When I moved to glassland I learned many astonishing things about glass, life on a corporate cubicle farm and being at one with Nature.
Nature, apparently, also learned to be at one with me, at least when it came to raccoons. More specifically, Nature went out of her way to explain that the cute, cuddly little bandits of my favorite animated fantasies were just that: Fantasies.
Nature and I have had an uneasy relationship ever since my last camping trip. I was 15, we were ‘way into the Sierra backwoods at church camp and our counselor had never so much as zipped a tent flap. Naturally, she had us make camp atop a large nest of giant black ants.
I was exhausted that first night, so I snuggled deep into my down-filled sleeping coccoon under the stars. Around 1AM my ear itched, so I sleepily inserted a finger to scratch.
ZZZZZZAP! The ant in my ear bit and drew blood. I howled, tried to scramble upright, disturbing hundreds of ants that had quietly filled my sleeping bag.
I literally ripped my way out of that bag, yelling my head off and swiping at biting, stinging swarms carpeting my body.
I ran for the river, screaming, alerting not only sleeping campers but also the ranger’s station over the rise. Supposing that someone had been attacked by a bear, they grabbed flashlights and rifles, and came prepared to fight.
A dozen or so jeeps and station wagons found me, waist-deep in the river, naked, shrieking and ant-slapping.
The lights startled me into silence, and I realized that I was basically clothed in only ants (I was going through a rebellious no-pajamas phase), in front of 50-plus armed warriors. Also that I was freezing to death. The camp leader gave me a coat, permission to sleep in the supply tent, giant can of bug spray, and a request not to return to camp next summer.
Since then I’ve had exactly zero urge to experience the wilderness.
Wilderness, however, likes to experience me. When I rented a house in glassland, it made itself right at home. I made the mistake of feeding the feral cats in the neighborhood…which brought the raccoons.
A month after move-in, my cat Rajah started “come inside and fight like a cat” war cries in the wee hours, so I knew there was something outside. Things came to a head around 4AM one morning, when I was showering to catch an early morning flight. Rajah started shrieking at the top of his lungs.
I grabbed a towel, dashed to the back door, and saw him lunging at the glass. A shadow moved outside, across the deck, too ungainly for a dog, too big to be a cat. It looked like a large bear cub…here? In urban Portland?
I flicked on the deck lights and saw the biggest raccoon in the universe. He was at least thigh-high, with paws the size of my hands, and his head was buried in the catfood bowl. He casually glanced at me, and resumed eating.
Whoa. A fellow this big probably also wouldn’t mind chowing down on the cats, I thought, so best to scare him off.
I tapped on the glass door: “Shooo, fella! Shooo!”
He didn’t even look up, so I rapped a bit harder.
“Hey!!!! You, there!! Scram!!!!!”
He ignored me. Faintly insulted, I really BANGED on the glass.
“YO! Einstein!!! I said, ‘Go HOME!!!!!!!!!'”
Clearly, the raccoon wasn’t listening. I opened the door, put a bare foot outside and stomped.
“You think I’m talking to MYSELF?” I shouted, “GET OUT OF HERE! SHOO!!!”
He looked over and–I swear–rolled his eyes. Then he clambered up on my brand new teak lounge chair and settled in, one paw in the catfood like popcorn at a movie…and I was the movie.
That did it. My towel slid off, but I was so mad I didn’t care. I grabbed the broom by the door and stomped outside, stopping about three feet from the chair.
“LOOK, STUPID, GET THE HELL OFF MY DECK!!” I yelled, in my best basso profundo, raising the broom as if to wallop the furry interloper. I wasn’t really going to hit him, just remind him that he was more afraid of me than I of him.
The raccoon yawned, and I realized that, actually, as raccoons go, he wasn’t all that cute. And if there was something he was afraid of, it sure as heck wasn’t me. Also, that he had surprisingly large, sharp-looking yellow fangs.
The raccoon slowly began to rise from the chair. Wilderness-ignorant as I am, I still realized that this was a bad sign.
A headline played in the back of my mind: “NAKED WOMAN FOUND SAVAGED BY IRRITATED RACCOON”
“Uhm…enjoy your breakfast,” I mumbled, beating a hasty retreat inside.
The next time I encounter wilderness, it’s gonna be with some clothes on.