Monday, February 16, 2009

The Killer Raccoon of Kejimkujik*

One fall we packed up our camping gear and canoe and set off to explore Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. The drive through New England was gorgeous and the trees were at their peak array of fall colors. Once we reached Nova Scotia via car ferry, the weather continued to be clear and sparkling. We passed through many quaint villages before reaching our first destination, Kejimkujik National Park.

Kejimkujik surrounds a boulder-filled lake in the middle of Nova Scotia. As we drove off the main road and down the long drive into the park we noticed we weren't meeting any other cars. Once we got to the campground itself, we discovered why. We were only the second campers of the day asking for overnight accommodations. Apparently, this late in the season, most travelers in search of fall colors stayed in hotels rather than campgrounds. This didn't bother us in the least and we were delighted to be able to look around the entire campground to choose whichever camping spot we wanted. It's a rare thing to have a campground all to yourselves, away from the noise and bustle of other campers.

We found the perfect place... right on the water where we could launch our canoe from our campsite. We quickly set up camp so we could set out for a leisurely paddle around the lake. The water was clear as glass. We tied the canoe to an overhanging branch and crawled up onto one of the boulders for a picnic lunch. Then it was back into the canoe to explore some more. As the afternoon wore on the sun warmed the air, so we spread out on another boulder to sun ourselves and rest for a bit. It was a perfect afternoon!

Back at the campsite, we pulled the canoe onto shore and brought the paddles and life vests back to the tent. As there were no admonishments posted in the ranger station about eating after dark to avoid wild animals, we took the time to enjoy a pot of tea and shower before commencing our dinner preparations. After several years of camping, we had graduated from Kraft macaroni & cheese to freeze-dried delicacies. (Just add boiling water and steep... yum!) The sun was going down over the lake as we fired up the Coleman stove again.

We chatted away merrily as we waited for the water to boil. We were thoroughly enjoying the evening sounds. It wasn't long before the night deepened and the clear sky boasted millions of stars. What a peaceful place! Soon it was time to add the freeze-dried noodles, chicken and seasonings to the boiled water. We zipped open the bag and poured in the contents, popping the cover back on the pan to keep in the warmth as the concoction steeped. In ten minutes we'd be enjoying a marvelously simple, yet delicious meal. Leaning back against the picnic table to await that moment, I heard a rustle behind me. Turning my head slightly, I became aware of a huge form rising above the table! Holy Crap!

There was the largest raccoon I had ever seen and it was advancing quickly toward me! Forget about whether it was rabid or not... this thing was big enough to take me in his agile paws, rinse me off in the lake and eat me! However, it wasn't after me... it was after my one-dish freeze-dried meal that was steeping away in the pan. The instant the dried food hit the boiling water it had released an aroma that was irresistible to a raccoon that had been living on campers' leftovers all summer long. With the rest of the campers now gone, food had become scarce and this particular raccoon was bound and determined it wasn't going to miss another meal! Since the canoe paddles were close at hand, my husband grabbed them and started banging them together in the direction of the raccoon. The masked marauder backed off momentarily, but was quickly back on top of the picnic table, advancing toward the pot of food. The only thing left for us to do was to find a sturdy shelter in which to barricade ourselves. We grabbed the pot of food and with spoons in hand beat a hasty retreat toward the showers... with the raccoon from hell with his shiny red eyes in hot pursuit. (Damn, but those rascals can move quickly!) We barely made it to the cinder block facility in time, bursting through the door just ahead of the raccoon.

Now, raccoons are inventive creatures and can get into most any place they want. The door was not latched, but simply had a large spring to hold it shut. That mean we had to lean against it to keep the raccoon out. He continued to thump against the door to get at our food. It was amazing how powerful those raccoon paws were. From looking at the size of him, he appeared to have had plenty to eat already, but no... he labored on to get to us and our dinner. We fought back with all our might. From our screams, you would have thought we were in the middle of a mad-slasher movie!

Finally we realized what we had to do... get rid of the object of the raccoon's attention. We both started shoveling the food into our mouths as fast as we could, all the while bracing ourselves as best we could between the door and the first toilet stall to prevent the raccoon from pushing us forward enough to squeeze through the door. We would later regret the speed with which we devoured the dinner, as we both ended up burning the roofs of our mouths. It was a small price to pay, though, in order to get the raccoon to leave us alone. While my husband kept a firm hold on the door, I rinsed out the pan in the sink to eliminate any remaining tempting odors. Eventually the thumping on the door stopped. But was the raccoon really gone? Or had he gone back to his friends to recruit reinforcements?

A half hour later, when we figured the coast was finally clear, we crept back to our campsite and zipped ourselves tightly into our tent, not to venture out again until morning. We only spent the one night at Kejimkujik, but it was certainly a memorable one. Perhaps a crowded campground does have its merits after all!

*This might qualify as the fourth worst camping trip ever, except for the fact that I actually slept peacefully through the night. Despite the raccoon's visit, it was a lovely stay and I would definitely go back again.


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