when the camp family goes camping – raccoon psychology


This is not the actual raccoon we saw, but at 3am, it was more or less what I saw in my mind. Except bigger. Like 3 feet bigger.

raccoon psychology

When you go camping, the first night is pretty exciting. All the comforts and amenities of home are stripped away as you try to return to some simpler state of being. As parents, there is the added pressure of pretending to be some sort of wilderness expert despite the fact that we usually end up fumbling our way through this process with a smile on our face to ease the nerves of onlooking children.

And so it was our first night at Devil’s Lake. We had setup camp and the kids had a snack of some fruit snacks and granola bars to keep them occupied. Our plan called for us to run into town for some final groceries and to eat one more supper with the common folk before we transitioned to our diet of things that can be prepared over a poorly regulated cookstove and a fire.

As we settled down to go to bed that night, everything was going great. The kids were having fun, Jamie and I hadn’t made total fools of ourselves, and so far no one had gotten hurt. Not bad for a half day away from home.

The kids surprisingly went to bed easily. We were all tired and were quickly asleep in our tent, all piled side-by-side. It was good. For most of the night.

“Honey, wake up.”

It was about 3 am.

“Wake up, there’s a raccoon outside the tent.”

Through the haze, I processed what Jamie said. This is roughly the exchange I had in my head for those 3 seconds, that seemed like an eternity.

Animal. Outside. No problem. Back to sleep…..

Wait. “Outside” doesn’t mean 2×4 construction and sheet rock. It means single-ply nylon between me and nature. And what about the kids? And Jamie? How exactly do you fight a raccoon? Do you “get big” or “play dead”? Both?

As I stirred myself and shook the cobwebs, I grabbed a flashlight and aimed it at the end of the tent where I heard the snarling and rustling. I saw a white garbage bag and a flash of teeth moving quickly around. It was at the other end of the tent, right next to Eli’s head who was sound asleep, unaware of the monster feeding next to him.

Like any good husband and dad does, I pulled myself off the hard ground, unzipped the dew soaked tent, and slowly shuffled my way in the dark to the far end of the tent. It’s funny how your mind can run wild with each step as you approach a wild animal. As I type this, I can see how irrational any concern about a raccoon is. In that moment though, that raccoon was a 6 foot long alligator covered in fur, wearing a leather jacket, wielding a switchblade. It was tough. And I was tired, cold, and caring a child’s flashlight as my only weapon. Seemed like a fair fight.

As I turned the corner to see where the raccoon was, I expected some epic confrontation. What I got instead was a torn up white garbage bag, the remains of some Cheez-It snack bags, and a sudden realization of how ridiculous this must look.

I slinked my way back to my sleeping bag and tried to calm my nerves. Eventually I went back to sleep. A few hours later, another raccoon visited, this time to Jamie’s end of the tent and found nothing but a way to have me woken up again. It ran away before I even saw it, but I’m convinced it was the raccoon’s way of getting one last shot in before he left for the night. But I was wrong. He wasn’t done with me yet.

The next night I walked up to the shower house to take out my contacts and brush my teeth. I realized I didn’t have my glasses, so I walked half-blind back to our campsite. I looked to the sky hoping to see the stars and the moon, but all I saw was a white blob on a black canvas. I could see blurry orange lights dotting the campground where smores and stories were still being exchanged.

I looked forward and was just across the street from our campsite, remembering the raccoon fiasco from the night before. Just then, the loudest slamming sound imaginable crashed to my left at the dumpsters. I spastically jumped two feet to the right as if the dumpster had tried to eat me. Was it the raccoon!?!

No. It wasn’t. It was my mind and blurry vision. Instead of a vicious animal, it was just a responsible camper putting their white garbage bag in the dumpster for the night to avoid the same fate we had the night before.

And that’s how the campground trains us to be more responsible with our garbage. No signs or warnings are needed. They don’t even have to pay someone to clean up the sites. We live in fear of the many-toothed consequence that awaits the litter bug.


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