Everywhere I go nowadays I am pestered by raccoons. Not only have I been pestered but I've been outsmarted, duped, robbed and scared seven-eighths out of my wits. But despite all I have suffered, I still have a tender spot in my heart for these masked footpads of the animal world. To me the raccoon is like Raffles, the famous cracksman of fiction, a cunning thief with an ingratiating personality.
Consider what happened to last summer's corn crop. I planted five varieties of sweet corn designed to mature over a long period. For once I was going to have my fill of those delicious ears. But the corn I got wasn't enough to put in a popular song. Just as soon as it started to ripen coons sneaked in under cover of darkness and ate the ears as fast as they developed. They would strip the ears from the stalks and devour them, leaving only the denuded cob with a rosette of shucks at the base. I tried to get to the ripening ears before they did but rarely succeeded. I found many ears with little slits in the shucks where the coons had pried them open to learn whether they were just right. I, didn't have time to test the ears one by one, but the coons did.
And what happened to my bantam chickens that disappeared at night? I haven't proof but I've got evidence. Who steals the frogs out of my pond? Don't think for a minute that it's Willie Sutton.
Last winter I went to Florida to get away from it all. The way it turned out, I've never seen so many coons in my life. They even operate in the daytime down there. One night, while staying with a friend, we were awakened by a hideous racket. It sounded like a full-scale battle was in progress in the moonlit front yard. But it turned out to be three raccoons who were fighting over a tin bucket in which there had been some fish. They were kicking the bucket around and knocking it. against the legs of a yard table. We routed the marauders, but the incident didn't do our nerves any good nor did it promote sleep.
For a while I had the feeling that I had been singled out as the special victim of the entire race of raccoons. Then I discovered that my neighbors were in trouble, too. One nearby resident who had been bothered with first a beehive and then an army of squirrels in his attic began to hear sounds of larger game aloft. He discovered that he was host to a family of coons who gained access to the attic by climbing a tree and jumping to a window he had left open for ventilation. A tolerant man, he lived with them all summer.
Another neighbor was not so tolerant. He discovered that some shingles were missing from his roof and that a coon was going in and out of the hole. Knowing coons to be nocturnal, he had a carpenter repair the hole at night while the coon was out. The next morning some more shingles had been torn off and there was another hole. This happened three times before he found out that it was a mother coon and that she had three young ones in the attic. They had to tear still another hole in the roof to dispossess the family.
These and numerous other instances of raccoon misbehavior led me farther afield. I learned that across the Delaware River in New Jersey a man happened to be looking out of his window at 2 o'clock in the morning when he saw a brilliant flash from the top of a nearby high-tension wire tower. As he described it, the flash was followed by a ball of greenish fire which dropped to the ground. A brush fire started, the man telephoned an alarm and 16 members of the local volunteer fire department were routed from their beds to put out the fire. When the excitement was over a search revealed the singed carcass of a coon beside the tower.
I discovered that this same sort of thing is going on over most of the country. In Memphis, Tenn., a coon got into a television set. At Castleton-on-Hudson, N.Y., a coon short-circuited a high-tension wire and left 1,200 homes without electric power for half an hour. High-tension poles seem to have a fascination for them. A newspaper account told of a pair of coons who were courting on high-tension wires in Iowa when they set off a blast of 6,600 volts of alternating current. The account explained that one coon was sitting on one wire and the other coon on another wire when they rubbed noses and closed the circuit with the resulting tragedy. This, no doubt, is apocryphal but two dead coons were found.
This activity about the country is not surprising since the raccoon appears to be increasing throughout most of its range, which includes all of the United States except the high mountains and deserts of the West. Now that spring is here, one is apt to see him, after a night of marauding, sprawled out on a limb of a big tree sun bathing. He lies there soaking up the sunshine and if you disturb him he looks down at you with an expression of tolerant indolence on that comical face with its black robber's mask. It's hard to stay mad at a critter like that.