Higgins' Journal(Part Three of Twelve)

The life and times of a young raccoon

being the journal of Alex Snow

copyright Alex Snow (1998)

He still hiccups and then zonks out after every feeding, though now he d oesn't snooze for so long -- 45 minutes or so -- whereas he used to sleep for se veral hours each time. When he wakes up he runs around the bedroom. He has now figured out how to slide down the side of the bed onto the floor, and how to cl imb in and out of the bedroom armchair, where he often spends the afternoons.OrH e is beginning to show the so-called mischeviousness typical of raccoons. This evening he knocked over a lamp in the den and hid among the books on the booksh elf, peeking out to see what I'd do with the lamp. There was no damage, I just picked it up. He also lovingly snuggled up to Pete's chest and then bit him on the beard, taking Pete completely by surprise. qHe still kises me often on the nose and mouth, licking me and snuffling contentedly. His tongue is broad, flat , and soft, not rough like a cat's. When he climbs down things, e.g. a sofa cus hion or pillow, he anchors himself with the claws of his back feet dug into the fabric, his legs all splayed out wide, and his body flat, like a squirrel descen ding a treetrunk.

Tuesday 15 May. I noticed today that Higgins' upper left premolars are through the gums now. This evening Higgins showed an intense interest in the macaroni and cheese I was eating. He dug into my dinner with his hands , eventually picking up a piece of macaroni and chomping on it. He stuck his no se into the food repeatedly, sniffing and snuffling and covering himself with c heese. Perhaps it is time to begin weaning him off the bottle. He drank slight ly less than usual today, but this was mainly my fault. I had so much to attend to this a.m. that he wasn't fed till later than his usual breakfast time, and t hen I went out of town from 3p.m. till 9p.m., so he missed his 5 p.m. feeding an d didn't quite make up for it late at night. I hadn't planned on disrupting his schedule, but business is business.He spent much time during the late evening exploring the basement den around the bar and laundry chute. He seems to favor small dark spaces, such as behind the books on the bookshelves, where he is prot ected by some sort of buttress small enough for him to climb over. If he has to cross open spaces on the floor, he runs in his little bunnyhop with both front feet then both hind feet landing together. He crosses the space as fast as pos sible to the safety of the nearest chair or coffeetable.

Wednesday 16 May. Last night I paid the price of disrupting Higgins' rythms. He was up much of the night "playbiting" all over my body, with the result that I now have brui ses and scratches all over my arms, hands, and feet. I got out of bed twice and tried to sleep on the living-room couch because he was driving me crazy. m'H2At lunchtime I took Higgins out into the yard, as I try to do as often as it is no t pouring with rain. Instead of just sniffing the trees, however, this time he d id something different. I held him close to the trunk of the blue spruce in the front yard, a tall sturdy tree with widely spaced branches. He veritably leap ed out of my arms and skedaddled up the trunk beyond my reach. He sat in the cr otch of two branches for a while looking highly pleased with himself, then began to maneuver around. He didn't seem at all afraid, but did give a chirp of irri tation as he had dificulty coming down. Eventually he clung onto the trunk for dear life and edged down head first until he was within easy falling distance of me, and I caught him in my hands. He snuggled up to me and purred in a rather contented way. PsAll of a sudden Higgins' molars are through the gums today. He chewed on my shoes a fair bit, which may have helped. He took three 5 oz. feed ings. Every so often I increase the amount in the bottle by 1/2 oz ., and afte r he has been drinking the increased amount for a while I increase it again. Wh en he bites things now he really puts some energy into it. He's no longer just mouthing at things. He grabs things, holds them tight, then pulls them by noddi ng his head from side to side and tugging at them. As I write he is doing this to the hair on the back of my neck. He still often lies on his back biting and sucking his toes, but he's having a progressively harder time reaching them acro ss his corpulent tummy. In the last few days he seems to have grown six half-in ch long hairs above his eyes like multiple antennae on a butterfly. These might be useful for sensing objects which might otherwise get in the eyes. He used t o snuggle up on my shoulder after feedings, as if for me to "burp" him, which I often did. He'd hiccup a while, then lie back on my arm and go to sleep. Now he snuggles for only a couple of minutes, then waddles off, flops his fat heavy body on the bed, snoozes for a few moments, and then gets up and plays. He's aw ake more of the time now, and is much more independent. In the evenings when I am in the basement den, he goes exploring with much more self-confidence than be fore. Initially he would venture only a short distance from me and come charging back to climb up and sit on my shoulder. Tonight he spent an hour or so running around without coming back to me. When he finally checked in with me, he merely peeked over the seat cushion on the couch to make sure that I was still sitting there, and then bounced off to rampage among the books and in the laundry chute. There is such an honesty in loving an animal of another species. Language deceives. Where there is no language there are no lies. If Higgins does not want something, he turns away from it. Politeness does not constrain him. If he wants something he goes for it. When he wants a hug he hugs me. nIn additi on to the toys he had previously, Higgins now gathers his own ones. They inclu de my pentop, shoes, and slippers; and lately he's been showing a lot of interes t in the contents of my briefcase. He held a marathon digging session in his li tterbox today, furiously chucking ground clay all over the room as though in an effort to dig a tunnel to Australia. His favorite pastime, however, is patting, gnawing, and pushing around his catnip mouse.

