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.

Beard-A-Thon 2008

October.25.2007

It’s that time of year again. As anyone who lives in an area with more trees than people, I am in the midst of my late season beard growth. Last year I made it to Thanksgiving before I decided to trim down to a sweet mustache (for five minutes). I’m hoping this year I can make it to Christmas, but I’m not making any promises. I’m clearly not a beard kind of guy with my lack of firearm skills and overall unwillingness to cutdown trees with an axe accompanied by Babe the Blue Ox.

I also apologize for my appearance being so similar to head coach of the New England Patriots, Bill Belichick, but some days you just need to look like an unkempt homeless person to feel comfortable.
I’ll try to give a bi-weekly update on the beard progress. This is why the internet exists.

Snakes in an Office

April.30.2007

The unthinkable has happened. I have a giant snake loose in the office with me. Yikes.

I suppose this was always possible since we do have a nature area in the same building. I actually have had this recurring thought that someday it will be like that scene in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure when he sees the pet store on fire and starts rescuing animals. He runs back and forth saving everything (including goldfish in little bags) before finally running out with handfuls of snakes and passing out on the sidewalk outside.

In my case, it was much different. This morning I walked past one of the office and saw out of the corner of my eye a snake. Of course I kind of walk-ran the rest of the way down the hall. Then I slowly walked back to the door to look at it.

I know the snake isn’t deadly, heck it probably doesn’t even bite. But I’m pretty sure “snake-handling” was not in my job description. Especially when the thing is like 3 feet long. Gross.

I have a co-worker coming in to pick it up. If you do see a post from me soon, I’m probably in this thing’s belly.

Dear H&R Block: I hate you.

February.20.2007

So I thought I was being proactive. I historically wait until the last minute to do my taxes so when I started them last month using H&R Block’s online program, I figured I was way ahead of the game. Today I learned I was wrong.

Last year I used H&R Block’s competitor, TurboTax. It worked well, but this year I saw that H&R Block offered free filing for low income households (which we certainly apply for). So I went through the paces and finally wrapped up my federal return today. As I finished, I was greeted with an interesting message:

…each state filing will cost $24.95…

Great. Okay. So I’ll bite the bullet and pay up. The next screen is what really bothered me though:

…we’re sorry, we cannot create state tax filings for those who have lived in more than one state in 2005…

Alright, that sucks. I spent all this time getting my federal return together on here for two reasons; it was free and it would allow me to transfer that data to my state returns. Now that those benefits are gone, I am actually redoing my taxes using TurboTax simply on principle. I refuse to give H&R Block any money after these two surprises.

The longest two days…

January.4.2007

As much as I love and appreciate “time-off,” this has been the absolute longest 2 days ever. It’s not that my typical time off is this boring. Unfortunately the rest of my family is gone though, so I’m stuck here in the woods trying to basically kill time. It’s a horrible thing. So here is a brief list of things I’ve done.

1. Watched 4 bowl games. The Fiesta Bowl is officially the greatest game I have ever seen in my life.

2. The new show Knights of Prosperity is pretty hilarious in a My Name is Earl/Office kind of way.

3. I beat Psychonauts. I got this game for Christmas. Like, a week ago. Great game, but sad I beat it already.

4. I killed two mice by reinventing the conventional mouse trap. Put peanut butter under the bait bail with a toothpick and snap off the toothpick to make it difficult for the mouse to clean off the trap without it’s neck being snapped. I know, I’m pathetic and inhumane.

5. I have watched the Packers/Bear game twice. I can’t get enough of that game. Just priceless.

6. I have done countless loads of laundry and dishes in hopes that my wife will have little to nothing to do when she gets home.

7. I cleaned up the garage. Even though it was already clean.

I’m sure there are more things that are pointless, but I can’t think of any right now. Oh yeah, I slept until 11 am yesterday too. Okay, I’m done. And pathetic.

The Deadliest of Snowshoes

December.2.2006

This is one of those stories that you wish you could undo, but at the same time, it is perfect for blogging.

