes.
The four young raccoons watched me closely, huddling together, struggling to be the one on the bottom of the pile who would be safe if this two-legged thing decided to come to after them.
"Why are you eating my cat food? Can't you find something else to eat?" I asked.
"Hissssss-grrrrr," said one of the baby raccoons.
"You don't need to hiss at me. I won't hurt you," I said. "I just want to know -- why can't you find something else to eat."
The four youngsters changed positions, so that a different one was at the bottom of the pile.
"So," I said, "where's the fifth one that was out here? What happened to that one? Hmmm?"
Much to my surprise, the raccoons reacted to the sound of my question.
"Hmmm?" they answered back, chattering and chirping among themselves. "Hmmm?"
As I wondered what it was that I had said in raccoon language, I heard the sound of claws on bark. And then I heard growling. Loud, angry, persistent growling.
Growling that was coming closer.
And out of the darkness and into the range of the porch light came another raccoon.
It was Mother.
And she was upset.
Extremely upset. This big two legged thing was threatening her children--and she was going to have none of it.
I moved back onto the porch.
"Okay, little ones. You'd better go to your momma. She's worried about you," I said.
One by the one, the baby raccoons climbed off the bird feeder and scuttled across the yard toward their mother, who waited for them to get ahead of her and then followed behind, growling and snarling and hissing, putting herself between the youngsters and this two-legged thing that spoke a strange language but knew at least one word of raccoon language.
For the next several minutes, I could hear her in the darkness, growling.
My little GMC pickup truck was parked at the edge of the driveway, and I thought about opening the door and blowing the horn to help the raccoons make a more hasty retreat from my yard, thinking that if the sound was loud enough and frightening enough, they might avoid the place all together in the future. Except that I didn't know exactly where Momma was -- although I knew she was close, because I could hear her, growling. I didn't care for the idea of an angry mother raccoon launching herself at me, so I left well enough alone.
Perhaps the whole experience was frightening enough for them, anyway.
Then again, probably not.
The raccoons have had a month of eating cat food in the barn undisturbed, and one negative experience would not cancel out so many more positive experiences.
LeAnn R. Ralph is the author of these books:
* Preserve Your Family History (e-book) (2004)
* Where the Green Grass Grows: True (Spring and Summer) Stories from a Wisconsin Farm
* Christmas in Dairyland (True Stories from a Wisconsin Farm) (2003)
* Give Me a Home Where the Dairy Cows Roam (2004)
* Cream of the Crop (2005)
* The Coldest Day of the Year
* The Rural Route 2 Cookbook: Tried and True Recipes from Wisconsin Farm Country
" A heartwarming anthology of true anecdotes of rural life on a Wisconsin dairy farm." -- James Cox, Editor-in-Chief/Midwest Book Review