Thursday 17 May. I was out most of the day, and either Higgins was lonely or his litterbox needs cleaning out -- he had a field day in the bedroom soaking the bedsheets, pads, and coverlet; soaking the bedroom chair, and rubbing shit all over the chair and the eiderdow n quilt. Poor soul, he obviously had a real bad day. He ate well though, thre e 5 oz. feedings. When I tried photographing him today he persistently ran tow ards the camera, giving me problems with focussing. How does one get a wild ani mal to pose?

Friday 18 May Just as I was getting into bed tonight, exhausted af ter a hectic day, Higgins climbed up under the covers with me, fell asleep, and passed enough water to sink a battleship. So now as I write I'm up till 1 a.m. or so while the sheets and mattress pads are washed and dried. I'm learning the meaning of the word forgiveness. He had drunk two 5 oz. and one 3 oz. bottles of formula today.KHe climbs strongly now, practising for hours on the now dirty bedroom chair. He no longer hauls himself up by his front legs, he positively b ounces up on all fours. He still hasn't figured out how to climb down things he ad first. He seems even more sensitive to nearby sounds than he was before. He 'll stop in the middle of a feeding to turn and look if a car goes along the bac k alley behind the house, or a person walks along the hallway, or paper scritche s in my hand. His eyes are also much improved, as he seems able to see people m oving about 20 feet or more away. Sometimes he seems attracted to movement on th e television at about that distance.vHis amusing and sometimes painful habit of snuggling down under the bedcovers and playbiting my toes reminds me of the far more develish maneuvers of one Fanny Ferret, a former acquaintance of mine. Fa nny, while she was longer and leaner of body, had a brown face with a mask simil ar to Higgins. She smelled a little more musky, and had a well-developed teasin g nature. twAt night she would hang around in the bedroom until she thought Pe te and I were asleep. I think she knew when we were asleep because ones breathin g changes to a slower rythm as one sinks into slumber. I'd breathe slow and pre tend I was asleep, while Pete really was. Fanny would sneak up inside the bedcl othes, hesitating at the edge of the mattress and waiting to see if we had noti ced her. I'd lie very still. Then, in a flash, she'd bolt down the side of m y body and with ferocious glee chomp down on my toes. After I'd figured out her game I'd catch her before she reached my feet. Then she switched to attackin g Pete's feet. He would awaken from sleep with a jump and a yell. This sudden response would send Fanny into ecstacies of predatory hilarity. I swear, her bu rblings were the putorian equivalent of laughter. As soon as Pete would lie do wn again she'd honk on his toes a second time, and would have continued this amu sement indefinately, had not Pete, now thoroughly awake and annoyed, picked her up and confined her in another room. After several nights of playing this game Fanny ended up in a cage at night. xHiggins' teeth are getting sharp. This mor ning, for example, Higgins and I were lying contentedly in bed, he on the pillow near my head casually sucking and biting his toes, when suddenly, without warn ing, he lunged across the pillow and chomped on my nose. I have a lot of nose t o chomp on. It hurt. I guess a large, pointy, pink protuberance was just too i nviting. I slapped him gently on the nose and said NO loudly. He's going to ge t used to that word! I have seen raccoon mothers push their offspring roughly away from the nipple, when they have been feeding on my back porch at night. T he young 'uns push their snouts up under the mother's abdomen to suckle while sh e's occupied at the food bowl. I saw one particular little fellow get a resound ing kick. No doubt that's the result of too much biting on the nipples. Perhap s this is how infant 'coons learn that teeth hurt other critturs. I had hoped t hat when Higgins reached this stage he would teethe on his rawhide playthings, b ut he prefers fingers and toes, and the catnip mouse, which he loves so much he has pulled its red wool tail completely off.THiggins' eyes seem to be more prom inent than before. I noticed today that they seemed wider open than originally. Now I can occasionally see the whites as he looks around. Previously all you could see was the pupil..PBeing the fostermother to a baby raccoon has cetainly rung in some changes in my life. Of course, I recognize that Higgins' natural m other did the hardest part for me in giving birth to him. Adoption is the easy way. But he has definately changed my behaviour. PhkThe other day, for example , I was sitting in a business meeting with a couple of clients and found myself absentmindedly staring at a bunch of mysterious stains on my suit. I realised that they were milkstains, rubbed in by Higgins' nose. Later in the same meetin g I found myself scratching an itchy right ear, and after peering at the scrapin gs on my nails realised that my ear also was covered in dried milk. When the m eeting was over, I took a good look in the mirror, and discovered that I had mil k dried onto my hair as well. My clients must think I'm going to pot. Then too, the other evening I turned down a chance to go for a drink with a friend becaus e it was time to "feed the baby". It takes some getting used to. Saturday 19 Ma y.yI hardly saw Higgins all day, as I was out of town, except for his breakfast, 5p.m., and 11p.m. feedings. He ate about 4 oz. at each one, and wet the bed wh ile I was out.

