2006 – And a Raccoon in a Pine Tree, or, Up a Tree Without a Parachute

snowflakeOh, gentle readers, how the year has flown by. I can scarcely believe that the time has come for me to sit down and write the Holiday Lettre. And yet, as busy as this year as been, there seems to be a scarcity of worthwhile stories to share. With our lengthy commute eating up most of our waking non-work hours, the weeks have sped by with little down time. Both having started our new jobs just last year, it has also not been possible to take much in the way of a vacation this year; I simply do not have enough vacation time accrued. I guess I should be thankful there were no pricey wooden bowls to shatter, but it would have been worth it just to be on a beach somewhere in Hawai’i.

But, alas, it was not to be. Our year passed in a flurry of commuting, working, volunteering, and the few chores we were able to squeeze in. This has become the year in which our time has taken on a value previously reserved for the gold supplies at Fort Knox, and in which efforts to de-stress in our downtime have taken precedence over the little things like laundry.

As in the previous three years, this summer we took on the added responsibility of raccoon foster parenting. Last year, we had but one litter of raccoon babies that we raised over 2 and a half months. This year, in a study of opposites, we played host to 5 sets of raccoons (I lost count, but it was between 12 and 15 raccoons total). We would get a group of raccoons that needed to be kept in quarantine for a week or that needed a little experienced TLC for a couple of weeks or that just needed a place to squat for a while until another foster home opened up for them. And they just came cycling through our cage all summer long.

Our last set was the most challenging. Of the two girls, one of them was a runt and had health problems that meant she needed extra time at both ends of the day, and an extra week in our cage. This duo also provided our most challenging raccoon-night of the summer.

Some animals come hard-wired with just about everything they need to know to make their way in the world. While raccoons are very intelligent animals, they need to learn a lot, so they have to play and explore and experiment with their world. This is one of the things that makes them so cute and so much fun to work with, but it can also come back and bite you in the butt late one Saturday evening.

One of the interesting things about raccoons is that their rear ankles can rotate 180 degrees, so when they are climbing down a tree head first, their rear claws can hold onto the bark and secure their descent. But this is one of those pesky things they have to learn. Baby raccoons don’t just know that their back feet flip around like that; they have to experiment with tree climbing to figure it out.

raccoonThe first big tree climbing experience with any litter is exciting stuff. We have a very tall pine tree in our yard that makes a great raccoon-climbing-tree, but maybe not for the first experiment – it doesn’t come with training wheels. This last set of summer raccoons had climbed a shorter tree a week earlier and seemed to have come through with flying colors. They went up, played around a bit, and came back down. No problem. I guess things are a little different when you are only 10 feet off the ground.

So, on this warm Saturday evening, we let them out of their cage and set them up to climb the colossal pine. And climb they did. Up and up until they were 25 feet up. And that’s when they started to panic. Now, this is something we have seen many groups of raccoons go through. They climb up the tree, can’t figure out how to come back down, make some trilling calling noises, and climb up a little further. At about 10 minutes in, someone in the group figures out how to climb down. Once that one starts, the rest follow and down they come. From that point on they’ve got it and the problem isn’t for them to figure out how to get down, it is for you to figure out how to convince them they have had enough playtime and they should come down for dinner.

But these guys really started to panic. Their initial trilling calls turned into full-on raccoon screams. And they continued to go up. After about 25 minutes, the crows that live in the area came home and discovered their tree had a raccoon infestation. Suddenly there were 10 crows circling the tree, cawing loudly, and dive-bombing the screaming raccoons. Another 10 minutes passed and the crows finally realized these raccoons were no threat, got bored, and flew away. But the raccoons continued to scream and climb up. The larger girl tried to start her descent several times, but the runt couldn’t figure it out and continued to scream after being left alone, and so the larger one would head back up to comfort her. It was pretty dang clear this was not going to end without some intervention. We were particularly worried because the runt really was quite fragile at the time and she seemed to be getting tired and lost her footing a few times. But what to do? They were a good 35 feet up by now.

So, Steve went to WildCare and picked up the tallest ladder he could find; then, calling on all his years doing lighting for theatrical productions, he started up. The ladder was still about 5 feet shy of the raccoons, but he was able to lure the big girl to him. Once in his arms, the little raccoon clung to him like she never wanted to let go. The little runt still wouldn’t come down, so Steve passed the big one off to me and started up again. Still unable to convince the runt to come to him, Steve went to her, climbing off the ladder, and up on the branches to reach her. I was not particularly thrilled, but I didn’t see another choice. It was this or let her fall down sometime in the night. Fortunately, all’s well that ends well; Steve made it safely back down with the little runty raccoon in his arms.

As for the rest of it. . .

Cassady, Ezra, Elsa, and H.B. continue to rule our lives and we are happy to let them do so. Ezra remains the loving uncle to Elsa and H.B., while Cassady tries to keep her distance. While there is still no love lost between Cassady and Elsa, the frequency and ferocity of attacks has eased. Interestingly, the only time that I really see Ezra give Cassady a hard time is just after she has given chase to Elsa. H.B. continues her sovereign reign over Steve’s ice cream, while not so subtly working to undermine Cassady’s position as Queen. Thus far, Cassady has maintained her position through sheer force of will, but her reign of terror may soon give way as Little Miss B plans her coup.

Although there were no sunny beaches involved, Steve and I did manage to make it back to Illinois in October for a special event. My brothers and I planned a 40th wedding anniversary party for my parents. We were so happy that many of their friends were able to make it and just delighted with the way the party turned out. I can still hardly believe we managed to surprise them the way we did.

I continue to work as the law librarian in the Palo Alto office of Townsend and Townsend and Crew. I have learned a lot over the course of the year, honing my research skills in legal, business, scientific, and general reference. I am also currently serving as the Government Relations Chair of the San Francisco Bay Region chapter of the Special Libraries Association, keeping abreast of government policies which affect the public’s ability to access information. I maintain a blog of relevant stories (of which there is no shortage) called Part-Time Policy Wonk – www.platypi.com/policywonk – and write stories for the Bayline chapter newsletter.

Steve has done very well in his first year and a half at Microsoft, becoming a development lead in July. He’s actually been the lead on two projects already. He likes to joke about the fact that he was made development lead of Virtual PC 8 just a few weeks before the project was cancelled. Fortunately, he was then made lead for the Macintosh Office core technologies group in Silicon Valley. He really likes the people he works with and Microsoft continues to be a great employer. Steve even talks about things that would be good for his career. The experience has been a wonderful change for him.

I have not had time to act in any community theatre productions this year, but Steve still managed to shoe-horn in time for lighting design. And, of course, we continue with our Sunday morning shifts at WildCare. Although I don’t post terribly frequently, you can keep up with us throughout the year at my blog – Adventures of a Midwestern Girl in Sunny, Sunny California – at www.midwesterngirl.com.

Wishing you and your families a wonderful holiday season and peace in the New Year.