My friend Meredith and I watched some Mexican tourists feeding the raccoons on the mountain last summer. It’s illegal to do so. And there are DON’T FEED THE RACCOONS signs all over the place. But most people ignore the law. Including the police. So far as I can tell, they rarely (if ever) enforce it. A police cruiser passed right by the lookout point while we were there. Slowly. The cops saw the tourists feeding the raccoons and they did absolutely nothing. Nobody got a ticket. Not even a finger-wag or a frown. The officer in the passenger seat stared right at them. And smiled. Which is as it should be: because it was beautiful and awesome. Of course I’ve heard all of the arguments about why we shouldn’t feed the raccoons. And yet I find myself strangely unconvinced. Will feeding them lead to potentially unsustainable population growth? Perhaps. After all, that’s clearly what it’s done to our population. Still, my guess is that it won’t happen to the raccoon population. Not for long. Because there’s a new apex predator in town. And he loves to eat raccoons.
As you may or may not already know, a brand new species was recently identified: the coywolf. It’s a truly amazing product of evolution: part dog, part wolf, part coyote. They’re bigger than coyotes, faster than wolves, and perfectly adapted to urban and suburban life. They eat squirrels, groundhogs, skunks, raccoons, rats, and much else; and they’re going to change everything! The coywolf is going to bring some much needed balance to the urban and suburban ecosystems of Eastern North America. Because, you see, Mexican tourists aren’t the problem. The real reason we have all these raccoons running around ought to be obvious to anyone with a basic knowledge of North American ecology: we’ve killed off almost all of the apex predators (that is, the animals that eat raccoons). The Eastern Mountain Lion (Puma concolor couguar) is gone for good. Same is true of many other apex predators. Those that remain in Eastern North America are, as a general rule, insufficient in number and ill-suited to life in urban and suburban areas. That’s precisely why the coywolf is such a godsend.
But regardless of the coywolf, there’s something deeply hypocritical about this whole DON’T FEED THE RACCOONS thing. How can you take away 99% of a creature’s habitat and then piously declare that they shouldn’t eat human food? We’re a part of nature; we’re not outside of it. That’s clear to these raccoons. And it’s clear to the ecstatic children who feed them. But it doesn’t seem to be clear to many of those who fancy themselves nature-loving Friends of the Mountain. There’s no way to put this genie back in that bottle: raccoons are in a symbiotic relationship with us. Have been for years. To pretend they’re not, and try to erect these imaginary walls between their world and ours, is about as silly and impractical as Trump’s proposed Mexican wall.
People who say the raccoons on the mountain are nothing but a nuisance remind me of those who used to say that buskers and street artists were nothing but a nuisance. Look on YouTube! Look on Facebook! Tourists love our raccoons. Big time! If Mount Royal is a restaurant that specializes in trilliums, tank-tops, and Tam-Tams, our friendly raccoons are the dapper hosts and gregarious hostesses who greet our guests with smiling eyes and outstretched hands, as if to say: “Bonjour Monsieur, Bonjour Madame. Follow me, if you please. We have a lovely view waiting for you right over here.”
We’re brought up to view the living things around us the way the slaveholders of old viewed the living things on their plantations. We’re taught that the value of the plants and animals in our midst is dependent—indeed, solely dependent—upon whether or not they’re useful to us. This instrumental perspective has been key to our success as a species, but it’s come at a cost: the environmental costs are obvious, the existential ones less so. Our children and grandchildren aren’t just inheriting a shitload of environmental problems from us; they’re inheriting a way of seeing. A way of seeing that’s a recipe for alienation from Nature, from Place, and, ultimately, from themselves. Perhaps that’s why I can’t help but be charmed by times like this. When the veil is momentarily lifted and the scales fall from the eyes. When a little girl stops seeing a raccoon as an It. And starts seeing it as a You. Look at that smile on her face. Look at that sense of wonder. Is this not precisely the kind of Communion with Nature the Romantics longed for?
—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2017)
p.s. I’ve been attacked by a raccoon twice. Not on the mountain though. Once in a house, and once in the woods. I won. Both times. With a baseball bat the first time, and a big rock to the head the second time. My love for these creatures hasn’t led me to forget what they are, what I am, and how we might come into conflict at times. You’ll find no Timothy Treadwell here. I’ve been attacked a few times over the years by another opportunistic omnivore, Homo sapiens sapiens, but it never occurred to me to demonize them all as a consequence.