djonn: (woods)
[personal profile] djonn

As I may have mentioned once or twice before, I am in fact a resident of Darkest Suburbia (for metaphorical values of "darkest").  While I'm technically inside the Portland city limits by a few hundred yards, my neighborhood is interspersed with some moderately dense forest and steep hillside.  Forest Park proper is over some of the hills and on the other side of a freeway, but you definitely don't have to go over the hills and far away to find woodlands -- and, correspondingly, woodland creatures.  Indeed, some months ago I spotted a raccoon in my back yard.  And when said raccoon noticed that I was watching it, said raccoon cheerfully clambered up onto my back porch and came over to look at me through the glass window in my back door.  This is a little friendlier than I like my woodland creatures, notwithstanding a childhood in which I happily read about a raccoon named Ranger Rick in one of the magazines my parents ordered for me.  After making a brief investigation of my back porch, the real live raccoon went on about its business and did not return.

Cut to late last night, such that Darkest Suburbia lived up to its name for literal values of "darkest".  We do have streetlights...sort of.  And the little apartment complex where I live has outdoor floodlights...sort of.  Neither sheds a lot of light on either our parking lot or our semi-enclosed front yard (about which, more in a moment).

I had been out, and was coming home rather later than I'd intended; it was about 11:30 pm when I strolled into our streetside parking lot to find several women gathered around a car parked outside the covered entranceway into our front yard.  "Would you walk us to our front door?" one of them asked me, clearly nervous.  Another of the women was brandishing a large square floodlight-type lantern or flashlight.   And the second woman asked me a different question:

"What do you know about raccoons?"

I stopped just outside the entranceway.  "Well, they're nocturnal.  We've got them around here."  I told her about my sighting.  "As far as I know they're not especially dangerous unless they feel threatened..."

This was clearly not what she wanted to hear.  "They're out there!" she said.  "Lots of them!  In the yard!"  She led me through the entranceway, raised her floodlight (which wasn't actually very bright) and aimed it at the shrubbery along the base of the west building.  "See?  There's six of them!"

Let me backtrack here and describe the layout.  My apartment complex consists of two three-story buildings (12 units each) set side by side, plus two townhouses.  The main buildings face a long, narrow landscaped yard that runs the full length of the complex, with a sidewalk running from one end to the other parallel to the buildings.  The yard is enclosed; each end wall has a storage shed built into it, and the two townhouses are set sideways, one at each end of the yard facing toward its center.  In the middle of the outer wall is a covered entranceway -- no gate, just a sidewalk with a roof over it and space for mailboxes and a bulletin board -- and outside the wall is is a long, skinny parking lot, also running the full length of the complex parallel to the street.  And there are tall hedges on each side of the sidewalk just inside the entranceway.

So.  The second woman and I are peering over the hedge into the western half of the yard; she's brandishing her dim floodlight and I'm digging out the pocket-sized Maglite from my shoulder bag.  And indeed, several shapes pretty clearly identifiable as large adult raccoons choose that moment to emerge from the aforementioned shrubbery, prowling casually across the yard and into some other shrubbery along the base of the townhouse wall.  That particular townhouse is normally the resident manager's apartment, but we're between resident managers just now.

"What do we do?" demands the first woman.  "I'm scared!  How are we gonna get into our place?"

I consider this for a moment.  On one hand, the raccoons don't seem to be doing anything other than prowling, as you might expect raccoons to do.  They've taken little notice of our flashlights.  But they certainly seem to be camped out in the western half of the front yard...and that means that in order to get to either of the stairwells of the western building, one would have to walk through Raccoon-Occcupied Territory.  Moreover, there are only two obvious exits from Raccoon-Occupied Territory -- the wide graveled path between the buildings leading to the back yard (which we can see clearly, and which no raccoons appear to be using) and the sidewalk we're standing on, leading from the front yard into the parking lot.

Now I am not personally raccoon-phobic, but I can see the logic of preserving a safe distance between oneself and a gaze of prowling raccoons.  (I looked this up; "gaze" seems to be the collective noun associated with raccoons, just as "herd" goes with cows and "murder" goes with crows.)  But given the geography of the situation, I don't have a good answer for my fellow tenants.  The raccoons have us outnumbered, after all, and it's 11:30 on the Saturday night of a holiday weekend. 

I shrug.  "I suppose you could call 911," I tell the ladies.  "I'm not sure what they could do, but it might be worth a shot."  One of the women in the car instantly produces a cell phone and begins dialing.  Meanwhile, I cautiously walk back over to the hedge and peer into the yard, aiming my Maglite beam (brighter than their floodlight, but not by much) at various bits of shrubbery to no particular result.

We stand there staring at each other for ten or fifteen minutes, with occasional forays far enough along the hedge to peer over it and see if anything is moving in the various bits of shrubbery.  I inquire whether 911 had offered any useful aid, and am advised that it hadn't.  Finally I opine that nothing has moved for awhile, and that if they like I will walk them to their door.  This proposition is accepted with considerably more enthusiasm than it deserves.  By this time, the floodlight has been put away somewhere, probably in the trunk of the ladies' car.  I lead the way down the sidewalk through what is evidently no longer Raccoon-Occupied Territory, as there are no raccoons visible in the yard, the shrubbery, the stairwells, or anywhere else I aim my little Maglite.  There are remarkably few signs of raccoonish passage -- a few loose newspaper pages and a small child's sneaker can be seen on the lawn, but neither seems especially chewed or clawed.  The ladies hurriedly descend the steps of the second stairwell, unlock their door, and wave thankfully at me as they close it firmly behind them.  I proceed back along the sidewalk and into the eastern yard (my apartment being all the way at the other end), checking for raccoons in the shrubbery all the way and finding none.  Just as I turn to descend into my own stairwell, there is a loud door-noise.  One of the ladies rushes up the steps from their apartment, races along the sidewalk and back out through the entranceway, and a moment later the car they've left parked there starts up and zooms off into the night.

I shrug, walk down the steps and unlock my door.  Instead of going to bed, however, I spend the next little while composing an email to the central-office property manager assigned to our complex, because five or six raccoons camping out in our front yard strikes me as just unusual enough to merit further investigation.  In particular, I am curious about how the raccoons got out of the yard without being spotted...assuming, that is, that they did leave the premises.  [I am beginning to wonder if the managers' townhouse is as unoccupied as it should be.]

All of which serves to explain why I am now going to go have a nap....

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