If you ever get the privilege of camping on Beausoleil Island (part of the Chimnissing-Beausoleil First Nation), in Georgian Bay Ontario, it is a lovely place full of woods, wilderness, picturesque shorelines, and is entirely the domain of the black-masked little devil known as the North American Raccoon. They are curious, clever, can use those dextrous little paws to get into just about anything, and by the end of your first night you will fully understand their complete and total dominion over the island.
They will seek out any food you do not properly, and securely, seal away. They will stealthily sneak up and snatch marshmallows right out of your hand as you sit waiting by the campfire to roast them. One curious little explorer once stuck his nose into my mother’s piping hot coffee, instantly regretting it with a squeak scuttling away clutching at his snout as my mother dumped out her coffee and chuckled her way over to get a refill.
On one of our trips we tried storing the sealed plastic bread bin on the boat but three intrepid critters made their way onboard and began fighting over the bin, sounding in that enclosed space like three times their actual size. My father tried to chase them off the boat but they simply ducked and hid under the seats, only leaving when he resorted to simply holding the flap open like a doorman and waiting patiently while they each poked their noses out and looked at him one by one before hopping out and swimming away.
Growing up on the shores of Georgian Bay I was blessed with many opportunities to camp over on the island, and even on the main land was all too familiar with the bushy-tailed bandits. My mother’s family out in Alberta however had never encountered the little darlings in the wild and when they decided to travel out our way one summer, when I was about twelve or thirteen, one of the stops they insisted by a part of their tour was Beausoleil with its devious inhabitants.
My uncle Peter in particular was on a mission to get as many photographs of raccoons in the wild as he possibly could. I almost felt a bit sorry for them given how relentless his campaign was. As soon as the sun went down he was all over the campgrounds searching out photo opportunities. He even went so far as to lay an entire loaf of bread out on the picnic table then sat there with his back to it, his camera resting and ready in his lap. When he finally heard the scritching of tiny claws behind him he whirled about snapping a picture with full flash. You could practically hear the poor creature’s pupils clamping shut over the startled squeak it let out before toppling off the picnic table and staggering blindly off in to the bushes.
The other, and unintended, star of our trip out to Beausoleil was my cousin Cindy. Poor, young, impressionable, Cindy. As the youngest of three siblings she suffered enough at the hands of her two older brothers Billy and Trevor, though she frequently gave as good as she got, but when the boys teamed up with the raccoon savvy and Beausoleil experienced cousin she was outnumbered and doomed.
We started the tales of man eating raccoons off small. Stories about people going off the bathroom and never being heard from again, the only evidence found of them a discarded running shoe next to a couple of bloodied pine cones. We then built up to ruminating about their rumored tactics. Holding low hanging branches back until someone came walking by then letting fly and dragging their unconscious prey off into the woods. Scooting out in teams of six, three on either side, to carry off anyone careless enough to fall asleep in their lawn-chairs.
We spent the better part of that first day and early evening on the island stoking the tales of horror until eventually we had her so wound up when Peter would leap up in excitement to grab a photo Cindy would cower at the opposite side of the campsite begging her dad to make the beasts go away. We could have stuck with simply teasing and tormenting the poor kid but we were eventually handed an opportunity far too good to pass up on.
There came a cry from several campsites away as a group of college girlfriends returned to their campsite to find storing their food inside their tent had been a bad idea. By the sounds of it at least three of the islands ruling species had gotten inside and what sounded like a cry for help to most other people came as an signal of opportunity for Peter. A perfect set up to get amazing close up photos of his little beady-eyed white whales caught in the act so he scooped up his camera and headed off to investigate. The rest of the adults tagged along, though their intent was more the help the poor terrified humans, leaving us boys to look after our beleaguered cousin-sibling who had turned in early and was curled up in a ball of blankets in the large main tent.
We calmly waited until the adults were well and fully out of sight. We casually looked back and forth between us, shrugged in agreement, stood up from around the camp fire, and made our way over to the tent. Billy and Trevor each took a side wall while I went to the back taking position just outside the mesh window in the rear wall but still in line of sight to the boys on either side. Using head nods we counted to three and then Billy and Trevor shook and clawed at the walls while I cupped may hands around my nose and mouth and proceeded to growl and snarl like a slathering timber wolf.
It was truly impressive how she managed to leap out of her sleeping bag, unzip the tent door, and go firing out into the night with a terrified wail all in one swift action without any break in stride.
We didn’t burst out laughing or call anything after her. We simply nodded our heads and dusted off our hands in approval of a job well done before returning to the campfire to await the eventual return of our prey and the adults we knew would all do an admirable job of looking stern and disapproving as they admonished us for our terrorizing.