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Animal clamor



"What about the snake stick?" whispered my wife, leaning over my shoulder.

We were huddled together, squeezed into a closet in our garage, peering into the darkness at a baby raccoon staring at us from behind a pair of empty cat food bowls.

Early efforts at simply shooing the frightened animal had failed. We had reached a standoff. Behind us, the dogs were jumping and barking, cats were meowing and angrily waving their tails, and off in the distance the chickens were wondering when they were going to get fed, too.

Living in the country is not always quiet sunrises, vine tomatoes, free-range eggs and peace, love and understanding. Animals reign. While we come and go to town and get lost inside on the Internet, they're out there. They were here first; they live here all the time.

On good days we'll see a few deer, a wild turkey, a flying V formation of geese, and feeders full of cardinals and bluebirds.

On the weekends, I check the chicken coop at random hours. The stealthy black snake that visits knows our routines; I'm not expected during midday.

I'll reach into the row of nests in the coop and find a shadowy shape curled up, with a lump of two eggs in his stomach. After all these years, it's not hard catching a snake, but it is extremely exciting.

The snake stick is a cut-off old broom handle, 4 feet long, with a row of screw eyes running down one side. An old electric wire loops from the tip to the base. It's a great, simple tool. It hangs, always at the ready, next to the chicken coop door.

The lethargic snake never wants trouble, just a fresh breakfast. I poke his tail, he moves in the opposite direction, right into the loop of the snake stick. Pulling the loop tight, I lift him out of the nest, drop him in a bucket and take him down the road.

A frightened raccoon is smarter than a snake.

From 3 feet away, he looked so cute and cuddly. As I moved in on the raccoon, he let out a growl like an animal three times his size, saying, "Lay off me—I'm starving!" I went for the snake stick.

It all happened very fast.

Backing away, he probably smelled some history on the stick the first time I tried to loop his neck. I made the grab after poking his picture book fluffy black and brown tail. Confirming my steps backward out of the closet, I had a firm hold on his neck and out we went.

Alas, a baby raccoon weighs more than a black snake, and the dependable snake stick snapped in two. Backward momentum carried the stick, the raccoon and the stumbling stick-holder out of the closet and into the clamoring menagerie of curious onlookers.

The expression "freaked out" was invented for these moments. The dogs thought it was a game; the cats wanted breakfast. The raccoon knew better: It was life-and-death. He fled into the woods never to be seen again.

A few days later, I built another snake stick.

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