There was a time when I thought raccoons were cute. That was back in a different incarnation, when I lived Scottsdale. Not the “Snobsdale” you’re thinking of, the high-falutin, fancy place populated by the bejeweled and overly blonde. I know it’s hard to believe but there are pockets of Scottsdale where you can buy a rundown 1200 square foot home in development of equally small homes built in the late 70s. That house was supposed to have been my forever home. After moving eleven times in thirteen years (two of them international moves), I wanted roots.
Well, the minute I started growing those roots in my new garden, I got wildlife. Yep, right there In the city. Javelina walking down the middle of our quiet side street. Coyotes as large as German Shepherds showing up. A Great Horned Owl hooting away on the light pole behind our fence. One of the cats noticed the owl and went into full “hunt” mode, dropping into the tail-twitching crouch, slinking along the top of the cinder block fence, his eyes on the prize some ten feet over his head. I could see the wheels spinning in his head, “That’s the biggest darn piece of chicken I’ve ever seen and I’m getting me some!” Id-jet. I snatched him off the wall and carried him into the house. But I never expected raccoons. In fact, if you’d told me there were raccoons in my neighborhood, I would have scoffed. How, when every house around me had dogs?
Back when I was a city dweller, I did things like go to yoga four nights a week because it was only a five minute drive (instead of a twenty-five minute drive) to the studio. I was alone a lot because the ex traveled extensively and often for weeks at a time. I didn’t much like coming back into a dark and quiet house, so I’d leave the television on while I was gone. I can’t do that any more as I gave up TV four years ago, but that’s okay because now I have dogs. They make much more noise than the telly ever did.
Apparently, my schedule was so predictable that even the critters took note. I say this because for nine months prior to the big reveal I was finding dissolved cat food in the cats’ water bowl. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out how it got there. Now, I did have a cat who liked to put her little fur-covered mice in the water bowl so she could find them when she wanted to play again. But cat food? With their paws? Not likely.
Then one night I skipped my yoga class to hem pants for my sister, doing so while sitting in front of the television. The back of my couch faced the sliding glass door that had the cat door in it, and I had my head bent over my sewing. Two of my then four cats were on the couch with me when I heard the plastic cat door flap hit the frame…once, twice, thrice (Medieval writers use the word “thrice”)… . I straightened in surprise. You see, three strikes of the cat door was one more cat than I owned.
At the same instant that my cats took off for the bedroom at high speed (apparently they had been far less clueless than I about the dirty cat water), I turned around on the couch, And there they were, three young raccoons sitting on their haunches, their very human-looking hands folded as if in prayer. Their mother was pacing back and forth on the other side of the slider, chittering, as her babies all stared at me as if saying, “But you’re never home this time of night!”
I stood up, the raccoons flew back out the cat door to took off to parts unknown. All of a sudden the light bulb flash to life over my head. For the past nine months, they’d been coming into my house and helping themselves to the cat food, which they’d been washing in the cats’ water. There’s a reason for sharing this old story because it leads right into last night’s otter story.
I had the pleasure of sharing dinner with my neighbors two doors down last night. Two doors out here means I have to drive to their house, because it’s almost a half mile away and the road is too dark and dangerous for me to walk at night. Over very tasty stew, I was telling Jacquie and Chris about the otter getting into the turkey coop and killing one of the turkeys. Chris scoffed. He’d never seen an otter here even though he’s lived here a long time. Beaver, they’ve got, as do I. But my orchard is fenced. Rather than fences, they keep charged metal lines 6 inches off the ground to keep those somewhat scary-looking water rodents from taking down their fruit trees. Which they do with ease. I’ll never forget walking out to check on my beautiful nectarine tree that was along the ditch, only to find the whole tree gone overnight. Jacquie added that she’d never seen otter either, but that a fox had recently gotten caught and killed in the electrical line as it was scoping out her chicken coop. Despite my assurances that it had to be a small, slithery predator that had gotten into my turkey coop, neither of them were convinced.
When the evening ended, Jacquie and I walked outside and stepped onto the bridge that crosses their very pretty lily pond, which sits in front of their house kind of like an attractive moat. (Don’t get the Medievalist going on the pros and cons of water moats over mined moats…I can bore you for hours.) There was a sudden and loud splashing from right under our feet. Both of us stood there watching in surprise as the lily pads shifted and bent, then out popped an otter, tangled in the lily stems, but an otter. A young one, given its size. Still startled by our unexpected appearance–no doubt it had been under the water under the bridge and hadn’t heard the door opening–it wrenched one way then the other, broke free of the foliage, then bounded in and out of the water in its haste to escape us.
As Jacquie gaped after the departing “clown of the river” in astonishment, I said, “And there’s your otter.”
Then I reached out to poke the turkey hen (I gave them a couple of poults earlier this year) roosting on the bridge railing. “Still think it wasn’t an otter that broke into my coop?”
Jacquie told me later that she has a couple of carp and a koi that someone gave her in the pond. Somehow, I doubt they’re in there any more.