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Midwest Adventures #3

AMES, Iowa — I’m still in recovery.

I arrived home around midnight on May 1. I was very tired, worn out from my three-day trip to the annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. But when I got into the condo and dropped my things, I decided for some reason that it was time to take out the kitchen trash. I tied up the bag and walked to the dumpster, which is only about 40 feet from my front door. As I reached for the dumpster’s lid, I had a sensation — one of those sensations that novelists always have trouble describing, a feeling that something isn’t quite right, that what I’m doing might not work out exactly the way I expect.

Indeed. As I lifted the lid to throw in the bag, there was a noise, the frantic scrabbling of a beast within. I was startled — okay, I freaked out briefly. I let go of the lid and leaped backward with a shout as what turned out to be a raccoon scooted through the space between the dumpster and the descending lid. All would have been fine except that in my haste to back away from the animal, I tripped and fell awkwardly to the blacktop.

I tore up my left elbow, as well as the palm of my right hand. I also bruised my hip. Nothing serious, but the row of scabs on and around my elbow is a hindrance to getting dressed and such.

My wife thinks this is pretty funny. “Watch out for Ricky Raccoon!” she’s said several times since. My younger daughter thinks I’m a wuss for being afraid of a little raccoon. She’s right and wrong, of course. She’s right that there’s no reason to be afraid of a raccoon. He’s more afraid of me than I of him. But she’s wrong in the sense that I didn’t know what was in that dumpster. Having moved to the Midwest just a couple of weeks before, I wasn’t familiar with the notion of wildlife of this sort rooting around near your house. It’s very unlikely that anything other than a sad human will be found in an apartment dumpster in Las Vegas. Plus, it was past midnight, dark, and cold, and I was tired as hell.

Anyway, I’ve been leery of that dumpster ever since. I’ve opened it trepidatiously probably five times since then, and no raccoon has jumped out. It probably won’t happen again, but that experience will come to mind every time for a while.

Keeping with the animal theme, let’s talk about the armadillo. You read that right. Armadillos are commonplace in the South, but it’s unusual for them to make an appearance this far north. But it happened this week in the small town of Cambridge, about 15 miles south of Ames.

According to a story in today’s Ames Tribune, a man named Wade Kahler noticed some sort of roadkill on the shoulder of his driveway. He called a city maintenance employee, Dale Hennick, who came out and discovered it was a dead armadillo. He tossed it in the back of his pickup.

Apparently, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources receives “a couple of armadillo reports a year . . . but they are always roadkills.” It’s not clear how the armored creatures get to Iowa, but I would speculate that they somehow end up here by catching a ride on some sort of vehicle, kind of like roof rats in Las Vegas. Otherwise, it’s an awfully long walk.

For the record, it’s illegal to transport an armadillo into Iowa. I don’t know why. (I wonder if Nevada has a similar law.)

Here’s the kicker, from the final two sentences of the article:

“Hennick has no idea what he will do with the curious carcass. ‘I guess I’ll just put him in the refrigerator for now,’ he said.”

Wait: Why does Hennick think the thing to do is to put this dead animal in a refrigerator? Why would he do that? When you don’t know what to do with a dead animal, your plan is to put it in a refrigerator? That would only make sense if he . . . he . . . planned to cook the thing and eat it!

Surely that’s not what he intends to do. Surely.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. May 10, 2011 at 5:20 PM

    Geoff, I’ve had plenty of interactions with raccoons. They really like expensive koi and will feast on them (a single bite and toss it aside for another pretty fish). But they can be big and look pretty ferocious when you meet up with one unexpectedly in the wrong place. As for roadkill, did you read our story about chicken roadkill as the primary economic indicator in Arkansas? When there’s lots of road kill, times are good. When there’s hardly any, times are bad. C.

  2. Eric Miller
    May 11, 2011 at 6:57 AM

    Drama with a touch of mystery. I love it. Raccoons are nothing to mess with. They will attack when cornered and aside from the obvious rabies threat, their long, sharp claws are like, well, long, sharp claws. You did the right thing backing away post-haste.

    If I were you, I wouldn’t mess with Dale Hennick either.

  3. May 13, 2011 at 9:14 PM

    Hi Geoff. It’s hard to believe that you now live in my home state. I’ll be in Iowa from June 8 to 17. On June 9, at 10am, I’ll be on Iowa Public Radio to kick off my Iowa tour for my new book, The Home for the Friendless. It’s going to be a busy but fun week. But, about raccoons: I live near a woodsy area in Los Gatos, CA and several years ago a raccoon beheaded my neighbor’s rabbit. They tried to blame it on our Great Dane thinking that our big dog had jumped over the fence to get that rabbit that was allowed to run free in their back yard. I blamed it on the raccoon I had seen a couple of times because I know Great Danes can’t jump any better than white men can.

  4. Kate Thompson
    May 19, 2011 at 8:20 AM

    When I worked as a reporter on Sanibel island in Florida, I was often in the office late at night. And the newspaper office was in an off-the-beaten-path condo group of office suites. While you did want to be cautious venturing outdoors in the evening because of the occasional gator, we also had raccoons. Over the course of a number of weeks, I made friends with one, sort of. I didn’t feed him nor did he threaten me at all. He would just stand in the parking lot, looking up at me on the deck, and chatter at me. I talked back to him, I confess. One evening, I was staring off into space, trying to work out the words for the story I was writing and apparently wasn’t paying attention. He wandered over and when I didn’t speak to him, got closer. A lot closer. In fact, I realized he was there when he touched my foot. I’m so glad Sanibel hadn’t had a case of rabies in many, many years.

  5. Desert Smurff
    May 19, 2011 at 12:26 PM

    I was camping once across the lake and a bunch of hughe racoons kept rattling the trash and waking my wife and myself up. After the 10th time (and suffering (forgot the coffee) a caffeine headache like a C4 blast) I charged out with my stick and hunting knife to either kill something or at least get satisfaction. As I rushed up to the garbage bag, a white streak barely registered as not racoonish! Needless to say, I turned tail an ran from the skunk who had replaced the racoons, teeth and claws I can deal with, but chemical warfare is a weapon of mass destruction. Strangely my caffeine headache dissappeared. Hey, do you think ehh de skunk might be a cure for coffee addiction.

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