One of my favorite places to be is sitting lengthwise on our back porch swing, looking out towards the yard. My favorite time to be there is more or less from four to six in the morning: then I find the solitude that is so vital to our mental health and so lacking in modern society. And yet I am certainly not alone. The frogs and insects are invisible to me, but they are omnipresent and loud. Barred owls stop by to say a word on their way from and to who knows where. The armadillo waddles his way slowly home from his nightly wanderings—though the one time I saw him chasing a female armadillo he moved at a speed I could hardly believe of him. As dawn approaches, many birds awaken and supplement the chorus.
Once I've identified the fauna, I try not to disturb them; I know the armadillo's sound, and he dislikes my flashlight, so I am content to listen. But the other day curiosity drove me to investigate a new noise.
It sounded a bit like branches and acorns falling on the porch roof, a not uncommon sound this time of year. Yet it was more localized, and not really the same. So I got off the swing, picked up the light, and found ... raccoons.
There were four of them, I learned, though I only saw two at first. Not babies, but clearly youngsters. They were small, and playing with the gay and fearless abandon of the young. Unlike the armadillos, they loved my light, climbing off the roof and onto the screen of the pool enclosure to follow it. One of them insisted on sitting exactly above me, giving me an unprecedented view of a raccoon's underside. When I took the light off the screen, they lost interest, and went back to playing on the roof.
Then they sought further adventure, and nimbly climbed down the ladder we had left leaning against the wall. I followed them with the light, and once again entranced the most adventuresome fellow. He headed right towards me, and I think that if there hadn't been a screen between us he would have come up to sniff my feet. If I moved a little, he would draw back, but as soon as I stopped he would approach again.
I returned to my swing, but eventually they all climbed back over the roof and down on the other side, near the swing. I could see three of them wrestling with each other, as young boys do. The fourth, which was smaller and—dare I stereotype?—probably female, mostly eschewed the acrobatics in favor of exploring in the bromeliads and finding an occasional snack. All four played there for a long time, frequently passing through a convenient hole in the fence between our yard and that of our neighbors, whither they eventually departed.
A few days later, at around the same time of day, I heard them crawl back through the same hole. To my eyes they were noticeably bigger, but they were only three. The smallest raccoon was missing—I hope it was because the gap between her interests and those of her brothers had grown, and not because she had met an untimely end, though as Ernest Thompson Seton famously said, "the life of a wild animal always has a tragic end."
The three did not play as much as before, but seemed to have exploration and a destination in mind instead. However, they allowed themselves to be again distracted by my light, and two were even bolder than before, running right up to me, and stretching against the screen to get as close as they could. We were just a few inches apart, and only if I moved suddenly would they temporarily retreat.
Unsuccessful at getting closer, they eventually resumed their journey, which led off somewhere in the back of our yard, where they disappeared into the undergrowth of and bromeliads and ferns.