This summer, I was once again able to avoid voluntarily setting up a tent in the woods and spending a sleepless night on the ground. While I’m not a huge fan of camping, I admit that some of my past overnight excursions in the great outdoors have had positive outcomes.
For example, years ago, I went on a camping trip with one of my easy-going sons, who was 8 or 9 years old at the time. I don’t recall if the event was prompted by some Scouting-induced enthusiasm or a lost bet but either way, I found myself away from the comforts of home and out in the middle of the woods somewhere in northern Vermont. We were just settling down in our tent following a day of hiking, dinner and a campfire with s’mores. After a couple hands of cards, the fresh air caught up with us, and we decided to retire.
A short time later, I heard some rustling by our makeshift camp table.
“Did you hear that?” I asked.
“Hear what?” inquired my suddenly awake tent mate.
“There was some noise by the campfire.”
I grabbed a flashlight and looked through the flap screening to see a plump four-legged figure lumber away from the camp stove.
“Who is it?” my son asked.
“I don’t know,” I answered. “He has a mask on.”
The next sound we heard was that of an animal clawing his way up the side of a tree.
The same observation struck us simultaneously. “That’s where we hung the food!” We stumbled out of the tent and to my surprise, the critter-loving, level-headed offspring of mine transformed from Fred Rogers to Sylvester Stallone. He whipped out a can of mace, and then reached over and unsheathed a weapon with a huge steel blade that would make any Samurai envious.
“What is that?!”
“A bear knife. What have you got?” he asked.
“I grabbed some floss from my backpack,” I said sheepishly. “I thought if that brute didn’t listen to reason, we might be able to bind his paws and drop him off at the Ranger station.”
“For real?” My son’s words expressed amazement while his look said “emancipation of a minor.”
“Well, it was very last minute,” I replied defensively. “Let’s assess the situation,” I suggested, hoping that somewhere there was middle ground.
We decided to approach the tree the masked intruder was suspecting of climbing. Sure enough, resting in the crotch of a branch high above us was one of the fattest raccoons I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Clearly, this was a denizen of the deep woods who didn’t turn down many pilfered meal opportunities. He had already bore a hole in our trash bag and was dining on a piece of a hard roll leftover from dinner.
“Grab the hatchet by the fireplace,” my son hissed.
I was envisioning the Treaty of Versailles. My partner was thinking Little Bighorn. It was time for Henry Kissinger to have a talk with Junior Rambo.
“Maybe we should reconsider an armed conflict,” I said. “That raccoon is a wild animal, with impressive claws and teeth. If we confront and engage it, we are only asking for trouble.”
“We can take him,” my son said, exhibiting an enthusiasm that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.
“I think we should give him what he wants,” I offered as an option. “What’s left in the food bag?”
“Don’t need them.”
“The bakery muffins that we were saving for breakfast tomorrow…”
“The raccoon must die.”
Now it was my son’s turn to be reasonable.
“Let’s cut down the food bag while he’s busy with the trash,” he proposed.
Since I didn’t have enough hair for the woodland critter to jump into, I was elected to perform this risky maneuver.
I spoke calmly to the animal as I approached the tree. “I’m sorry, Mr. Raccoon. I didn’t mean to imply that you have beady little eyes or a butt the size of a dumpster…”
“Just cut it down!” urged my impatient companion.
I released the food bag and we quickly moved to another location and strung it between two branches. When we returned to the tree with the trash, Mr. Uninvited Guest was gone; and we didn’t have to utilize a single weapon.
As we prepared to go back to sleep, I was feeling a bit smug. I had given my son a lesson on achieving peace through compromise and understanding. My passive approach to the situation allowed Mr. Raccoon to leave the campsite unscathed, and it didn’t appear he was planning on coming back. I admit, however, I did put the mace and hatchet under my pillow. Just in case that pesky marauder changed his mind.
Mark S. Albury lives in Northfield Falls.