I have a few things to write to you about today that I hope will congeal into one homogeneous beautiful piece of advice, but as it is with my letters to you, I won’t know until I get there. So join me for this journey to see where it will take us today.
The first thing I wanted to tell you about was that a raccoon got into our chicken coop the other night. It was three in the fucking morning and I heard a suspicious bang outside. I went through my mental security checklist for strange middle of the night sounds:
1. Have any of the neighbours’ dogs started barking? If yes, which neighbour’s dogs? Once you’ve lived in one place for a while, you get to know the sound of every dog in the neighbourhood and, if you’re really observant, you learn to understand the meaning of those sounds. In this case, no barking emanating from any of the three houses around us with dogs meant that the sound was unlikely to be something at a neighbour’s property. ‘Somethings’ are normally one of three things: a cat, a dog or a raccoon.
Cats don’t last very long in these parts and those that do, have survived by staying away from properties that have dogs present. Stray dogs sometimes will take a stroll through the hood at night, causing a cacophony of barking. The sure sign that it’s a stray dog is that you can follow the barking for half a mile or so as the dog moves around.
Raccoons are fuckers. Granted, they are cute fuckers – cute intelligent fuckers, but fuck me they are fuckers. I think you can get the gist of my feelings about raccoons. Now, just because they are fuckers, I don’t hate, or, even strongly dislike them. I completely understand where they are coming from. They have sharp teeth, scary smarts and nimble hands. They can run, climb and fight like stripy masked ninjas. I know how fierce they are as I’ve had friends who’ve had dogs killed and injured by them. I know what a predator they are as I’ve had friends who’ve had chickens taken by them. I know how brave and bold they are because I see them regularly running in and out of my garden and the neighbours’ gardens. If raccoons could write graffiti, they would be tagging ‘go fuck yourselves dogs’ all along my fence every single night. Sometimes they just come and sit in one of my trees all day and look down on us with beady eyes.
Anyway, I still haven’t finished my mental checklist – so we’re well ahead of ourselves.
2. Can I hear any further weird banging noises, shouting or any chickens in distress? These would require me to jump out of bed and try to be heroic while naked. I was grateful that I did not.
3. Are my dogs barking? Well, now that would be a singular ‘dog’ as our older dog is as deaf as as doornail. But Titan, our big boy, is as good a watch dog as they get and so I always listen to what he has to say.
Titan has different barks and I’m familiar with all of them. In this instance, Titan was barking. It was his raccoon bark. He’s a natural livestock guardian. Most nights, I wouldn’t pay much attention. He normally just lets us know with a couple of woofs and then we all go back to zed land. For some reason though, I think it was the combination of no other dogs barking, Titan barking and the bang that made me suspicious. So, I crawled out of bed to have a look.
Our house is high, so I can view the whole garden pretty well from the windows. I couldn’t see anything prowling, but Titan was acting oddly. Instead of continuing to bark, which is what he normally would do to encourage my investigation along when a raccoon is on the prowl, he was whining. A sort of low trembly whine. It’s not the sort of sound that normally comes from him.
In just my knickers and a t-shirt, I grabbed a little headlamp and opened the door with Titan faithfully beside me. By the third step (there are 20), Titan had quite literally leaped to the ground and launched himself at the side of the chicken coop. Just to put this in perspective, the way the coop is designed is that there is an outer pen, with a roof and a gate and then a house on the inside of that pen. Normally I never lock the house up as the pen has always seemed completely secure and it means the chickens can get up in the morning and eat and drink so that we don’t have to get up quite so early to let them out. We’re usually up by 6.30am anyway out of guilt and then we allow them to free range all day in the garden.
Listening to the kerfuffle below, which was happening in the darkest corner of the garden, I assumed that the raccoon was outside of the chicken coop and Titan was just terrorising it into a tree. Yikes! As I got closer and my little headlamp brought the scene into focus, I realised that the raccoon was inside the pen about 5 feet from my totally vulnerable hens, who, I must add, weren’t making a peep. My first thought was to protect them, so I opened the gate to the pen, eye to eye with the raccoon about 2 feet from me, knowing that in its panic as Titan was ferociously trying to get through to it on the other side of the wire, it could leap at me any time and I backed into the chicken house through the open door.
There I stood. Me in my knickers, four somewhat perturbed chickens behind me, a raging beast of a dog leaping frantically at the outside of the coop and a terrified raccoon clinging on to the wire on the other side and now about 5 feet from my face. I think to myself ‘Self, what the fuck am I going to do now?’ Fortunately, Titan is a very good boy and from my somewhat vulnerable, but noble and brave (well that’s how I saw it anyway) position protecting my poor chickens, I sent him back upstairs and into the house. Thank goodness that even in his adrenaline ridden fury, he complied. Then it was just me and the raccoon.
The raccoon decided he would try to get out of the pen and scurried around looking for an exit. Thankfully he seemed to be frightened of me in that moment. Still unsure of what I should do, I decided I needed a brighter light. I managed to get out of the hen house, lock it up and then ran up the stairs to get the really high beam spotlight. As I came down the stairs I repeated to myself ‘Self, what the fuck am I going to do now?’ For some illogical reason, I decided to pick up a shovel and headed to the door of the chicken coop, where I stood feeling menacing but actually just being really stupid by preventing the raccoon from being able to exit.
I finally came to my partial senses, which is about all I achieve at the best of times anyhow, and realised that if I used the high beam from the other side, it might drive the raccoon towards the exit and he would be out of the coop. At this point, a bleary eyed Tia (the one I will tell you about sometime) comes down the stairs asking what’s going on. She very quickly realised and commenced to assist me in the brave task of shining lights on the raccoon until he ran out of the door. I then found my primal ape like voice and chased him with the shovel growling loudly, hoping I could terrorise him into never returning again. The likelihood is that I simply gave the children next door nightmares. He made his way into the nearest tree and stared down at us, his eyes glowing in the beams and quite frankly, not looking the slightest bit fucking frightened at all.
