July 10, 2012

Embracing the “Pests” in Your Life.

Our task must be to free ourselves…by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.
~ Albert Einstein

People have looked at me askance when I’ve disclosed my relationship to what they consider pests.

Except for a mosquito in mid bite upon my skin or a centipede scurrying across the floor in our house, you won’t find me killing or ridding my home—or its surroundings—of any creature. Well, I do ask my husband to place intruding spiders outdoors. If it’s small enough I can take matters into my own hands, so to speak, with a leaf or sheet of paper. I’ve also been known to assign my husband to mouse catch and release duty. But, in theory, the mice return. One time, feeling sorry for a mouse that fell into our window well, I fed it cheese. Then helped it escape by placing a stick in there, which it climbed up. It came back the next day (after I’d removed said stick), presumably for more cheese.

Then there’s the story of the mama racoon.

She showed up standing upon her hind legs in front of our grill one early evening, attracted to the scent of salmon. One paw was lame, her jaw was messed up and she was emaciated. We shooed her away.

Later on, while my husband, son and I dined outdoors, a baby raccoon—sooo tiny and wobbly—cried incessantly from the far end of our deck. Eventually, the mama raccoon peeked up from the side of the deck, took a quick look our way, then reached out with her one able paw to scoop the baby off the deck and down below to the place we soon discovered they called home. Beneath our deck.

Another night while we were eating al fresco, the mama and five little babies bravely approached us and we couldn’t help but toss food their way. While the mama hung back, the babies—f**kin’ adorable, let me tell you—got within a couple feet of us. We would never have considered feeding them had it not been for the poor state of the mama. How could she possibly care for her brood without our help?

And so it was. They came looking for food on a regular basis. We made sure not to overfeed them (not that we knew how much it would take to overfeed a raccoon family)—just a few morsels here and there—so they would still learn to find their own food. Mostly we fed the mama.

We learned that the mama could chew only soft food. She favored salmon and strawberries and turned her nose up at halibut. Drawn to the mama’s plight, neighbors dropped off their scraps—one couple even gave us a large package of outdated fish.

We witnessed the babies’ growth in girth while they dwindled in quantity, picked off by predators or a drive by. Eventually the survivors went off to college. The mama, back to health despite her mangled paw and chewing issues—returned with new kits every year.

At times, we’d sit on the other side of the sliding door window face-to-face with her and her babies. Transfixed by their playfulness as they wrestled and chased each other in circles. Our own nature show.

Yes, most people thought we were nuts.

They didn’t have to say it out loud. We just knew. I’d tell stories about the raccoons at parties which would be followed by an awkward silence, a lecture about how the raccoon carries germs or could pose a danger. Once in while someone would expose their own wild animal story, so thrilled to be free to reveal it to another like-minded individual. Once, my son’s friend was over and wouldn’t venture out into the woods behind our house (in broad daylight and the woods are pretty tame) because his mom had told him not to. Why? Because of “our” raccoon. Ah, well.

Okay, so there is a danger of catching rabies or roundworm and racoons can be ferocious if provoked. But racoons eat insects, mice and other pests (and just about anything else available). And they’re part of our world. I believe we should learn to co-exist with them and other forms of wildlife.

What gives us the right to exterminate the things that “whomever” has deemed a nuisance or potentially dangerous?

If we lived in or near a jungle, would we then kill lions and other innocent wild life because they could devour us? I think not. We’d respect their space, right?

Humans encroach upon wildlife’s natural habitat every day. We moved to this wooded community that’s full of deer, fox, coyote, birds… and that was our choice. This is an ecosystem and now we’re a part of it. It’s, well, natural. It’s meant to be left alone. Intact.

Let’s embrace it! Want to live in a place without critters? Move to the city.

Side note: I love that my dad (77) catches raccoons in a live trap, drives the critter far away (is it far enough?) from their farm property to who-knows-where then opens the cage in the hopes it runs in the other direction. So far, so good.

We haven’t seen “our” mama raccoon in a couple of years and wonder what became of her.

This year, it’s skunks under our deck. But that’s another story.

Adapted from my blog, Putting It Out There.


Bonus: Funny raccoon videos!

Wish I could say I took these myself, but never seemed to have a camera at the ready when the babies showed up. Enjoy!

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