The Village Idiot: Laughing in your face

By John Hopkins

I am told that many animals go through population cycles over the years. So, while an area may have an abundance of rabbits for a few years, the number of bunnies may then decrease for a similar period, and then increase again. It is, I understand, a perfectly natural event, unrelated to any human interference. I notice, however, that this cycle does not seem to apply to mosquitoes, blackflies or dock spiders… But that’s another matter.

At any rate, I did notice that our raccoon population was down this summer. I am not sure if this is due to Mother Nature’s own devices or perhaps can be explained by my own cunning. I suspect it is the former, but I hold out some hope that there is at least one member of the wild kingdom that I can ultimately match wits with and triumph.

Regular readers of this column will remember that last autumn the beavers and I staged a battle over the trees around our house on the river, and I remarked on their industrious and clever nature. Earlier in the summer I had fought a similar battle with a family of raccoons, this time regarding a hummingbird feeder.

One thing I will say in defense of the beaver is that, in victory, it will not lord its triumph over you like a raccoon will. A beaver is all business; it takes its success in stride. A victorious raccoon likes to rub your nose in it. If you were playing poker with a beaver and a raccoon, the beaver would calmly gather up its winnings and move on without a word. The raccoon would hoot and holler, laugh in your face, and generally make a spectacle of itself.

I can respect a beaver. If I met a beaver after it had outmaneuvered my defenses and taken down a tree, I would be able to shake its paw and say, “well played.” I cannot respect a raccoon. I must get even with a raccoon, and let him know it.

So, back to the hummingbird feeder. This feeder hung above a railing on our back porch, where you could see it from the kitchen window. The hummingbirds came, we enjoyed watching them, all was good.

Then one night in June, while Nancy was sitting outside, not six feet from the feeder, a raccoon waddled over from the woods, hopped on the railing, stood upright, grabbed the hummingbird feeder in both its paws and drank the sugar water. Nancy hollered, squirted water at it, made a general scene, but the raccoon was unperturbed. He finished his drink, hopped down and waddled back into the woods.

You would think that, given the commotion of the first experience, the raccoon would be somewhat wary of returning to the feeder a night later, right? Not at all. The following evening, this time with Nancy and I both watching, the raccoon coolly returned to the porch railing and again enjoyed a sweet drink. Again we tried to scare him off, but he was unmoved. In fact, he made a point of looking at us, mockingly, as he continued to slurp away at the contents of the feeder. As I squirted him with water he actually turned to look at me, as if to say, “Bring it on big guy, I’m not leaving.” When he had drunk his fill he calmly hopped down again and made his way back to the woods. I swear as I watched him disappear he had his rear end hoisted in the air in my direction, and that once he was back among his buddies I heard their chortling in the rustling grass and leaves.

We took the feeder down for the rest of the summer, and I probably could have left things at that. But this was a raccoon, and there was no way I was going to let a raccoon have the last laugh. I had to win. Plus, I needed to see the expression on his face when he knew he was beaten.

This summer, we found a hook higher up, inaccessible to raccoons or any other four-legged creature. Only the hummingbirds can reach the feeder, and they have been regular visitors again.

We have not seen any raccoons. It could be nature’s cycle, but I like to think they have admitted defeat and moved on. But I am only halfway pleased. Having triumphed over the raccoon is somewhat satisfying. But I really want the opportunity to laugh in his face.