There’s an old hackberry tree, maybe seventy feet tall, at the front of the house. Do we say “hackberry tree?” We don’t say “oak tree.” “Oak” suffices. There’s an old hackberry at the front of the house, stage right of the entrance. Perhaps I should say house left. The living room windows provide a view of its trunk and lower branches.
Molly came in and out of the office, whining, offering little yips, telling me she wanted to go outside. These cold winter days we’re pretty regular about when we dash out together so she can squat or hunch-up in the snow as the eliminatory spirit moves her, and I might have known that this was something else. Still, when she’s in guard-dog mode, scaring away the fearsome ungulates, barring the sciuridae and the leporidae from the doors, she barks — loud, fearless and fearsome, other-directed barks. This was definitely a “let me outside please” imprecation, whined with some urgency.
When I opened the front door she dashed toward the hackberry and while she danced around the base of the tree there was the scurrying and scratching sound of a raccoon climbing. I called her back. Mirabilis dictu, she came. After only four years I’ve learned enough of her language to issue simple commands that she is willing to obey. On a branch about twelve feet off the ground I saw the silhouette of what might have been a large — a very large — cat. Except for how pointy was the nose….
Molly and I went back inside. I fetched a powerful flashlight and we went upstairs. Molly didn’t need the visual aid, of course, but I enjoyed looking at the illuminated beast, his faced smudged like an American football player who thinks he can reduce glare by smearing carbon on his cheeks, his claws ideally adapted for climbing trees, opening garbage cans, ripping open plastic bags. He climbed higher in the tree. We watched him for a while, then I went to the kitchen and prepared an offering of salami and cheese which I placed at the base of the tree while offering my humble prayer that the god of garbage cans would not again scatter our trash while we slept.
The offering was accepted, but the wish wasn’t granted. There was nothing new in the garbage can since the last time he visited, but ever the optimist he needed to spread the contents and see if there was a morsel remaining that he might have missed earlier in the week. Tonight I’ll place a box trap by the garbage can, bait it with carrots and banana peel and maybe a dab of sturgeon eggs, a slice of salami. Tomorrow I’ll take him to a city park, to a place where there are more garbage cans than he can find on this quiet country road. By the time he finds his way back I’m hoping enough snow and ice will have melted that I can put the garbage can back in the little raccoon proof shed where it belongs.