I saved a small life tonight. As I was pulling the covers back, I found a gecko in my bed. I grabbed it before Angela the Cat had a chance to see it. She would’ve surely captured it, hunter, that she is.
Over the years, many representatives of the local fauna have gained entry to our rustic home, finding access through vents in both the attic and the crawl space, as well as the chimney and an occasional open window. These include sparrows, squirrels, bats, a very large rat snake, chimney swifts (to whom we offer a summer habitat — sort of free-range pet birds), and a feral cat.
Our Angela is an indoor/outdoor cat. My son and his friend found her in the cemetery when she was a kitten. When I took Angela in to get “fixed,” I told the veterinarian that we planned to keep her outdoors along with our old cat, Marmalade Boleyn, so named because Miss Boleyn insists on jumping up on my wood-splitting stump when I am working. The vet, therefore, suggested that while Angela was under anesthesia, it would be wise for me to allow her to cut the tip off of one of her ears; this would offer Animal Control a sign that she had been spayed.
The problem with that is...
Upstream from us on Town Branch, within the caves of kudzu behind the American Legon Hall is a gang of feral cats. Angela knows I don’t approve, but sometimes she makes her way along the banks to consort with those ruffian felines. Her tipped ear is a dead giveaway that she has a real home, so every once in a while, one of those cats will follow her to see where she lives. Sometimes when I whistle for Angela to come in, another cat will nonchalantly attempt to gain entry to our domicile.
I endure the domestic and wild invaders noted above, but I am in dread of another.
• • • • •
Back when I was a maintenance worker at Camp Glisson in Dahlonega, Georgia, had an ever-present Bluetick Coonhound named Boris. One day, Boris and I were in the hardware store when an old mountain man admired him. That old fellow told me of the pride the original Coonhound breeders put into coming up with just the right traits to produce a line of loyal, nose-sensitive, tenacious hunters. He went on to explain how raccoons were important to the expansion of the American frontier for food and fur. (Certainly without raccoons, all characters played by the actor Fess Parker would have had cold heads.) He told me how he had grown up raccoon-hunting as a boy, how it was a beloved pastime of the summer nights of his youth. (Indeed I have heard similar stories from my East Tennessee father and my storytelling friend, Michael Reno Harrell.)
“Yessir,” that old mountain man exclaimed, “America wouldn’t be America without dogs like yours hunting raccoon for us!” A patriotic tear adorned his cheek.
This got me to thinking about how tirelessly pertinacious our foreparents were. How nothing was too much trouble for these people who cleared the land for cultivation by cutting down trees with handsaws and axes, then chopping, splitting and hewing those logs for their dwellings.
And in addition to all of that, they put forth the effort to breed dogs that were able to hunt raccoons for their very survival.
Of course, now, in the twenty-first century, we have advantages and technologies our fore parents never had. If only they’d known, for the capture of raccoons, all you need is Friskies® Seafood Medley.
The varmints come in the night, and they grow bolder with each generation. They finish the food and water and then bang the steel bowls together to draw me out of the house. I bound out with my eighteen-inch Zildjian crash cymbal, striking it with a hickory 2B drumstick. Eventually, they scurry up the Leyland cypress tree from whence they thumb their noses at me. Okay, I know what you’re thinking: raccoons don’t have opposable thumbs (noun) with which to thumb (verb). But possums do. And the latter have been teaching the former. The possums, slow, but wise enough to play dead when in danger (and even stink while doing it), are in cahoots with their more impetuous masked neighbors. They are all having a great time at my expense!
Of course, it is dangerous for the raccoons to thumb their noses at me, because without the aforementioned opposable thumbs they can’t achieve full perpendicular extension with their fingers, and they poke themselves in the eye with their sharp claws. That is why one dons an eyepatch.
Other discordant digit gestures would be safer for them, certainly, but as yet they lack the coordination to raise their middle fingers.
But it won’t be long.
That is my report.
A native of Covington, Andy Offutt Irwin is a storyteller, songwriter, and professional whistler. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.