Raccoons Can Talk? In Sapsucker Woods They Do.

This comes from the first chapter of a short book I’m writing for my two sons, aged 10 and 7. It’s called The Adventures of Ralph and Tom, Volume 1: Kirkus, the Pirate Squirrel.

This is a story about two raccoons who live in Sapsucker Woods, NY 14850. Sapsucker Woods is where I spend my mornings. It’s also where I first met the two amazing raccoons who, along with their friend Henry, are the main characters in this story you’re about to read.

I learned just how extraordinary they were one day last year while sitting on my favorite bench next to a small pond that lies just west of the entrance to the woods. It was a warm April day, one of those spring days that almost makes you believe that winter has left Central New York for good. I was busy watching Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and Scarlet Tanagers dart above the maple trees before dive bombing the pond below. The sun was shining through faraway clouds and the morning dew was sitting heavy on the crushed and broken leaves that had fallen on the ground over the previous night.

I sat down on the bench as I had done so many mornings before and settled in to drink my morning coffee from the travel mug I had recently bought at TJMax. Just as I was taking my first sip, two voices criss-crossed behind me. “Ouch!” I had burned my lips again. “What in the world!” I said and just as I was about to turn around, a voice, deep and smooth, answered: “Don’t turn around.” Another, this one softer, followed. If a voice could smile, this one could. “If you do, we’ll run away and that would make us sad.” “Who’s looking?” I asked. “Not me. I’m admiring that Maple tree over there.” “Good, good. We don’t speak to humans that often” responded the deep voice.” “What are you talking about?” asked the smiling voice. “What’s Henry then?” “Come on, Ralph, Henry’s not just human. He’s more like, I don’t know, one of us. I mean, a raccoon.” Okay, I thought and breathing in slowly, I said to myself, yes, it’s true, I’m talking to two raccoons. Interesting. I coughed slightly as there was a smell coming from behind me.“What can I do for you?” I asked. “For now, just listen” commanded the deeper voice. “At the end of the story, we’re going to ask for your help.”

Since it was a lovely Spring day and since I really did want to hear a raccoon story told by raccoons, of course I said yes. Who wouldn’t want to hear that story?

The first raccoon started in right away: “You’ll want to know our names. Mine’s Tom.” “And mine Ralph.” “We live in Procioniville. It’s on the other side of this lake. Don’t bother looking. You’d never find it. “Right” echoed the second raccoon. “Anyway, one day after school I was collecting nuts.” It was the first voice again. Tom. “And me garbage” said the second. That was Ralph. Ah, I thought, that would explain the smell. “The smellier the better” he added.

“One day, probably a month ago, I was walking around here.” Tom was talking again. “That’s when I saw Ralph.” “Oh yeah, it was me.” “Dirt was flying everywhere and so I decided to move in closer. That’s when I saw two paws throwing up rocks, mud, and dirt.” “Oh yes, that was me.” “Well of course it was” said Tom. “Anyway, on the ground next to all the dirt, I saw it.” “Oh you saw it alright” Ralph said. “Will you please stop interrupting me? We won’t finish the story in time and then what will happen to Henry?” “Who’s Henry?” I asked. “Only just our best friend” said Tom.

Over the next few hours, these two raccoons told me their story, a story I started writing down as soon as I got home later that day. The story was so incredible that when they were done telling it to me, I wasn’t sure I had actually heard it correctly. All the Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers pecking on trees didn’t help much either and so honestly, some parts I couldn’t quite get. Hopefully, when I see Ralph and Tom again, they can tell me what I missed or what I got wrong.

Like any good story, this one has twists and turns, good guys and bad guys, or in this case bad squirrels. But mainly it’s has raccoons and a human and tells how they became the fastest of friends.

∙ ∙ ∙

The adventures of Ralph and Tom begin at the exact moment Tom first approached Ralph.

“Hey you” said Tom, coming out from behind a bush.

“Who’s there?” Ralph yelled, turning around. His paws were losing dirt like a leaky faucet loses water.

“Just me. You know, Tom? We go to school together?”

“Really? I’m not sure that I do. And anyway, even if I did, what were you doing sneaking up on me for?” Saying this, Ralph quietly slipped his left paw around his back to grab hold of a jar next to him. He smoothly slid it behind his back.

“I wasn’t sneaking. I was just wondering if I could have some of that honey you just hid behind your back.”

“What? Oh, that.” Ralph acted surprised. “It’s nothing. Something I found.”

“Right” Tom said slowly through his front teeth. After a short pause as he tried to get a better look at the jar behind Ralph, which Ralph continually tried to block, he said, “I’ll make a deal with you.”

“I’m listening.”

“If I show you a top secret hideout, a place no one has ever seen except me, then will you give me some of the honey you’re hiding?”

Ralph thought about it. Then, maybe because he was half-expecting to hear something about food, or because he was thinking about the trash can that was always full on Mondays, or because there was a picnic area nearby with four marshmellows on the ground covered in leaves — he loved finding those — or maybe simply because he loved anything secret, especially passages and hideouts, he agreed. “Deal. Anything secret I like. But first the secret passage and then the honey.”

“Just a little taste? Come on, please? The secret hideout is worth it.”

“Okay” he said and placed the jar of honey in front of Tom. “Just one dip though.” Tom slowly put his paw into the jar, lifted it out, and then fell to the ground, guiding his paw dripping in honey to his mouth. Ralph drew back the jar, covered it, and then placed it in the hole he had just dug. “Now it’s your turn. Let’s go. I want to explore the secret passage.”