Sunday 20 May.

A frightful day. I was out of town during the day, so after not having spent much time with him yesterday, I didn't spend much with him today either, till late evening. I tried to feed him puppydog weani ng formula this morning, but he'd have none of it. At first the darn stuff clog ged up the nipple on his bottle so he couldn't get anything out at all. So I ma de an x-shaped incision in the nipple and he began to get some, but apparently didn't like it. I was all out of Esbilac and had to leave town, so I left him w ithout a feeding, figuring that I'd be back by noon. I wasn't. When I returned at 3.30 p.m., I mixed some of the weaning formula gruel with lots of newly-purch ased Esbilac and tried him again. He took about an ounce and ran off chittering . About an hour later he took 3 oz. straight Esbilac. As I was working on some proposals at my desk in my basement office late in the evening, I suddenly becam e aware of the padding of tiny feet -- in the ceiling above my head. I recalled that I had last seen Higgins hauling himself up the stairs, so I looked around the stairs at the level of the basement ceiling and sure enough at the side and back of the top step was an opening I had never noticed before. oFor hours Pete and I cajoled and coaxed, weilding flashlight and glove. Finally, much to our relief, as it was late and we were both tired, he squeezed back out of the hole onto the step. He was filthy dirty. I put him in the bathroom washbasin, where he paddled happily in a 3" deep bath of warm water, while Pete wedged the ends of two 2x4's across the hole to block it. Having dried him off with towels, I l et him run around in the bathroom while I finished my work. #Just as I was finis hing half an hour later, oh my goodness, the padding sound of tiny feet on the c eiling tiles reached my ears. Goodness knows how he got in there again, the 2x 4's were undisturbed. Again we began the coaxing and cajoling. After what seem ed like an eternity, we decided that however he had gotten in the second time, w e'd better unplug the original hole to see if he would come out that way. He ev entually did. P(He took a 4 oz. feeding of Esbilac, and was extraordinarily affe ctionate towards me, kissing and licking my mouth, nose, and eyes. I got the di stinct feeling that he'd been real lonely. The moral of this tale is: Neglect d oesn't pay -- and a hungry 'coon is an exploring 'coon.

Monday 21 May Higgins ate very little today and explored much. He took 5 oz. at breakfast, 1 oz. at 5 p.m., and 2 1/2 oz. at 11.30 p.m. Now that the hole in his bottle nipple has been enlarged he gets more formula at a time and he chokes a bit. After chokin g badly twice tonight he gave up after only 2 1/2 oz.. I discovered that he has been using one corner of the bedroom carpet to urinate on, the corner under the bedroom chair which he likes so much. I had been wondering why the litterbox h ad stayed so clean over the past few days since I cleaned it out on Friday. The corner has a mild ammoniacal smell. I put down paper towels to soak it up. I wonder if his antics during the past few days are related to my having been out of town a lot and not being there to look after him so much?bMHe slept well dur ing the day, and for once kept the bed dry. In the evening he became very acti ve exploring the basement den, bouncing around all over the floor and climbing the bar stools. When he runs he's oriented slightly sideways, as many quadruped s are, his rear aligned slightly to the right of his head as viewed from behind . At one point he decided to scale the heights of the sewer pipe which goes fr om basement to roof. I had visions of him squeezing into the attic and getting irretreivably stuck. However, his grasp failed him and he plopped down into a wastebasket..;To satisfy his urge to climb, I put a collar and leash on him, and he climbed trees as far as the leash would allow. On the green ash he began to climb down rear feet first, a promising development. But on the spruce he became frightened and came down slowly head first. During our circumnavigation of the house, he dug in the soil and smelled the plants in several places that he had shown no interest in before. This is the first time he has been keen on doing things outside by himself, other than the one time he jumped out of my arms into the blue spruce. Today he enjoyed being on his own feet on the ground. After his explorations he took a nap..HThis evening he awoke to the sound of other raccoons on the back porch. I held him in the back bedroom window, which looks out on the porch. He stared at the raccoons and they stared at him. Of the one large male and two smaller females feeding there not one made a sound for quite a while, then one female went back to eating the dogchow which I place in a bowl there every night. Higgins explored the windowledge, glancing at them from time to time. He found a winter-dehydrated insect of some sort and ate it.He is now quite strong and lively. We play a game in which he lies on his back, flings his arms and legs around, and grabs my arm lengthwise with all fours. I lift him up, and he hangs like a monkey under a treebranch. When he's lively, I have to keep my eyes peeled lest he get underfoot. He darts about so much its hard to keep track of him. He really bites hard now too. I'm trying to have him chew on a rawhide strip instead of my toes..Now that he's been exercising more he has no trouble getting his own toes into his mouth again. He still sometimes lies on his back with both feet in his mouth and his hands crossed over his nose. Raccoon yoga.

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