Our Neighbor Ralph
Let me introduce you to Ralph. I don’t know for a fact that his name really is Ralph, but I have called him such on numerous occasions and he has yet to correct me. Perhaps he is simply being polite but, for the sake of brevity, I’ll assume his name is Ralph and continue.
Ralph is a raccoon. A great big, rather tired looking, old raccoon. He made his first appearance on our farm about two months ago during one of the nasty cold spells that has come to identify the winter of 2015. I first saw him curled up sound asleep in a wheelbarrow in our barn, with remnants of old straw that I left there the night previous because it was too cold to wheel it all the way to the manure pile.
Knowing a barn is no place for a wild raccoon, I tried to stir Ralph but he’d have none of that. Like a somnolent housecat curled up in the sun, he gave me this look that I could only interpret as mild annoyance, then put his paw over his eyes, rolled over, and promptly went to sleep. Since it would seem that, to a wild animal, humans are the ultimate foe and should flee us if they know what’s good for them (even though I’d never harm any animal, it’s best wild creatures assume all humans are bad for their own safety), his lackadaisical demeanor seemed to mean one thing. He was too tired to move, and he was dying.
For a while we let Ralph rest comfortably, suspecting his end was near. But knowing raccoons carry a variety of diseases and thinking that it might not be wise to have our animals exposed to him, I reluctantly got a shovel and nudged him to the door. It took several tries, but between my apologies, which I have no reason to assume he understood, and my gentle yet firm persistence, Ralph found his way to the stable door and waddled his way across the paddock to our stand of trees. I watched as he slowly yet methodically climbed a Norway spruce and disappeared into the upper branches.
Over the next few days I was expecting to find a dead raccoon under the trees, having finally succumbed to the inexorable decline of old age. But no raccoon was to be found. For a while there, I didn’t give it much thought until one night coming in from chores with the wind blowing wicked drifts, I watched as a big, old, lumbering raccoon trundled his way across the driveway and along the front of our farm house looking for food. It was Ralph.
What made me think of this story is, in part triggered by the fact that when I went out to the hay barn this morning to gather a bale for Loretta, Emmylou, and Cowboy, who should I find asleep on a stack of hay but Ralph. I’ll leave the story about how Joanne and I spent forty minutes trying to herd an old raccoon out of a barn for another day. Suffice it to say, by this point we’ve come to assume that Ralph isn’t quite on death’s door. He’s just an old raccoon, perhaps a little tired, looking for a home.