We live in an urban area – our neighborhood is called “Centretown” for heaven’s sake – but that has not stopped wildlife from declaring us invaders and insisting on reclaiming their land. Specifically, in my backyard, the squirrels and raccoons are feeling pretty comfortable.
The squirrels have more or less become family pets. They laze on our porch railing, in full sight of our cats, who have decided that they might as well all be friends. Convinced that my garden is just a complex food delivery system planted for their pleasure, the squirrels pause, looking up at me happily, as they take bites of nearly-ripe tomatoes and then toss them aside. They’ve gotten fat enough on what I grow that they don’t even bother eating all of the scraps of food that my children leave behind on their daily rounds through various backyards.
The raccoons are significantly less tame. A few years ago, a BIG one lived in our neighbourhood. This thug was at least the size of a small dog and came out the victor in several scraps with neighborhood cats. I think he might have been a mafia don in a previous life. Evenings, by light of the moon, he nonchalantly climbed over the raccoon-proofing on our neighbor’s fire escape and wended his way upward to his favourite spot on the landing, where he would sit and survey his domain. Unsecured trash cans were regularly mauled at night: not just turned over, but nearly destroyed by scrabbly paws and sharp teeth. I looked both ways before I went out to clean up the detritus, afraid that I would catch the offender in the act and suffer the consequences.
All this to say that I was not surprised to hear a loud commotion in the trees as I read on the back porch on Sunday. Distracted from the page, I decided to look for the source – and there, smack in the middle of the tree hollow of the Manitoba maple, a little face was staring out at me. I looked at her, she looked at me, and we were both still for a minute. Then, motion in her home: a baby – and then another! The babies were eager for mama’s attention. There was a lot of squeaking and pawing. Mama gave up looking at me and turned to take care of her brood. I watched, entranced. She nursed her little ones and, later, gave them both a good clean (to their apparent dismay). Finished, and looking slightly harried, she gazed out of her hollow again.
For my part, I made my mother-in-law take a break from cooking to come look. A few minutes later, my children arrived home from their activities and became part of the gazing back and forth. My husband found binoculars. The babies peeked out on occasion. My boys looked back. All the parents supervised.
Mama and babies are active just around the time we get home from school, so my boys and I have observed them for three days now. The raccoons have a clear routine; we do, too. Mama nurses and washes the children. I go in and out, getting dinner ready and settling my own children. Daily, Mama looks at me; I look at her. Then we both go attend to our chores.
I’m pretty sure her partner is the mafia don of raccoons, whereas mine is a civil servant, but for now, I’m enjoying this bond with another mother.