To be honest, it wasn’t the first raccoon I’d ever seen in real life, but it was the first raccoon I’d seen on the mountain.
The other raccoons I’d seen had been spotted in Texas. On several occasions, raccoons tried to break into a house where I was staying, and one time while sitting on the back patio of a coffee shop in a major city, I saw a lumbering raccoon bigger than the biggest cat I’d ever laid eyes on. That sucker was huge. I guess everything really is bigger in Texas!
In the first three seasons I’d worked in campgrounds on the mountain, I’d never seen a raccoon, never heard one break into the garbage cans, never received a complaint from a camper who’d been the victim of raccoon crime. I’d occasionally wondered about the lack of raccoons, but since I knew about their persistence in the acquisition of food, I certainly didn’t wish for any of these critters in the campgrounds where I stayed.
During my second summer as a camp host, I’d asked my coworker about the lack of raccoons. He’d lived in the area for nearly 20 years, so he was my main source of information about local flora and fauna. He postulated that a lack of water kept the creatures off the top of the mountain. That seemed like a logical explanation to me, but the next year was wetter with still no sign of raccoons.
The raccoon made its appearance during the last week of July of my fourth season on the mountain. It first showed up in the campground where the Mercantile is located. Sandra the camp host told me on the night it arrived, it went from campsite to campsite, scavenging. On site #1, the raccoon stole a cheeseburger off the table while the camping family sat there eating dinner. It was certainly a bold creature!
The Man had come back to work a part-time maintenance job which required no dealing with money, paperwork, or the general public. Of course, Jerico the dog had come back with him. We were all staying at the group campground together. Maybe a week after the cheeseburger incident, the raccoon made an appearance on our campsite.
We’d been to civilization that day and come back with plenty of supplies. The Man had loaded all his food into his minivan but hadn’t yet put away a 15 pound bag of dog food which was leaning on a stump outside the van.
The Man had come over to my rig but left Jerico in his van. It had grown dark while we lay in my bed talking. Suddenly from the other van we heard Jerico start barking, and he didn’t stop. There were campers on the other end of the campground, and I thought one of them had approached our camp.
When Jerico started barking, The Man jumped out of my van and went over to his to see what the commotion was about. In less than a minute, he was hollering, Honey! Honey! Bring me my headlamp!
There’d been a raccoon out there, and now it was in the tree! Jerico had treed a ‘coon from inside the minivan! What a hound!
The raccoon was still moving up the tree when I got outside, so I threw a couple of pine cones at the tree for good measure.
Don’t hurt it! The Man said, but I had no intention (or ability) to hit it. I just wanted it to find the environment of our campsite inhospitable.
It might have rabies! The Man said, which was possible, but unlikely if it was content to slowly climb a tree. I heard a terrifying story on This American Life once about a woman attacked by a rabid raccoon and that motherfucker was aggressively going after the woman, not trying to take refuge in a tree. Our raccoon was obviously trying to practice avoidance.
With the light from my Luci lamp, I could just make out the raccoon’s glowing eyes high above the ground. With The Man’s bright headlamp, we could see the raccoon splayed out on a branch ten or twelve feet up. This one was much smaller than the lumbering beast I’d seen at the coffee shop in Texas.
The Man put the dog food in his van, and we made sure there was no food left outside to entice the raccoon. We all went to bed and didn’t hear from the raccoon again.
A couple of days later in the Mercantile, I heard about the further exploits of what must have been the same critter.
Two young men were in the Mercantile early on Sunday morning. They reported they’d seen a raccoon in the campground the night before. They’d actually seen the raccoon on their very own campsite. In fact, the raccoon had stolen a bag holding the swimsuit and towel belonging to one of the guys. It had been too dark to find the bag right after it was stolen, but he’d found it that morning in the bushes. The raccoon had ripped the bag trying to get to the contents. We joked about the raccoon being sad after it discovered that the bag it had just grabbed contained the worst snack ever.
I wondered aloud why, after three and a half seasons of seeing no raccoons, this one had suddenly appeared. The other young man said the raccoon must have been pushed out of its territory, and now had to find a new home. I suspect the young man was right. Maybe a wildfire had pushed the raccoon out, or maybe it reached maturity and had to leave the territory of its birth. I spent the rest of my time on the mountain doing my best to put food away so the raccoon wouldn’t try again to make my territory its territory.