A car skid to a stand-still on the dirt road in front of my house some years back. Through the woods, I could see and hear three young men.
It wasn’t ordinary, and they were interested in something on the edge of my land. I armed myself, told my oldest three sons to wait where they were, fired up the truck and drove to where they were.
There were three college guys looking up a tree on the edge of the barbed wire fence on the property line. Way up at the top of a large pine tree was a huge mama raccoon looking down at the guys. About ten feet up, four baby coons were sitting on a tree limb.
I got out of the truck and discerned what they were doing, and quietly palmed the pistol back in my pocket. These guys weren’t up to no good. They were up to stupid!
Even though it was obvious, sometimes it’s just too much fun not to ask, so I introduced myself and asked what they were up to.
They told me they were out driving the back roads and saw the mama coon and her babies. They wanted to catch one or two of the babies and raise them as pets.
Uh, huh. Figures!
I killed the truck, motioned from a distance for my sons to come over, and let the tailgate down as a seat. This could be far better than a movie.
They elected the smallest guy to be the climber. He was the size of an undersized hobbit anyway, and besides, he was antsy and wanted one of the coons the most. He reminded me of Gollum on Lord of the Rings, kinda whacked out looking and wild eye excited about capturing his prize.
The two guys staying on the ground gave him a boost to the lowest branch while the baby coons slyly looked down at them.
He pulled himself up to stand on the lowest branch and kept pushing away the vine leaves from his face. It was poison ivy. He didn’t know it, and I would’ve gladly told him the green leaves and vine going up the tree was poison ivy, but he didn’t ask. Besides, he’d figure it out the next day.
My sons, who were 12, 11, and 9 then, were sitting on the tailgate rolling in laughter at his oblivious trek through poison ivy.
Once he was on the lowest branch, the three guys concocted a plan of what to do if he actually grabbed a baby coon. They had no gloves, no cage, no bag…nothing.
The two on the ground decided that if he grabbed one of the baby coons, it may “accidentally” bite him. Gollum, up in the tree, wasn’t so keen on the bite possibility, and for the first time seemed to rationally question what it was he was doing.
They threw him a couple of t-shirts from their car to wrap around his hands and arms. Mmm, hmm.
“Oh yeah”, they assured Gollum trying to convince him that it would definitely work, which brought more snickers from my sons.
He looked up at the baby coons sitting on the next tree limb up, and they started moving toward the tree trunk to go higher. He got that crazed look again, and started climbing up the tree like Gollum after the ring.
For every inch he climbed, the coons climbed six, but they finally stopped again on a higher limb. He circled around the back side of the tree about fifteen feet high, and made a concerted effort to reach around and grab one of the babies.
When Gollum lunged toward the precious closest to him, the coon turned on him like it was a rabid dragon that drank gasoline for breakfast. The baby coon began hissing, raising the hair on its now arched back while baring its pointed little teeth.
Gollum, and it was probably a good thing, barely missed the baby coon, but then almost tumbled out of the tree.
My sons were rolling in laughter, but the two college guys on the ground were all into it now and were shouting encouragement.
“That’s right! Just grab it! You can do it! Just grab it!”
Still free climbing twenty feet up in the tree, Gollum slowly circled the large tree trunk trying to catch a baby coon on the opposite side of the tree. The coon didn’t climb up to the tree top where the mama coon and its three siblings had climbed. It just circled the opposite side of the tree, almost as if toying with him.
It was like the baby coon was hollering up the tree, “Hey mama, watch this!” In the meantime, Gollum was hollering down the tree, “OK, where is he?”
The circle dance lasted a couple of minutes, but Gollum was getting tired and when he slipped a little again, decided he would have to get his Precious some other day!
My sons seemed disappointed that he hadn’t actually made full body contact with one of the coons.
The two guys on the ground started berating their friend for giving up “so easy” until Gollum got angry and yelled at them to come climb up the tree if they thought they could do better. That shut them up.
When Gollum got about seven feet from the ground, he jumped out of the tree narrowly missing the barbed wire fence.
The three guys all thanked me for letting them try. It was unusual to see a mama and babies out in the day time, so I told them they ought to swing by a little later in the afternoon and see if they were back in the same place.
They had to be somewhere an hour later, but wholeheartedly agreed that they would try the next morning. They talked about bringing a cloth bag or cage to put the coon in, and maybe a fish net on a long pole for Gollum to use up in the tree.
The entertainment was over, so my three sons jumped back on their bicycles and began playing after the three college guys sped off in a cloud of dust.
You know, they never showed up the next morning. I have a sneaking suspicion it was because when Gollum woke up, he figured out what the green vines were…