So today in the office I decided to make the transition from fall decorations (pumpkins and scarecrows) to winter decorations (wreaths and trees). The real motivation for this was a pair of old snowshoes that my father-in-law gave to me. I have been eager to have them up in the office as a decoration and also to get them out of my office.

Ideally I wanted to hang the snowshoes in a criss-cross (not to be confused with 90’s rap all-stars KrissKross) fashion on the wall. It couldn’t be that hard, right? So I got out some string and tied them together. After several minutes of fighting with them to get them just right, I realized I didn’t need string at all, I needed some wire.

Being the burly woodsy guy that I am, I decided it would be faster to pull the snowshoes apart, rather than untying them. It was just kite string, right?

So I started pulling. I guess I didn’t really realize just how hard I was pulling though. That is, I didn’t realize until the string eventually snapped and sent one of the snowshoes right into my forehead. Ouch.

I just stood there stunned for a second. Did that really just happen? I reached up and felt my handywork and found a nice welt where I was hit.

After swallowing my pride, I tried to get some more work done. After about a half-hour though, my head was hurting pretty good and it was already 4 pm. So I went home.

When Jamie saw me, the first thing I said was “I got attacked by a snowshoe.” After she stopped laughing she told me I had a red mark where it hit me. I didn’t even think to look in the mirror, but sure enough, there it was.

Now my only fear that I will wake up with a big bruise or even a black eye from a freakin‘ snowshoe. Great.

A Disturbing Story Time

September.22.2006

Jamie has gotten in the good habit of reading to Leah. Every day she reads to her before her two daily naps and then before she goes to bed.

On Wednesday we all went to the local library and checked out a stack of books so we had some more variety of books to read to Leah. Some of the classics such as the Bearenstein Bears and Babar made the list along with several we had never heard of. Such as the book pictured above.

Well, yesterday we sat down to read to Leah during my lunch break. The book started out innocent enough. A heart warming story about a dad playing guitar with his two kids. Then the next page talked about how the dad sometimes drank beer and acted funny.

Now, normally this would raise a red flag for me since it is a kids book. However I dismissed it thinking it was probably written by a Wisconsinite who thought this was acceptable for a kid’s book. Fair enough. I can be open minded.

So we turn to the next page. Here it talks about dad and mom fighting and mom accusing dad he is an alcoholic.

Huh. This is an odd book.

We quickly flip through the rest of the pages and see at the end of the story that dad is checking into AA. Apparently this book is meant for a very specifc audience.

While Leah is certianly too young to understand this story, I would probably be okay with rereading this to her later in life. The story really painted an accurate and understandable picture of living with alcohol abuse and I can see why the author wrote it.

It was just kind of surprising to find it mixed in with Richard Scary and Curious George.

Death From Above!!!!!!

September.17.2006

Well, after an enjoyable evening of walking in Westfield (discovering a nice cross country trail and finding that Westfield HS actually has an 18 hole disc golf course), Jamie, Leah and I were on our way home to eat some dinner and watch the Amazing Race. It was a great end to a pretty great night.

And then it happened…well almost.

As we were driving down County Road M, it was really about the same as every other drive. We saw a few deer and I, as always, almost forgot about a rather sharp curve. No big deal.

Then, out of the darkness, this giant flash of white, gray and black comes from the right side of the road. I slam on the brakes and kind of cringed as I figured we were definitely going to hit this “thing.” Time slowed down like the Matrix or one of the other hundered movies and videogames that use the stop-motion. I then realized what was going to end up in my lap: an owl.

I’ve hit raccoons, opossums, rabbits, squirrels and an assortment of birds, but never an owl. And I still haven’t. Some how we missed it by literally inches. It was to the point where we could clearly make out the feather patterns when it pulled away from my side of the windshield.

After the shock wore off, Jamie and I joked about the awkward call to the insurance company we would have had to make.

“Yeah, hi, American Family? This is Nick. We hit an animal with our car last night…no, not a deer…no, not a raccoon…actually…it was an owl.”

Thankfully we all survived. That would have been gross, expensive and time consuming. And it’s a great story either way.