"Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to let you in."

-- Robert Frost

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The White Whale

We love living out in the country. It's a great setting for some great stories.

And my big kids will be talking about last night's encounter, probably for the rest of their lives. Let me back up a bit.

Almost exactly a year ago, our chickens were wiped out by raccoons. No need to reopen old wounds but briefly, our first batch of chickens were special. There's was a certain attachment there that has never been duplicated with subsequent flocks. Those gals were our babies. We've learned since then that all chickens meet their end sooner or later by one of various means, but that first cold blooded predator attack was really hard for our family to take.

We came home from church and making lunch, sent our youngest children out to the coop to gather eggs to add to quesadillas. I could hear the screaming coming across the yard that all of the birds were dead. And I don't mean just dead but slaughtered, and that's as far as I'll go into the description of the devastation. I just remember feeling mentally numbly separated from my body as Newel and I physically cleaned up the carnage.

I cried at the waste, my children cried at the loss, and my husband fumed at the senselessly mindless pleasure one animal can get out of simply killing another animal for sport -- because as we've learned, raccoons don't just hunt, they seek and destroy.

Hence, our distaste for raccoons and this year's building of Fort Knox. With a welded floor on that run, anything that gets in will wish it hadn't.

The week following our "Great Chicken Massacre", Newel put into effect the "Make My Day Law Regarding 'Coons". Come hell or high water, he was going to catch and annihilate this unwanted pestilence. We educated ourselves on the nature of these predators and learned that they would keep returning, when cornered they would lash out and though we knew that we'd moved into their territory, we just couldn't risk one of our children coming up on one trapped in our garage. Thus began the vendetta.

The first night, Newel set up a live animal trap out by the coop baited with an open can of tuna fish.

The next morning we all flew to the yard anticipating our catch. The trap was empty, the can moved to the side of the trap and empty, our expectations ... empty.

The next night, he drilled holes in the bottom of the can, zip-tied it to the bottom of the cage, refilled it with tuna and set it back out by the coop.

The next morning we all flew to the yard in anticipation. The trap was empty, the can of tuna empty and a hole dug up under the cage to eat from underneath. Back to the drawing board.

He refilled the can ... took a piece of fishing line with a hook ... hooked the hook across the edge of the can ... ran the line over the garden fence ... all of the way across the yard ... through the bedroom window ... tied to a set of keys dangling over one of my kitchen pots ... waiting to fall with a clatter at the breath of disturbance ... pants on the floor, fireman style for quick access ... with a loaded .22 waiting on the bedside table should he hear anything move in the night ... and slept with one ear open.

I slept with both eyes open. What was my job should anything move in the night??? Stop, drop and roll under the bed else I wanted to find myself in an ER explaining how the crazed, undies clad maniac accompanying me had accidentally shot me in the night.

But the night remained silent and in the morning, we found the can empty and the fishing hook harmlessly hooked on the side of the cage. Enthusiasm wained. We were out of our league.

A few nights later, coming home from a late activity, the headlights of our car stunned a couple of raccoons on our driveway that were the size of small bears. Nearly three times the size of our small animal trap. Hopes dashed, we determined to fortify our defenses, let go and allow time to heal our wounds -- that was a year ago.

And then last night I was locking up before heading off to bed and as I peeked into the garage to make sure the cat was in and door down completely, I startled a raccoon passively eating that cat's food out of his dish. I calmly and gently turned and said to my already-bedded-down-for-the-night-nothing-is-going-to-get-me-out-of-this-spot husband, "There's a raccoon in the garage but the door is slightly open and he's probably slipped out." And the mayhem began.

He bolted out of bed, stumbled into his pants, flew to the basement gun safe, scrambled for artillery, blitzed back to the garage access door and stood there catching his breath and muttering to himself , "Okay, this is it, get ready, here you go, you can do this." I was just trying to hold myself together watching this spectacle and it's accompanying pep talk.

The 'coon had exited the garage and lumbered it's way across the driveway and as Newel chased after, it quickly skittered under our low back deck to hide. And that's where we -- my big kids and I -- spent hours in the dark of the night, stomping and shining flashlights through the cracks in our efforts to flush the thing out, admonishing our dad not to kill it, and reminding each other of the community's recent rabies scare.

They were relentless, both Newel and that old raccoon. Newel lay on his stomach trying to eye it and it would come into view just briefly enough to tease him into a frenzy. Eventually he took a shot but only succeeded in grazing and scaring it. He pressed on, hoping for a kill shot but as luck would have it, the little boy in our family had run the flashlight batteries down and in a moment of flashlight weakness, that rascally 'coon slipped Newel a fast one and limped/ran for the woods edge not to be seen again this night.

Newel gave a moment's chase but returned with words of frustration regarding little boys, batteries and incompetent flashlights. Pride wounded, he shook his fists towards the woods and vowed that Captain Ahab would indeed get his White Whale another day.

Relieved of our raccoon flushing duty, I tucked my children in and listened to them recount again and again the adventure and humour at our dad's expense. Not a memory that will soon be forgotten. We can't help but love a man who goes to such lengths to ensure the safety of his family's pastimes ... even when it is just chickens.

Better luck next time, Ahab, but thanks for taking us where the red fern grows.


  1. Ok, that's exactly what I was thinking about. Because they look so calm, but then you read WTRFG and you're like--these are vicious animals! And I can never square it away in my mind...but then I've never had my pet chickies slaughtered either...

  2. Everyone around here told us that when we caught one in the live animal trap to be so careful because they really do bare their fangs and lash out with their long razor claws to tear anything to ribbons. Funny, because they do just lumber around -- until caught under a deck. Then you see the true character come out. And ... we did have to break out WTRFG to revist for our nightly readings. It just set the right mood! 'Cept everyone's begging for a coon dog now.

  3. what a great story!!! eric and i were cracking up as i read it to him this morning! we had a great racoon adventure of our own when we were kids in the mission home which involved our chimney, 4 overzealous missionaries, a trash can, a baseball bat, and what turned out to be a momma and 3 babies! those stories are legendary!