Most mornings, I wake up early and sit in front of our sliding glass doors which look out toward the ocean and our surrounding neighbors. Last week, around 6am, I saw a gaze – or group – of raccoons on the roof of a neighboring house.
Currently, the house is in escrow and it has been empty all summer. So you can imagine my surprise as I watched all five of those coons scramble into the roof vent.
It brought back memories of a time when I had a run in with some raccoons.
When I was in high school, my mom – Kathy – and I did a lot of car camping.
One time in particular, we got a big group together to go camp out up at High Point – which is where New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania all meet – for my birthday.
My mom, Aunt Trish, her kids -- cousins Jimmy and Jackie, and my girlfriend Michelle prepared for the two plus hour drive for a weekend camping trip.
We set off in my mom's 1975 Toyota Corolla station wagon that was a distinct shade of eggplant. By the time we had the car packed with our gear, the four kids were so squashed in the back seat that, every time we hit a bump, we banged our heads so hard on the roof that we practicaly had concussions.
I do recall that we got on the road quite early in the morning. As the sun was rising, our first excitement of the trip presented itself when a car was coming toward us head first on the Interstate.
With my mom at the wheel and traffic being light, we were able to safely maneuver to the side of the road and let that crazy, confused or just drunk person pass. These were pre-cell phone days, so we weren't even able to call and report this dangerous driver to 911.
But we continued on our way.
About mid-day, we arrived at our campsite. We were lucky enough to find one that was off the beaten path, and we actually had to walk quite a distance from the car to the campsite. From our secluded spot right on the lake, we couldn't even see our car. This was prime real estate.
We quickly put up our tents and organized the site, so we could spend the afternoon exploring and swimming in the lake.
My Aunt Trisha shared an idea to hang all our non-perishable food in a big army duffel bag from a tree. We had a cooler for all our perishable items.
We set out for a fun-filled afternoon. Once we got back to our tents, we fired up the Q to grill some burgers for our dinner and then do some s'morin before the snorin’.
I was so excited because Michelle and I had our very own pup tent to share. We felt so independent and gladly retired early to giggle and gossip like normal teen-agers.
Since it was a beautiful night, my mom – an extreme nature lover –opted to spend the night in her sleeping bag next to the fire and under the stars.
After some time, we all started to wind down and slowly it got very quiet as we all began to drift off the sleep.
Suddenly, my mother screamed.
Looking toward the camp fire, I could see my mom through the tent jumping up and the shadow of some sort of animal running after her. My first thought was bear. As we heard the zip, zip, zip of my mom's tent, she shouted that it had only been a raccoon that had wandered into camp, but it had startled her awake.
The two adults assured all of us paranoid kids that everything was OK and to just go back to sleep. So – even though we were a bit amped up – we settled back into our sleeping bags. But a few minutes later, Michelle and I heard a scratching at the back of our tent – which wasn't that big – so the sound was too close for comfort. Once again, visions of bears danced in my head.
Michelle and I screamed and unzipped our tent as quickly as our shaking fingers would allow; then we scrambled into the big tent with the rest of my family.
We tried to ignore the sounds of those masked bandits and, when Mom and Trish, looked outside the tent, there was a gaze of raccoons around our campsite.
Mom and Trish came to the conclusion that maybe the food hanging from the tree wasn’t such a brilliant idea after all and it was actually attracting the rascals. We decided that we would lock the duffel bag in the car for the night. Those vermin were so aggressive that, as Trisha got the bag down from the tree, I had a big stick that I was banging on the ground to keep them at bay.
The remoteness of the site was suddenly a hindrance as we made our way through the woods while fighting off throngs of coons through the woods and over a small bridge to the car. But we made it and got everything secured.
That was when Trisha, who was carrying the flashlight, heard her 6-year-old daughter Jackie start screaming. She bolted down the path, with the torch, only to leave me in the dust and alone on the path with some bad ass raccoons.
Blindly using my big stick to wack the tall grass around me, I ran as fast as I could without falling. I finally caught up to Trish and my Mom; Jackie had awoken to find Trisha gone and raccoons fighting outside our tent. She had been terrified hence the scream.
We all climbed back in the tent and barely slept a wink with those raccoons terrifying us for the entire night.
Sometime before the sun came up, the rascals disappeared and something much larger and meaner rolled into camp. I was too scared to get official confirmation but, I'm pretty sure we had a visit from Smokey the Bear too. Obviously, being much bigger than the coons on the food chain, they bolted. Little did we know at the time, Michelle had packed her overnight bag – which was in our pup tent – with candy bars, potato chips, and cookies.
The one rule my mom had was no food in the tents. Michelle had even hidden it from me, but she didn't get it by the raccoons. In a weird way, we were lucky because I think our masked friends had eaten all the sweet treats so there was nothing left for the bear.
The next morning, it looked like a bomb had exploded. The raccoons had desiccated mine and Michelle's tent. Wrappers, clothes and bits of rubbish (they broke into the trash can too) littered the ground of our site.
Not to mention that we awoke to a dreary and rainy day. Our prime real estate suddenly looked like the slums.
We cleaned it up and cleared out for the day – heading to my favorite theme park ever, Action Park.
When we returned later in the evening, it was too damp to start a fire, so we opted to just make some sandwiches and chips for dinner.
As we just sat down at our picnic table to eat, my eight-year-old cousin asked us what a skunk looked like. My aunt asked why, and Jimmy just pointed behind us. As if in slow motion, we all turned around at the same time and sure enough Pepè LePew was on his way to have some dinner with us.
Unfortunately for my mom, Michelle decided to physically climb up her body to avoid getting sprayed. My mom finally extracted Michelle and we shooed Pepè away and everyone avoided a tomato juice bath.
Well, that night was quite uneventful and we all got a great night's sleep because we were so exhausted.
The next morning, we packed it up and left Mother Nature behind but – to this day – I have never looked at a raccoon in quite the same way again.