WISCONSIN – The baby raccoon greeted our guest and new friend Matthew with an excited hug. (Although Matthew recalls the encounter as more of a "mauling.") Matthew had two options: freeze (he'd read this in the Boy Scout preparedness manual in the chapter on bear confrontation) or try to tear its little razor mitts off his backside.
Matthew chose the latter. To his credit, it's hard to keep your wits about you when you have a rodent on your back.
This particular bundle of fur was a rescue that our neighbors had brought over for a visit. Apparently its mother had met with a delivery truck, leaving this one and its siblings to fend for themselves.
It's not unusual for wild animals to make frequent appearances at camp. We've had a family of foxes sunbathe in our open field daily for nearly an entire spring. Deer regularly feast on the sapling apple trees in the winter, the hostas in the summer, and the Halloween decorations on the patio in the fall. But what we seem to attract the most are masked bandits — the somewhat loveable but always destructive raccoon.
We eventually learned from the locals that raccoons had been featured house guests at Camp Wandawega as far back as Prohibition, the days of The Wandawega Hotel and Orphan Annie's Saloon. One particularly social furball would come to the door of the lodge restaurant on a regular basis. If he wasn't granted immediate access, he would impatiently scratch until a patron would come to the door. He would then proceed to make the rounds, table by table. Legend has it that he would first approach dining patrons, staring them down until they handed over a fair share of whatever special they might have on their plates.
(I've never been confronted with a begging raccoon at a restaurant, but if the occasion were to arise, I would likely feel compelled to hand over my dinner, given that raccoons aren't particularly small creatures and aren't known for being timid or for negotiating for what they want.)
This surly fellow made his visits a nightly ritual, always at rush hour. The proprietors at the time became so attached to him, they named him George. He was so beloved that his mug was featured on the cover of the camp's brochure.
Fast-forward to 2004. When we purchased the derelict camp, we inherited with it a fully-stuffed preserved raccoon. I have to admit, I was more than a bit freaked out. There is nothing more unattractive than antique taxidermy. It just doesn't age well.
But on the way to the trash corral, something made me stop and reconsider. Hadn't I seen this guy somewhere before? Why was he so familiar to me? I decided not to toss him and instead parked him back on the mantle in the main lodge. It would hit me later that I'd seen him on the cover of the brochure from the 1940s.
When people first encounter George, they typically have one of two reaction: extreme fear or extreme adoration.
One summer afternoon, a cabin renter came toting two miniature schnauzers. The smaller of the two, Oliver, approached the taxidermy rodent nearly twice his size slowly.
Oliver was clearly fascinated. Have I mentioned that George had been stuffed in the attack body position? Back arched. Eyes wide. Claws spread.
Oliver was beside himself, not knowing if he should run for his crate or defend his owners from the hairy beast.
Then came Oliver's brother, Simon. He approached in a similar way: cautiously, slowly.
But ultimately had a dramatically different reaction to George. Instead of heading for the hills, he decided to take control of the situation and mount George from behind. With a surprising degree vigor and stamina, I might add, given that the raccoon could not reciprocate his affections.
It took a good bit of effort to peel Simon off George. I will spare the details, as they involve flying fur and lots of growling.
Needless to say, we've since given George a higher post, out of canine reach. To this day, we can't say with any degree of certainty that our inherited mascot is the original. But we'd like to think that the original concierge is still standing guard at the head of the lodge, scaring away intruders in exchange for table scraps.