Friday, July 8, 2011

Mangled Plastic

Raccoons are the anti-engineers in our backyard pond living machine. Thermodynamics incarnate, they thin wetland habitat by snapping stalks, ripping out roots to eat, and stirring everything up hunting goldfish. The dead plants rot and eutrophy the water if not vigilantly removed while cursing. I wake up after midnight to splashing and peek out to see them destroying everything. Worse yet, scratching or savage fights in the attic in the dark, silent hours.

The large trap catches cats as often as raccoons. In the morning the hissing raccoon has transformed the plastic dish for food bait into an unrecognizably mangled, flattened shred. The local wildlife rescue grudgingly accepts the raccoon for relocation. "Next time just let them live in the yard. If you catch a nursing mom, the babies will die." But the pond is wrecked the next day by one of the disappeared's family members, and there's a clear message in the little crossed logs of scat beneath the figs.

Horrible things happen. One night I forget to coop the two chickens, and in the morning our Plymouth Rock has become patches of feathers scattered around the yard. Too busy to clean out the pond, goldfish die, their oily decay further poisoning the water. The raccoons demand response; the pond must be defended. You can buy fox urine to sprinkle around and scare them away, but the cats would evacuate, too. Time for some vigilanty wildlife relocation?

Raccoons are experts in garbage-making, master artists in the urban aesthetics of nature's irreversible demolition and gleeful mutilation. Their excess makes people snap, like the guy who "heard the coons in his attic again, after months of coon-proofing strategies... He got a shotgun and shot big holes in the living room ceiling. Blood and guts dropped out and fell onto his wife's new white carpet."* You can legally trap and kill raccoons on your property, but you can't release them somewhere. They have broken into urban landscapes and attics permanantly, generations of squatters who come back no matter how many times evicted.

Destructive characters like raccoons or monk parrots can cause a dilemma for people trying to decide who lives here and how to remove or eradicate those who don't. If the problem is defending human territory, the dilemma is deciding how to engineer (temporary) eviction. People outdo raccoons in the destructive arts, with hordes of chemicals designed to decimate certain pests and weeds available at your local Home Despot. But the problem of protecting habitats, native species, and the like makes a double bind. After finding an eagle nest raided by egg-smashing raccoons, Gerald Wykes fantasizes about violent opportunistic revenge:
Should I happen upon this eagle nest robber when I'm behind the wheel next time I will swerve toward it.  I will not carry it further than that because I can't blame the raccoon. I can hate 'em, but I can't blame 'em. People, you see, are the single most destructive agent when it comes to ... nest destruction. We have destroyed so much native nesting habitat over the decades that it makes the exploits of one raccoon pale in significance.  I would be running over myself if I carried out that vehicular varmiticide.**
Redemptive violence is marred by the recognition that we are mega-raccoons.

Contrary attachments to destructive characters can also take hold. Ephemerata Garden visitors tell stories about the crazy lady who fed raccoons in her attic for fifteen years until neighbors complained about the smell of aggregated feces, or the couple who finds and raises a baby that gets into everything and winds up tangled in yarn. They offer excessive tips for adapting to the raccoon's presence, like electric fencing around ponds. Some become endeared to the raccoon's bandit mask and baby-like hands, love the sound the infants make, or admire the sheer tanacity of raccoon inhabitation. It's as if we built all this and keep our garbage cans filled with food just for them.

*Kathleen Stewart, Ordinary Affects, Durham: Duke University Press (2007), p.85.
**Gerald Wykes, "Why I Hate Raccoons," Naturespeak blog,, accessed July 8, 2011. Even environmentalists set aside a special hatred for raccoons. The blogosphere seeths with tales of tipped trashcans, trashed ponds, butchered koi, and rabid acts of human revenge (shot through with pathos for the babies).


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