A lot of people have written to ask if we ever figured out what our crazy neighbors were up to with all that lawn-covering. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, or if you want a good laugh, click here. Oh heck, click here, too. That's pretty funny as well.)
I never answered the questions about the neighbors because I didn't want admit to my part in the story. I pretty much come off looking crazier than the neighbors, and that's saying something.
As it turns out, the neighbors technique of covering every inch of their lawn every single night, and leaving out an un-baited live-catch trap payed off. After months, they caught a very angry screaming juvenile raccoon. I don't know if you've ever heard a panicking raccoon. It is not a soothing sound.
Our neighbors didn't seem to have a plan, beyond "cover lawn with linens, set trap, catch wild animal." After much raccoon screaming, and loud arguing in their kitchen (which we could hear, three stories up), dad-next-door crept up to the caged animal, armed with an oven mitt, a flashlight and a spatula.
I'll admit it. I flipped out. I looked up the law regarding handling of wild animals in California by private citizens. (Illegal.)
I pondered the probability that my neighbors would try to kill this animal, and horribly botch the job. (Very likely.)
I went out on our back staircase and confronted the neighbor. This escalated into an ugly screaming fight. I said that the raccoon wasn't harming anyone, and that California raccoons were not rabies-transmitting monsters. I said this loudly and angrily. He disagreed. I pointed out that even if he got rid of this animal, another one would move in to fill the void. I'm sure he could see the veins bulging out in my forehead. I was being a hysterical animal loving crazy woman.
I printed out every website that I could find to back up my assertions. I stormed downstairs, rang his doorbell, and shoved all this through his mail slot.
The raccoon screamed all night. I have no idea what he ended up doing with it. But after that, the neighbors stopped covering the grass with bed sheets.
I never spoke to my neighbor again. We glared at each other until the day that the entire family moved away. I'm not proud of my part in this story.
My grandparents are the people who gave me my love of nature. They lived in a beautiful home in upstate New York, that backed up onto acres of pristine woodlands, and had impressive glacial rocks just outside the back door. My grandmother fed the birds from her back porch and kept the crevices of the rocks filled with fresh clean water for the wildlife. She taught us the names of all the birds at the feeders, as well as the names for all the trees and plants.
The most exciting part about visiting my grandparents were the nocturnal visitors. Every night, My sister and I would sit in my grandparents' darkened dining room, and watch in awe as the skunks and raccoons and 'possums clambered onto the rocks and forage for the treats my grandparents provided. My grandparents fed the local wildlife for years, and had earned the trust of these intelligent, wary animals. They respected their wildness, but understood that as more land was developed for homes and shopping centers and road, animals had fewer places to live and forage. Of course, there were limits. Garbage cans were securely locked, and my grandmother's immaculate gardens were surrounded with electrified deer fences.
My grandparents shared their love of nature with all the local children. I don't think there was anyone who grew up on their street who does not have memories of watching the wildlife through my grandparents' big picture window.
And once in a while, a particularly cheeky raccoon would come up on the back porch, and actually knock on the aluminum screen door. My grandmother had a supply of stale bread that she would give to us, to give to the raccoons.
Raccoons have amazingly human-like hands, and strangely wise eyes. When we kids would hand over our slices of bread, the raccoons would solemnly lock eyes with us, and gently take the bread from our hands. Then they would trundle down the long stairs, and climb up onto the rocks, and then dip the bread into the pools of water in the rocks before settling down for a meal.
When I made eye contact with those raccoons, I made a promise -- to myself and to the animals -- that I would grow up to be a person who looked after wildlife. Sometimes that means moving baby birds off the roads, sometimes it means spending every free moment volunteering to help injured birds, sometimes it means driving quails to hospitals. Sometimes this promise is kept by my planting gardens which provide food for native insects. And sometimes, much to my chagrin, I find myself screaming at my neighbors because they are trying to change the behavior of wild raccoons with bed sheets and spatulas.
I think my grandmother would laugh at me, but she would also be proud of my crazy animal-loving heart.