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The long weeks of preparation for an annual board meeting in Florida were over. We were eagerly on our way, as much in response to a yearning for a break in our routine as in anticipation of catching up with old friends. I was almost relaxed as Jean tested his newly “uncataracted” eyes with the long stint of driving. Nice weather, an interesting CD for our listening pleasure, lots of chatter—and all was well with the world.
Both of us entered into the intensity of our four-day long meeting and were equally eager to return home. We had immersed ourselves in the challenges of ministry and the process of responding to church needs.
Questions arose abundantly; discussion was heated but fruitful. We grappled with the problems of outreach to those who are on the fringes of church society. We thought long and hard about the ways in which we could grow, as individuals and as community—and concluded, once again, the process was worth the pain. It was a good experience. We left serenely, feeling something worthwhile had been accomplished.
But there was one tiny, niggling thought that invaded our peaceful space. Before our departure, in fact a couple of weeks prior to it, I had heard strange noises in the crawl space above the library area in our house. My hearing-impaired husband registered disbelief. What he could not hear, could not be!
Rattle, rattle, scratch, scratch, chirp, chirp—the noises awakened me from sleep and set my heart pounding. What could it be? Was I imagining indoor sounds when they were actually coming from the outside, as my husband vehemently suggested? With a Pollyanna posture, he decided whatever I thought I heard in the house would depart when we did and we would return to a silently secure homestead.
Not so! We came home to resident raccoons.
I had prayed I would be wrong. I would have rejoiced in that fact, but it was not to be. Questions popped to the surface. What to do? Whom to call? How expensive would it be? Upon checking with our trusty exterminator (who happened to be No. 2 on the Beacon Best List) we were given the name of a local trapper.
Thankfully, his response was swift. He also believed me—a nice addition to the mix.
First, he examined the exterior of the house. No entry spotted. Then he climbed onto the roof to find evidence of raccoon recreation. They had been having a field day racing across the shingles and leaving a trail of evidence to prove it, but still no probable entry. Until...the trapper spotted a miniscule bit of hair clinging to a soffit. I was beginning to think I was watching CSI, replete with special flashlights and sprays!
Aha! He exclaimed both relief and rejoicing at his success, as he stood tall holding the strands of hair.
“It’s definitely raccoons. I can see tracks. Probably, it’s a mama who has had babies in the crawl space. Raccoons are very strong and can pry open anything. If they can get their nose through, they can push the whole way in. This one pulled at the soffit until it became a doorway.”
Oh, this was great news! They are able to go where no human can. The diagnosis was made. What would be the prognosis?
“Well, ma’am, I could trap the mother raccoon now but then the babies would die and there would be a terrible odor in the house. Or, if you can live with the noises at night, you could wait until the babies are weaned and the mother leads them out. Then, get someone to nail hardware cloth over the soffit and cut down all the trees so they have no way to get on the roof. Otherwise, they’ll return to this nesting spot every year.”
Cut down the trees! Those are the precious cedars that hubby dear planted lovingly in 1992 when the house was built. He is proud of them. The breezes waft through their branches, cooling the bedrooms. Their presence gives our home the appearance of a tree house. Best of all, they are our window treatments, providing a green world privacy. Beside all that, they are his babies. Can they be weaned from his adoring gazes? Can he be weaned from their presence?
Before the questions could be asked or addressed, I heard my husband say, with a wry look on his face, “Have a blessed day!” He had read the April 24 Beacon column and was reminding me words on paper must find action or they are ineffective.
It is in the midst of these little upsets we learn life and taste sanctity. What Travis, the trapper, suggested echoed the voice of God. “Live with the rustlings and scratchings that come with birthing newness. Wait for weaning time. Follow your Creator out into the world.”
And, if I were to listen to the voice of the raccoons, I would also learn that one can find a nesting place in the most unusual spots, but the discovery will demand ingenuity, creativity and the courage to climb high and leap onto life’s rooftops. It will mean that I must use all my strength to create an entry where none had previously existed. It will test my ability to use what is at hand and see beyond what appears to be an obstacle.
There is a fundamental lesson to be learned from this whole episode. It is the call to find ways in which we and they, raccoons or people, who have nested in the small crawl spaces of our life, can live together amicably. Just as there is no adequate long-term protection from those furry masked bandits, there is no protection from people who invade our self-absorption and “create problems” that we must resolve without fatal blows. We can only set live traps, baiting them with enticing food. We can only wait to see what will happen. And, we can provide alternate denning sites.
In the meantime, I guess we will be enjoying the music of the night!
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master's degree in theology and is the author of Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives [a trilogy of Scriptural meditations], lead chaplain at Brunswick Community Hospital, religious educator, retreat leader and lecturer.