Almost 30 years ago, I moved into the area around Bloomington known as the “two-mile fringe”. It is an area that is not really a part of the city; we don’t pay city taxes. It is part of Monroe County, but we have some city services such as city water and electricity, and I live across the street from a school. We can’t vote in city elections, but pretty much our lives are the same as those of the city folks. My friends think I live in the sticks; I call it living in the country. I think I am particularly lucky, because I happen to abut an 80 or so acre farm which is in a trust: that means it can’t be sold to developers. I myself have 2 ½ acres, so I really don’t have any very near neighbors. As a result, I get to enjoy the good parts of living on a farm without having to do any of the work. There are stories to be told about this life…following are a few of them.
Whose house is this, anyhow?
My house is on the oldish side: It’s about 60 or so years old. A few winters ago, for the first time since I’d lived there, I had a family of house guests. Now, I’m used to hearing noises on my roof…things falling from the trees: limbs, leaves; squirrels taking a short cut from one field to another; mourning doves sadly bemoaning the fact that the bird food is on the ground and so is my cat; an owl in the night looking for the little field mice who like to take up fall residency in my kitchen; and chipmunks following the scurrying of the squirrels. As a result, I didn’t think very much about the noises that I started to hear on my roof that winter. There was a scrambling noise now and then, and a scuffle here and there. I thought the noises would soon stop. After a month or so, that hadn’t happened. I assumed that some squirrels had taken up residency in the attic, as they are wont to do in country homes, and thought I’d just wait them out. Surely they’d leave once warmer weather arrived, I reasoned.
Well, as you might have guessed, whoever was living in my attic probably was not a member of a reasoning species. The weather got warmer, and the noises didn’t stop. I had knocked on my ceiling with a broom handle to scare them out from time to time, but they continued to live it up at the Hartford Hotel. One day I went into the guest room, where I don’t go very often, and noticed some material on the floor that looked a little like sawdust. I looked up, and there was a hole in the ceiling!
I should explain that my house was built by a fellow who believed in recycling, and much of it is made of materials from other buildings and old places that were torn down. I have beautiful genuine pine paneling in three of the rooms, including the kitchen, which also has marble countertops, glass-doored cupboards from an old pharmacy, and other ‘pre-used’ features. It is what you would call a ‘funky’ house. It suits me perfectly.
The downside of this house is that some of the construction materials are not on the A-list of best choices. The ceilings are a good example. They are made of fiberboard ‘false’ panels, and thus provide wonderful chewing and nesting materials for attic residents, as I found out that winter. They had chewed right through the ceiling, leaving that mess on the floor—and it turned out that wasn’t the only place they had done so.
I wasn’t sure what to do, so I went to my source of all knowledge for living in the fringe, my neighbor Charlie (I will have several stories about him and his companion Sue before these accounts are done). Charlie promised to see what was what. However, Charlie is a busy person, so it took a while before he was able to check things out for me. In the meantime, I assumed the residents would leave once warmer weather arrived.
Warm weather did arrive, but the guests didn’t leave. One evening, as dusk fell, I heard a commotion on the roof of the screened porch off my living room. I went outside to see who was chittering, and there on the roof were three raccoons…two juniors and one senior…and they were having a family discussion. Unfortunately, it wasn’t about where they were going to move to…they had great digs right here in my attic, thank you very much.
So, not cute little squirrels as I had thought, but cute big raccoons, and they were destroying my ceiling!
Now, at this point, I have to admit to behaviors that probably encouraged this assumption that they were welcome. Again, it has to do with my funky house. The recycler who built it was a plumber by profession, and guess what else he recycled? Yep…including, the two home-built septic tanks. Yes, two…that’s another story. Anyhow, I don’t have a garbage disposal, and the plumbers who have to come to my house fairly often have all said I shouldn’t put one in. So the question arises: what to do with the garbage? I had come up with a great solution: feed the many critters who shared the 2 acres with me, get rid of the garbage, and we would all be happy. The coyotes and the possums and the stray cats all thought this was a great idea. So too, did the raccoons. In fact, the latter thought it was so good that surely it was an invitation to move right in, and so they did. They only needed to chew the ceiling to make a nice nest for the new babies about to arrive…plenty of room at my inn!
While I appreciate the fact that we are all creatures together on this earth, I think I need a little more space than I was allowed by this family living in my attic. So I called Charlie again. Sure enough, he had a ‘Havahart’ cage that might catch these guys. He came over one evening with it and with a cup of dog chow. He set up the trap, put in the dog food and left.
