There was a raccoon the size of a beer keg up in the tree. Wise to the ways of nature as I am, I figured this was a sign of spring: The vermin are wandering out from their dens, where they have slumbered the winter away — which sounds like a nice way to pass those dreary, frigid months, but think of all the Netflix shows you'd have to catch up on.
Do raccoons hibernate? Well, no. They just stay in their dens, awake, which sounds incredibly boring. They live off the fat they accumulated in the fall, but the size of this beast suggested he'd either been ordering Dominos every night or had aspirated a watermelon. He stared down at the dog, which — of course — was absolutely crazed by the Sky Cat floating in the boughs above.
I don't know why. It posed no threat. It's not like it had a knife between its teeth and would swing to the eaves and shout "Avast!" or some piratical taunt, then steal his kibble. But that's nature: The dog barks, the raccoon hisses. If it were a Twitter thread, it would go like this:
Rocky666: "Just chillin' in a tree, and now this idiot is yelling at me. Must be my awesome muskiness."
GoodBoyBirch: "Dude, you are on my territory. Technically you are breaking the law."
Rocky666: "LOL. What law?"
GoodBoyBirch: "I peed like all over; this is my place."
Rocky666: "Sorry, bro, I don't recognize dog law. #banditlife."
GoodBoyBirch: "COME DOWN HERE!"
Rocky666: "Shut up."
GoodBoyBirch: "COME DOWN HERE NOW!"
Rocky666: "Haha. Call me when you grow a pair back."
Possum O'Possum: "Sick burn, Rocky."
GoodBoyBirch blocks Possum from viewing his tweets.
And so on, until the raccoon vanished. But he had left raccoon aroma everywhere, of course, so the dog spent the rest of the evening patrolling the perimeter. Humans can't smell it, but imagine getting on an elevator with someone who'd emptied a can of Axe deodorant under each arm. That's a dog's life.
Around midnight, the dog wanted to go out, and I thought it was just a quick trot out for a leg lift. No. There was mad, panicked barking, sure to wake the neighbors. I ran out to see that he'd cornered a possum. As I tried to grab him, he lunged and got the possum by the neck. People say their pets are just like their children, but I never had to say "stop biting that thing to death" to my toddler.
There was hissing! And a blur of limbs and fur! What's the word that came to mind? Right: rabies.
Such a thought instantly flashes you back to childhood terrors. There were five:
• Lead poisoning. If you chewed on pencils, you got lead poisoning, and you would see a dark line going up your vein until it reached your heart and then you were dead.
• Golf-ball innards. If you opened up a golf ball, poison would splash out into your eyes and you would be blind.
• Rusty nails. If you stepped on one, you would get lockjaw and you could never move your mouth and you would starve.
• Blasting caps. If you stepped on one — they were always strewn carelessly around construction sites, although what a child would be doing at a construction site was never quite clear — you would have your foot blown off.
• Rabies. This was the worst. You could survive, but you had to have eight shots in the gut. That was enough to make the strongest kid go weak, because you imagined a needle the diameter of a drinking straw. "In the gut" seemed the finishing touch of medical sadism, too.
The dog was inoculated against rabies, though. Why wasn't I? Why aren't there signs in the drugstores and supermarkets every spring saying: Had your rabies shot? Then we'd all get one. As long as it wasn't in the gut.
Anyhow, Birch dropped the possum and I got the pooch inside, which was slightly less easy than pushing a cat down a toilet, and he barkbarkbarked for a while in fury. "I had him, man!" he was announcing. "I totally had him!"
I figured I would have to get out the snow shovel and scoop up the dead possum. But it was gone. The snow was pristine; no sign of moral combat. The possum had played — well, you know.
What a brilliant strategy! When you're in danger, play dead, and the danger goes away. I'm going to try this with my taxes. I'll let you know how that turns out.