Opportunistic critters can wreak havoc with bleeding hearts

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Three raccoons check out a pond in this illustration from the National Wildlife Federation’s 1974 book “Gardening with Wildlife”

In my columns over the years I’ve made it very clear that I love and welcome all of nature’s creatures with as much hospitality as possible.

I’ve hung seed and peanut baskets and suet blocks, broadcast sunflower seeds for the burgeoning wild turkey flocks, tossed out chopped apples and carrots for the deer when the snow is too deep for them to browse, and just generally tried to make their lives easier during winter-time.

So of course, when a huge and adorable Mama Raccoon showed up on the front deck late one night with three equally adorable “babies” (each bigger than a bulldog), I excitedly ran for the fridge to see what they might like. All I had was some carrots, so I cut them up and tossed the pieces out, hoping they’d be acceptable. Too, remembering that ‘coons washed their food before eating, I set an old pie-plate full of water outside the door. I returned to bed, grateful for the opportunity to have perhaps sated some of their needs.

Many of you reading this will already be laughing — though I certainly didn’t when I opened the door next morning. Chaos greeted me with torn-up (emptied) Christmas boxes, ornaments pulled off the on-deck tree, a once-sturdy plywood box full of peanuts was pulled apart and every peanut gone — but myriad emptied shells covered the porch floor. Items stored in cardboard boxes waiting the new shed which will be installed this spring were pulled loose, scattered and except for metal tools and implements, thoroughly mauled. The big ceramic planting pots, still containing soil, had been dug out clear to the bottoms, with clods and clumps tossed over the porch rug ­— it was a war zone. And the pie-plate of water was full of mud.

So I spent the day cleaning, rearranging, turning all the big pots upside-down, generally protecting and repairing and thought about the lesson I had learned — which included the fact that raccoons love peanuts.

That evening, just before bedtime, I heard a noise on the deck, opened the door, and there stood the Mama and three babies — just like visitors — looking up to me expectantly. Tell me, dear readers — what would you have done? Did the hand that fashioned the raccoon purposely make it so darn cute and appealing on purpose? I made my decision: I took four carrots from the crisper, cut them up in small pieces, then went out and tossed them far out onto the turkey’s “feeding area” away from the house. The little family dispersed to the offering and I closed the door, knowing somehow that they would be back. And of course, they were.

The next (third) night — the weather having taken a turn for the better — I grabbed the big porch broom and waved it at them, telling them the weather was fine and they could fend for themselves. I augmented this with a spray bottle of water — the hiss of which seemed to deter them. I then noticed a pretty can of Pier 1 Lilac room spray and shot a stream of that out the door. Amazingly, they scattered. The hiss of the spray can was really loud, and the fragrance of lilac was overwhelming. They made one last desultory attempt the following night, but one glance at the hand coming out the door with the hissing spray can sent them waddling off in a hurry. So there’s your answer: Lilac room spray. Who woulda’ thunk it?

There is an addendum to this story. Around midnight that final night, I was awakened by the cats running to the window and thought, “Oh no.” Crawling out of bed, I peeked out the door window and saw a brand-new visitor — the most beautiful Walt Disney skunk with glossy black and pristine white fluffy fur and a darling face — sniffing around the porch. There was no scent around him/her at all, and I wondered if it had been attracted by the fragrance of the surroundings. It glanced up at me watching it and continued on its way down the steps and off into the night. That’s the kind of sweet encounter I appreciate.

Though cold, snowy winters can be hard on non-hibernating creatures, I’m personally grateful that the bears sleep through them. They were a nemesis to me this past summer/fall and I’m not looking forward to their spring awakening.

For now there’s a lot of winter left, so if you haven’t given thought to the birds, consider hanging out a basket of birdseed — black oil sunflower is best — or picking up a couple of suet feeders or just smearing some peanut butter in the cracks of your big tree trunks — anything to give some heat and sustenance to our precious winged population. Each morning when I take out my baskets — two or three chickadees and/or nuthatches greet me by hopping into them before I have a chance to hang them. They know and trust me — and that, to me — is a great compliment.

I wouldn’t recommend feeding any raccoons, though, unless you’re privy to more knowledge/information than I am.

Valle Novak writes the Country Chef and Weekend Gardener columns for the Daily Bee. She can be reached at bcdailybee@bonnercountydailybee.com. or by phone at 208-265-4688 between the hours of 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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