The next morning, while it was still dark, I got up and prepared my morning coffee (I’m a very early riser). I went out onto the porch to enjoy a little predawn caffeine, and ‘snap’!!! ….the cage closed. I went out to inspect it, and sure enough, there was a raccoon very unhappily scolding me and looking so woebegone that I felt sorry for it. Still, needs must. The clever plan had worked.
Where, oh where will my little guest go?
Since Charlie had been so kind as to supply the trap and the dog food, I decided not to bother him, but to relocate the arrestee myself. I was really thinking clearly at that point…I put a tarp in the back of my beloved car. Then I went to put the cage into the car. I found a jacket with long sleeves, and some really heavy work gloves because I didn’t want to chance any bites. Then I went to lift up the trap into the car. I had no idea how heavy a raccoon can be! It had to have weighed 30 pounds. Eating well at Chez Hartford had paid off, except, of course, that it couldn’t get out of the trap. I couldn’t lift it by the handle, and didn’t think lifting it by reaching through the wires for a grip was a good idea. What to do? Well, those of us who live alone often enjoy a good challenge for jobs that usually take two people or at least one stronger that we are.
I have learned, through other lifting situations, that props can help, and that gradual elevation can solve many problems. So, I found an old wooden box, about half as high as the opening to my car. I could lift the trap that high. I grabbed the handle, and up they went…raccoon and trap. The raccoon by now was really unhappy, and glaring threateningly at me. I smiled back. Now what? Nothing for it. I crawled into the back hatch part and reached down and pulled that thing in for the rest of the way. But there it was, between me and the opening…how to get out? I hadn’t folded the back seats down (clear thinking goes only so far), and so was trapped myself between the raccoon and the back seat. So, I lifted it out again, onto the box, crawled out (practicing some of that car vocabulary I’ve written about before), went to the side door and lowered the back seats. Then, into the hatch again, pulling up the cage again into the car. Out by the side door. Mission accomplished.
The next step was to take my captive somewhere to let it go. I live near Griffy Lake, and that seemed like it might be a nice new home. There would be fish to catch in the lake, garbage that the people who come there leave behind, and plenty of spaces away from homes that would be a nice range for a raccoon. So off we went towards the lake. We got to the landing where they rent canoes and stuff, but, unfortunately, it was a nice day, and there were a lot of people enjoying the ambience. I didn’t think I should spoil it for them by letting a raccoon loose in their midst, and, besides, I’m not exactly clear on what the law is regarding removing and transporting wildlife in this state . Maybe they’d call the rangers on me! So I pulled into the parking area, turned around and tried to decide where to go next.
In the meantime, I began to notice an unpleasant smell in the car. Of course, I hadn’t counted on what a terrified raccoon might do beyond trying to bite me. Putting that tarp down was really good thinking, I realized at that point.
I decided to drive down some of the country lanes out my way and to find a good place to let the animal go. Now, the last time I drove around these roads, I don’t remember seeing any houses at all. Suddenly, there were homes everywhere, no private, hidden places for me to pull over and get rid of my passenger. These houses were not new…they had been there all along, but when you’re not looking for a raccoon-release space, you don’t notice how close those homes really are. I drove down roads I hadn’t been on in years, and all that humanity just sat there, daring me to finish my job. Meanwhile, the smell was getting worse, even with the windows way down.
After about 45 minutes of driving, I finally found what seemed like a good, isolated spot where I could get rid of it. I pulled over, got out, hoping no cars would come cruising around, and opened the back hatch. Pulling the cage out to the ground was easier than putting it in the car. The raccoon was almost catatonic at this point, having used all of its resources up. I leaned over to open the cage. I could not get the thing open! I had never used one before, and it hadn’t occurred to me to ask Charlie how to open it…it hadn’t occurred to me that I would need to. I couldn’t stick my hand inside and pull up that way because there was still the danger of getting bitten. Sweat was pouring down my face and arms by this time because I still had on the long sleeved jacket and had put the gloves back on. I fiddled, and shook, and swore at that cage, and it still wouldn’t open…nothing, nothing, I tried released it. After about 20minutes of trying, I just gave up.
I couldn’t leave either the animal or the cage there, so I had to get the thing back into my car. I managed by crawling back into the hatch space again (I shook out the tarp first), and leaned over and pulled the cage back into the car. I was exhausted.
My only solution at this point was to head back home, Mr or Mrs Racoon still intact. I went directly to Charlie’s, hoping he’d be there, and have a solution for me. He came around the house from the milk barn, took one look at my pathetic, sweat-laden face; heard a noise in the back of the car and went to investigate. I was so tired I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Then I heard a loud laugh from the back of the car…Charlie was going to rescue me. Or the raccoon. I didn’t care which.
Indeed he did…and I will tell that part of the story another time.
Bev Hartford for The Poplar Grove Muse