Tales of a wandering lesbian

Rocky Raccoon

I spent Christmas in Idaho.  It’s where I spend every Christmas.  My parents, sister and brother-in-law, grandparents and aunt – my entire family – live there.  Going home is always a deeply good thing.  This Christmas was especially good.  The valley where I grew up is a special place.  Nestled between the high desert of southern Idaho, and the unbridled beauty of the Sawtooth Mountains, it provides a dramatic stage for the day-to-day sagas of those who live there.  This Christmas, it provided a sense of stability in my changing world.

I had a fantastic flight from Portland to Boise over the volcanoes of the Northwest.  Hood, St. Helens, Jefferson, they all stretched out before uson a beautifully clear day.


I read my Italian version of Harry Potter, clinging to the little bit of Italian that I had managed to learn in two months.  I’d been back in the US less than a week when I headed home to Idaho.  My parents made the 2 and a half hour drive to Boise to pick me up.  There are smaller, closer airports, but they don’t have the cheap Southwest Airlines flights that Boise has.  It was wonderful to see their faces at the airport.  I remember seeing them just outside the gate in the “pre 911 world,” when they’d come to pick me up during a quick trip home from college, the years measured only by my dad’s shirt pattern, or my mom’s hairstyle.  There’s something terrifically comforting about knowing that there’s someone waiting for me if I need them.

The next week or so was to be defined by several excellent meals, a solstice celebration, Rock Band competitions, and increasingly less caffeine.  And raccoons.

Yes, raccoons.

My mother has a number of bird feeders that hang or stand on the second-floor deck just off of the living room.  The French doors to the deck make up one wall of the big living room.  That means we can watch the birds that come to feed during the day as they dart from the tall aspens a few yards from the house.  Every day or so, Mom goes out and fills the feeders.  One is a little feeder that hangs from a beam and feeds the little sparrows and chickadees that fill the trees.  The other is a big, flat-bottomed, wooden tray that has been affixed to the railing, and outfitted with a roof propped on four posts.  This is to keep the tray from filling and freezing over.  The magpies that use this feeder don’t like it when the feeder freezes.  They bang on the peanut butter, ice globs that form until someone comes out and refills the feeder with the sunflower seeds that live in a clear plastic container.

The container is the kind that has locking handles.  They “clack” menacingly into place, holding the lid securely onto the bin.  Mom got the container to keep the raccoons out of the seeds.  Ever since she looked out the window to see the raccoon in front of the open bin, running his fingers through the seeds in a gesture of pure pleasure, she’s had to take extra precautions.  Now, every night when the doors are locked, the bin comes inside.

Every so often, we see the raccoons.  Their white markings stand out against the dark glass, as they peer into the warm living room in the evenings.  I half expect them to reach up and turn the doorknob.  Usually, when we go to take a look or turn on the light, they crawl to the railing and lower themselves down into the snow, shimmying down the 6 foot post.

This Christmas brought a couple of close encounters with our furry friends.  The first came one evening when I went to pull the seed container inside.  I’d just gone to open the door when I decided to turn on the light to make sure there weren’t any friends on the deck.  “Click.” The first bandit looked up at me from the seed bin.  They’d already found a way into the seeds, knocking the bin over and scattering the black shells everywhere.   I moved toward the door, ready to scare them off.  “Wait!”  Mom wasn’t so sure.  “Don’t worry, I’ll just go out and shoo them away.”  “Oh really,”  she was smiling.

I opened the door, and in the full brightness of the floodlight, the raccoon looked up at me.  He backed away about a half a step and considered me.  I backed into the house.  These guys are cute, but they also carry rabies.  I wasn’t so interested in tangling with this guy’s black claws.  We turned off the light and finished locking up the house.  We’d clean up the mess in the morning.  Some people would have charged out, banging around to scare the animals off, but, like the magpies that so many people consider pests, my mom likes the raccoons.  The messes they make are fair trade for the cute faces that peer in the windows every so often.

The next morning, Mom cleaned up the mess and gathered the gifts that needed to be delivered to friends – packets of the homemade pizzelles that she makes every year.  Whenever I’m home I ride along.  When I was younger I’d hop out of the truck and drop off the packets of goodies.

Our first stop was a quick visit.  We were greeted by a skittish dog that Mom identified as the latest rescue.  He was a beautiful shaggy red and moved away from us, barking, keeping an eye on our movements.  We rang the bell and stepped inside for a quick hello.  After hugs and pleasantries, we reached for the door and backed out, still talking.  “Oh, watch for the raccoon.”

I turned to see a raccoon ambling up the walkway toward the front door.  “Mom!  Check out the raccoon!  There’s a raccoon out here!”  I was preparing to make a run at the fuzzy ball.  “It’s okay, it’s a pet.”   Our hostess had closed the door, making sure the raccoon stayed out, but now we were looking at the raccoon as he walked right up to us, climbing up Mom’s leg to stand on his back feet and play with the keys in her hand.  Raccoons are big.  They’re big in the way porcupines are big.  Mom and I looked at each other.  “Can we pet him?”  I was hoping she knew more to the story than I did.  “I don’t know.”   She reached down and stroked his back.  Cool.  My turn.  Raccoons are also soft.  At least this guy was.  And he was curious.  He had abandoned the keys and had his head up under my mom’s jacket at this point.


She realized quickly that he was trying to get to the dog treats in her pocket.  After a giggling fit she reached into her pocket and found the treat.  It’s amazing what dog treats can do.  At once, the raccoon was subdued and the dog from earlier had reappeared.  Taking my life into my own hands, I snuck a chunk of the treat from the raccoon to the dog, who slinked off.  The door opened and our friend reappeared.  “What’s the story with the raccoon again?”  Mom asked as the raccoon sniffed her shoes and eyed the doorway.  “Oh Rocky? He was a rescue.”  Evidently Mom had heard this story before.  We said our goodbyes and headed for the truck where she shared the story.  Rocky had been orphaned as a baby.  When Mom’s friend’s found him, they realized that he wouldn’t make it on his own, so they took him in and contacted the local raccoon rescue organization.  Yes, apparently, there’s an organization – or at least a woman who rehabs them.  Months later, there still wasn’t room at the rescue, and the raccoon was watching tv on the sofa, and had a name.

The next day while we were playing Rock Band, we had a visitor.  One of the raccoons that usually came at night made a special daytime appearance, sitting in the birdfeeder and eating handfuls of seeds.  We all watched him and said how cute he was.  And we locked the door.

Raccoon in feeder

Rocky was super cute, but he was also known to help himself to boxes of cake mix when he was hungry.  It’s a lot easier to clean up after one of these guys outside.  And this guy looked like maybe he’d been talking to Rocky.

Raccoon up close

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1 comment

1 Rocky { 01.12.10 at 6:33 pm }

Ok Ok enough with the pictures. My buddies and I are trying to be inconspicuous around here. We’ll never be able to steal any food or tip over garbage cans if you continue with this stuff. We’ve got your Mom figured out and know exactly when to show up on the deck for the Magpie Chow but if you continue to expose our behavior we’re done for. Come on give us a break and we promise not to tell anyone about the button thing……