Critters at camp

Spending time in the outdoors will inevitably lead to critter encounters. Whether you see a friendly chipmunk on your path, a white-tailed doe grazing in a meadow, or a curious raccoon prowling your site, you are very likely to see some of our woodland friends when camping.

There are plenty of sites on the Internet to tell you about how to react if you see a bear, mountain lion, rattle snake, or any other dangerous animal. If you are planning a trip in an area where any of these might be present, I strongly suggest that you do your homework in advance.

My wife and I have been camping for over 30 years (for me it is closer to 40 years). In our time we have seen plenty of animal action. This past weekend we had two encounters that brought us a bit of laughter, a bit of tears, and a set of good reminders for all.

The first happened on Saturday evening. We had a great dinner, and my wife had decided to hike to the lake shore to enjoy the sands of Lake Michigan. I was settled at the campfire, with a book in hand. It wasn’t yet dark, but it was starting to get dusky.

I was startled from my book by the sound of rustling behind me. Thinking my wife had come back early, I turned my head ready to give a greeting. But, instead of seeing my lovely wife, I saw – not more than 30 feet away – a rather large raccoon.

Now, no campground is immune from raccoons. They come out at night and rummage through your trash, pop open your coolers and make a little ruckus. Most places we camp have reminders to keep trash and coolers locked in your car for just this reason. And, I have seen many raccoons in my time while camping. But, rarely have I seen one this close to my site during daylight hours.

I made some noise in an attempt to scare him off, and when that didn’t work I tossed a couple of rocks at trees near him to scare him a bit more. After a couple of minutes, he waddled off.

Later that evening we saw him prowling the road and other nearby campsites, and again we shooed him off, while making sure our food and trash were secured.

As we were winding down our campfire for the night, my wife made her way to the bathroom. When she got back she informed me that she had seen a tiny, cute little mouse around the bathroom building, and that it had run into the shower area. Neither of us thought anything about it. We went back into the camper to play Scrabble.

Just before bedding down for the night, my wife made one last trip to the bathroom. As I was putting things away in the camper, I suddenly heard shrieks the likes of which made me think that an ax murderer was loose in the bathroom. Our campsite was very close to the bathroom, and I sprinted to the ladies’ room door from where the terrified shrieks were emanating. I called to my wife from the door to ask if she was ok. She informed me that the little mouse had run into the bathroom, and into her stall when she was in her most defenseless state.

Apparently her harrowed cries deafened the mouse and sent is scurrying away. She wrapped things up in the bathroom and we went back to the camper for the night.

The next day as we were packing we talked about our two encounters. We also talked about seeing birds, deer and chipmunks on that weekend, and how enjoyable those encounters were. And we reminded ourselves that while we may not like all of the animals who visit us on a weekend, the truth is that WE are the visitors. The woods, and lakes, and trees are THEIR homes.

Unless provoked the vast majority of animals you see on your trips to the outdoors will steer quite clear of you, and wish you no harm. Remember, you are the guests.

Oh, and also remember, shrieking in the bathroom has a tendency to be amplified, making it easily heard by all those nearby.

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