The patter of small creatures scampering across the roof hardly draws my attention any more. It’s just a normal occurrence, living in my central Austin home surrounded by mature trees whose trunks rise a few feet from the sides of my house. Their canopies spread above the brown asphalt shingles of my roof and provide access for critters that roam my neighborhood: opossums, cats, raccoons, and even an occasional rat.
Last night was something else, though. At 5 am I awoke to what I thought was a break-in. The house was shaking and an ungodly screech pierced the predawn. After a few moments I realized that I had a full blown raccoon war going on over my head. Like squirrels in the daylight hours, raccoons often run across my roof, only at night. It’s no big deal. Usually it’s one or two passes. I have grown used to them like the all-night trains that rumble by a few blocks away. But this explosion of nocturnal wildness jerked me up in bed. I was afraid a pack of crazed animals was ripping off my shingles as they rolled and pivoted and clawed at each other.
This was a life and death struggle. Raccoons normally chatter, but these were screeching. Between the screeches I could hear distressed cooing sounds, presumably from very young animals. I lay in bed waiting for nature to run its course, whatever that might be. The minutes passed, and the frenzy continued. I imagined chipped and shredded shingles and surmised that my insurance doesn’t pay for animal damage. (Maybe I should look into a rider.)
Finally after ten minutes or so, I got out of bed. Maybe I could throw up the ladder that I keep beneath an eve and scare the buggers off. No way, I decided. These animals were in full battle mode. One of them would probably chew his way across my face on his way down the ladder as I ascended. I went into the kitchen, noted that my cats were staring at me, and flipped on the back porch light. An adult raccoon tumbled down the mountain laurel tree just on the other side of the window. Another followed close behind. And the war still raged on my roof– thumping, screeching, and cooing.
As I stood at the kitchen window one of the furry warriors raced back up the tree. I banged on the glass as he passed, but it didn’t faze him. The other animal bolted up the tree, I banged the glass again, and then another raccoon came off my neighbor’s roof down a different tree. I had no doubt that they were also transiting the big live oak on the other side of my house. How many were there? Was it clan warfare? Were the males trying to kill their young? Since I was powerless to stop the carnage, I decided to at least document it. After all, there were crazed animals dashing by me on a tree not more than four feet away.
I ran for my camera. As if I were going to steal their soul, everything went quiet. No movement in the tree, no sound on the roof. I waited with the Olympus in my hand. Nothing. Finally, I returned to my bedroom, kicked the cats out, and went back to sleep. My insurance agent kept popping into my dreams.
The next morning I bicycled down the hill to Flipnotics and fortified myself with caffeine for a gruesome roof inspection. I pedaled back, leaned the ladder against the eve, and climbed up. Expecting damaged shingles and blood, I was amazed to find nothing disturbed. The live oak had recently dropped its tassels, and they covered the shingles in a delicate amber layer. How could there not even be tracks, let alone body parts? Am I a dreaming sleepwalker?
If only I had gotten one picture.