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January 9, 2007 > Raccoon visitors

Raccoon visitors

By Pat Kite

Every so often, Raccoon peeks in my kitchen window. We stare at each other through the glass. Raccoon is huge. He is checking out the little bowl of cat food that I leave for Tom, the visiting cat. Apparently this isn't enough largesse, so he tries to open the can of peanuts kept for the blue jays. Failing this deed, both bowl and can are paw-swept onto the ground. Clunk. So there!

Raccoons are curious animals. They like to explore new places, like your garbage can. If you have a doggy door, they may meander in to explore your kitchen. It is not so easy to get them out. A raccoon's teeth are strong and sharp. Its long nails are sharp. They can, and have, killed small dogs. And females protecting young are especially grumpy. Just open the door and let them out, then clean up the mess. Raccoons have a super ability to open jars, and, being omnivorous, they will taste and eat almost anything.

When I told a Southern friend about my raccoon visitor, he brightened and said "tasty." The Joy of Cooking does have a recipe, stuffed with sweet potato and apple dressing. But here, you can't. Raccoons are legally protected wildlife.

There are such things as traps for raccoons. However, raccoons are suspicious, clever enough to open locked cages, and feisty. Should you think of attempting, check local regulations before you do. In many areas, you can't set it "free," and besides, studies have shown that raccoons have super homing instincts.

Bright lights at night and tight lids on garbage cans discourage raccoon visits. Not leaving pet food outside certainly helps. And do cover your goldfish pond. Raccoons are good fishers, and can find sense water food in total darkness.

Raccoons live throughout most of North America and some parts of Canada and Mexico. The name comes from the Algonquian "Ah-rah-koon-em," which roughly translates as "hand scratcher." Dakota Sioux called it "sacred one with painted face." The Aztecs called it "little one who knows things."

A Nez Perce Indian legend tells how the raccoon got its distinctive markings. It seems a long time ago, all animals had brown fur and looked alike. But one day, Raccoon and Coyote were up to their usual tricks. Coyote seemed to be napping, so Raccoon snuck up on him. He was going to tie Coyote's tail to a vine. But instead, Coyote grabbed him and stuck Raccoon's tail in fire embers giving it had brown and black tail rings. Scorched Raccoon fussed so much that confused Coyote accidentally dropped him head first into the fire embers. Now Raccoon really screamed. Coyote hadn't meant to hurt his friend. So he took handfuls of cool white mud from the riverbank and threw them at Raccoon's face to cool it off. Thus, from then on, raccoons all had a white face with a black eye mask.

Actually, sometimes I'm rather fond of my occasional raccoon visitor. We stare at each other through my kitchen window, having a sort of communion. Suburban survivors both.

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