The Raccoon Tree

In the snow at the base of the black oak, we found piles of dried grasses, scattered. Like an animal nest had been ripped from a tree cavity and cast about on the ground. As though someone rummaged through your closet and threw all of your belongings out of the third-floor window. Grass heaps. Cave cricket.

We've been seeing a lot of these "evictions" in the snow the past couple of weeks. Is it flying squirrels doing house cleaning? Woodpecker territorial wars? Carnivorous tree raids?

  fallen nesting material

Dead cricket

We found and followed a set of raccoon tracks from the oak, leading north from the ridgetop breezeway. It was unclear whether the raccoon had been responsible for the nest raid, but it certainly could have climbed up the oak trunk and reached into the small cavity we could see, about 40 feet up.

The tracks led from the base of this black oak (showing basal scars from an old logging operation?)

We followed the tracks through the deep snow, north towards the pipeline.

I hoped we might be able to follow the tracks to the raccoon itself. When I saw this gouged tuliptree in the distance, I had a feeling we might be in luck.

The raccoon was napping in the bottom of the tree cavity. I watched it as it stirred, scratched, and curled back up to sleep more in the midday sun. A few times, it peered groggily from its cozy nook, but was too bleary-eyed to notice me standing 15 feet below.