This is the point at which your Tia takes over. The raccoons are your Tia’s nemesis. She collects ‘ammunition’ (read rocks & small coconuts) to bombard the trees where they hide in the hope that it will drive them from our property. In fact, it works pretty well and, for the most part, we have a healthy understanding with the raccoons. They can wander around our property a bit at night, but they cannot go near the chickens and are not welcome to spend the day in our trees. This understanding leads to all of our security lights being damaged at some point because the racoons use them as climbing holds and also to your Tia having to run out at ungodly hours of the morning to give our rubbish directly to the bin men so that there is no risk that the raccoons will rip it up and spread it around the neighbourhood (yet another one of those courtesies that are not necessarily reciprocated).
The long and short of it is that the chicken coop and house have been radically reinforced and we are now in possession of a humane trap, but are having little success in capturing the fucker. When we do, several of our friends have made helpful suggestions about what we should do with the raccoon. Our favourite suggestion is to put it through the bedroom window of a local politician while he is sleeping. While it would give me great pleasure, even that fucker of a chicken hunting raccoon doesn’t deserve to deal with the stupidity of this particular arsehole.
And so you have it. The raccoon in the chicken coop story. I failed so abysmally in my goal towards homogeneity, I’m going to use my letter to your sister to do so. I will leave you with this piece of Badass Auntie wisdom today. This advice applies to humans as well as wild animals. Just because something or someone is cute and intelligent, it does not mean that you should have one in your home. Many people have lived (and some haven’t even managed to do that) to have many regrets because they didn’t realise this.
Much love from your Badass Auntie
I gave your brother a long rundown of the great raccoon incident that happened here this week. I had good intentions at the start of that letter, but as I didn’t manage to reach the final destination and you’re still a newborn and can’t really complain much about this, rather than write to you specifically, I’m simply going to use my letter to you as a ‘part 2’. I realise that’s a little bit insulting and I do promise to make it up to you one day, if you ever happen to ask me to, but I suspect by then I’ll have much more serious infractions to compensate you for – at least I hope so.
So, this week your father, who is my brother, wrote me a really sweet little note about feeling that he gets me now. In all frankness, if he does, he’s doing way better than I am. I gave up trying to ‘get’ me a long time ago. Instead, I just buckle up and enjoy the ride. But it was sincere and super appreciated – and here’s why.
I may never explain to you the reasons why this happened, but our family fell apart for quite a long while. To be honest, I didn’t care much about that. I still loved your father and French Mimi very much but we lived a long distance apart (approximately 4,220 miles) and hardly knew each other at all. I left home when I was still a kid, so your French Mimi had never really gotten to form a relationship with me as an adult and your brother, I can only guess, had created his own version of who or what I was in his head. Maybe this is why him finally getting me is a moment to be marked in our relationship.
I created my own family and there is much to be said for that process. There’s a saying that goes, ‘you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your family’ and that is so very true. I could pick my friends and I did. It’s taken me years to perfect that process and just when I think I have it down to a fine art, I go and fuck it up again and get too friendly with someone, who I really shouldn’t have. A bit like a raccoon in the hen house. (See, I’m managing to bring this full circle now). Just when I think the peaceful pen of my life is secure, some sneaky fucker invades my life and tries to create carnage.
This is so metaphorical it’s almost embarrassing. Luckily these days, I have a trusty hound to warn me about something dodgy in the hen house and a well established list of red flags that warn me when drama might be insinuating itself into my life. At least I get out of those situations with no damage done and that’s a good thing. When I really want to kick myself is when they aren’t even particularly cute or smart and I still managed to let them sneak in. Fortunately, that happens less and less often.
I have some wonderful friends whom I love dearly. They come from all walks of life and live all around the world. They are, for the most part, highly intelligent and very cute. They are also cool, kind, considerate, talented, funny and they are people who inspire me. Some of them are right fuckers too. They are the family that I have chosen and I’m so grateful that they have been there through my life, know me better than anyone because of our shared experiences and accept me for all of my flaws, which are few. Being overly humble is definitely one of them. I’m working on that, as you can see.
In the background, there was always this nagging family thing going on though. I didn’t really have one for many years, so it was easy just to keep it at the back of my mind. I had very little contact with them. Some years ago, I decided I’d salvage what I could and set about doing that. In all honesty, when I made that decision, I wasn’t really capable of doing it well, constructively, thoughtfully, patiently or without anger and resentment. I was capable of determination though. So I persevered with low expectations but a nagging curiosity to discover if this time round, I could possibly pick people who really were my family.
And so, we got to know each other slowly, sometimes painfully, sometimes infuriatingly and frustratingly and, when I look back, much I still don’t understand. I have stopped looking back. Why? Because you and your brother are the next generation and you deserve to have the sort of family that if you could pick them, they’d be your first choice. Quite honestly, now, if I were given the choice, I’d definitely pick the family I have now and that is a fucking miracle.
So, my little chickadee, your advice from your Badass Auntie is this. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a family some of the time, all of the time, or ever. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a family that they would pick. But you, you’ve hit the fucking jackpot little one. We’re cute, smart, sneaky fuckers but we are also all of the things that will be on your checklist when the time comes to pick your own friends, who should become part of your extended family. We’re also so fucking cool it’s painful…at least it will probably be very painful for you. Your family will feed you, love you, entertain you, educate you, clothe you, house you, provide you with medical care and all we ask in return is that we can embarrass you when you’re older. One other thing. Trust your dog when he tells you there is a raccoon in the chicken coop.
Much love from your Badass Auntie