During the Rose Walk at CI last Sunday, a family of humans climbed into the attic of the Negley Cabin and happened upon a nest of raccoons sleepily peering at them from a cozy wooden cradle. The humans reacted with joy at their discovery, even as four sets of wide-eyed raccoon kits yawned and snuggled together in hopes that their interruption would be short-lived; sleep would descend upon them again soon. Although their mother never revealed herself, we suspect that she was present, monitoring the human activity and making sure that her kits were safe. The humans stayed away from the raccoon family for the rest of the day, even though the unexpected revelation was, of course, the talk of the Rose Walk.
In the days that followed, Mama raccoon must have found a more suitable location for the kits – perhaps another corner of the Negley Cabin. CI invited a local “critter-gitter” to set very fragrant peanut-butter-and-jelly-coated live-traps in the Negley Cabin, to catch the family, should it happen to return.
The excitement of the kits reminds us of a research inquiry to which we responded last year: what animals did the colonists have as pets? According to an essay by Peter Kalm in 1748, the following wild birds and animals in the woods of North America could be easily domesticated: calves of buffalo, American deer, beavers, otters, gray and flying squirrels, turkeys, geese, partridges, pigeons, and, of course, raccoons. Of the latter he wrote:
The raccoon can in time be made so tame as to run about the streets like a domestic animal; but it is impossible to make it leave off its habit of stealing. In the dark it creeps to the poultry, and kills the whole flock in one night. Sugar and other sweet things must be carefully hidden; for if the chests and boxes are not always locked, it gets into them and eats the sugar with its paw. The ladies, therefore have some complaint against it every day.
Children’s writer Bonnie Rose Hudson visited CI last April and was inspired to write a series of stories about growing up as a colonist along the Conococheague. In her story “Fearful Fillmore,” a very scared little raccoon must traverse Rock Hill Farm all by himself.
Bonnie Rose has graciously allowed us to re-publish “Fearful Fillmore” on our blog. If you enjoy this story, please find more of Bonnie Rose Hudson’s writings and educational activities for children on-line at http://writebonnierose.com/
Fearless Fillmore, By Bonnie Rose Hudson
“But, I can’t possibly do that!” Fillmore cried. “You can’t make me go all the way to the other side of the farm by myself! I’m just a little raccoon. Pleeeaaase send my older sister.”
His father shook his head. “You have to go. You have to deliver this shiny silver dollar your sister found.”
“But why me?”
“Why not you? The rest of us all have jobs to do here today, and your cousin is waiting for this. I think he wants to give it to his wife for her birthday. Now, come on! There isn’t any time to argue!”
Fillmore took the coin in his mouth and scampered out of the hollowed log he and his family called home. Why, oh why, did his dad have to pick him to go? Dad knew how scared Fillmore was—of just about everything. And, it was such a long way to go in the chilly spring air. He even heard his dad say once that some of the elder raccoons thought the name for their home, the Conococheague, came from a Native American word that meant, “a long way to go.”
Maybe he could just slip in behind the site of the new house and not be noticed. He crept along through the grass. He could see it, just up ahead. All the men were busy sawing and hammering and pounding. Yes. If he could crawl behind that pile of wood…
All of a sudden, Fillmore heard a loud crash! He looked over his shoulder only to find two men hauling a freshly cut tree behind them. And, they were headed his way! Yikes!
Fillmore hurried out of the way and crossed a field—only to run right into a flock of sheep. Oh, no! He hated sheep! They were so noisy and clumsy. He just knew he would end up squeezed in between two of them like a raccoon sandwich!
He zipped across the field, narrowly dodging more than one close call. With his heart racing in his chest, he leaned back against the building he had come to.
Deep breath. Deep breath. Just breathe, Fillmore told himself. Whew! That was a long run! He was so tired, so sleepy. He dipped his head—just for a minute.
Suddenly, a sound woke him! He opened his eyes—and found himself staring straight up at the blacksmith’s pick-up tongs. Those long skinny arms with jaws of death were just waiting to clutch him in their grasp!
Fillmore bolted away as fast as he could. He ran so fast he didn’t even know where he was running to! He dodged this way and that. He didn’t see where he was headed until it was too late.
The pig pen! All that awful, yucky mud! And, those smelly pigs, just waiting to squish him into the dirt. What was he ever going to do?
He darted from the pen, not sure where to go or what to do. He sniffed the air. Something smelled different, warm somehow. Like something was melting. Fillmore didn’t know what it was, but the warmth felt nice. He followed his nose. Closer and closer. It was a big oven of some kind. But, he didn’t see anyone around. Maybe it would be all right if he just warmed his paws for a minute. They were so tired and cold.
But, no sooner had he stretched a paw out in front of his face than he heard the big man.
“Get out of here, you crazy critter! Don’t you know you could burn your fur right off in a lime kiln!”
Fillmore ducked his head and ran. He was so tired and scared. He prayed God would show him where to go. Oh, how he wished he were home!
The next place Fillmore found himself was the cattle barn. But, he didn’t notice any of the cattle at home. Maybe he could just curl up in a nice, soft pile of hay. Yes, that would be nice and warm and safe. He set his silver dollar down on the floor, crawled into the pile of hay, and fell fast asleep.
“Fillmore! Fillmore, come on out of there!”
Fillmore’s eyes flew open. Who was that?
Carefully, he peeked through the hay. It was Gertrude, the farmer’s prize milking cow. And, she was standing with one hoof on his shiny silver dollar.
“Fillmore, I know you’re in there. I heard your dad talking about sending you across the farm with this silver dollar.”
Slowly, with his paws trembling, he crawled out of the pile of hay.
“Listen to me. You cannot spend your whole life being afraid of every little thing on this farm.”
“But, first it was the men with the log, and then the sheep and the blacksmith. Then, there were the pigs and the lime kiln. I’m a gonner for sure!”
“Fillmore, have you ever heard of a sheep or a pig eating a raccoon?”
“Well, no, I—I guess I haven’t.”
“How about the blacksmith? Why on earth would he want to hurt you?”
“I just saw him with those big tongs, and I—”
“He uses those tongs to shape metal, Fillmore, not to hunt scared raccoons.”
“But the men with the log—and the lime kiln!”
“I didn’t say you shouldn’t be scared of some things. Just not everything! The men might have run over you with the log if they hadn’t seen you. And, the lime kiln is dangerous for everybody!”
“How will I ever know what to be scared of and what not to be?”
“For one thing, you could pray, you know. God is a whole lot smarter than anyone else I know. And, you can talk to your dad. He’s been on this farm a lot longer than you have. He can tell you what places you need to stay away from.”
“Really. Now, come on, I’ll walk with you over to your cousin’s.”
Gertrude lifted her hoof from the silver dollar.
“Promise you won’t step on me?”
Fillmore just smiled, snatched his silver dollar, and scampered out of the barn behind Gertrude. Maybe this wouldn’t be such a terrible journey after all.