Greenwich gone wild
I came home last night and found a raccoon in my living room. A large raccoon. A raccoon the size of an Audi. The raccoon and I both froze upon my entry and locked eyes, as if in some kind of primal trace. And then all hell broke loose.
“There is a raccoon in here, Ian, in our house! Ian, where are you? It’s a massive raccoon — and it sees me! IAN!” I screamed, calling for my husband.
The raccoon started dashing frantically about our living room, at one point running across my West Elm couch circa 1999, as Ian, our bulldog Carnage and our cat Sweetpea came racing down the stairs. Ian froze, Carnage ran back upstairs and Sweetpea went in for the kill.
I’ll pause here to give some context. Ian grew up in a suburb with mowed lawns and proper manners. Anything remotely wild, including an eruption by his high-spirited wife, sends him running for some kind of indoor fitness center. Carnage got his name because my kids decided to name their first dog after the extra-terrestrial super-villain in Spiderman comics. Although he is a bulldog, the name has proved such a misnomer that it has become comic. Aside from attacking garden hoses on a regular basis, Carnage would rather cuddle with an intruder than protect us from one. Last month, my 7-year-old George was sitting next to Carnage in our mini-van, where the dog usually settles in a car seat and drools, occasionally shaking his head to share the slobber. After a long silence, George said out of nowhere, “Mom, when Carnage dies, can we get a dog with balls?” That pretty much sums it up.
But Sweetpea. My hero. I rescued Sweetpea from the streets of Long Island City just after the horrors of Sept. 11, 2001, which makes him ancient even by cat standards. I think on some level we assume he will live forever. Sweetpea is feral at heart. He went from Queens, to Brooklyn, to Harlem, to backcountry Greenwich, terrorizing all wildlife in his wake. We thought we lost Sweetpea in Amagansett one summer, only to return a month later to find him waiting for us proudly amid his trophies of chipmunk heads. The cat is a living legend.
So Sweetpea took on this raccoon, which was about three times his size. For all I know, this was the same raccoon who climbed that 25-story skyscraper in Minnesota. They had captured him and released him somewhere, right? There was a mad dash around the living room, including the masked intruder leaping from couch to table and back again, skidding on the floor, clearly desperate to escape. Finally, Sweetpea chased him out our kitchen door and back into the wilds.
This happened in my home.
“And then there’s the fisher,” my neighbor added, when I told her about our raccoon.
Two summers ago, everyone on our road started hearing an eerie sound at night. It turned out our little corner of backcountry Greenwich had been colonized by something called The Fisher. We’re not talking “A River Runs Through It” type fisher, complete with waders and smoldering Brad Pitt looks. We are talking about a furry, cat-size, carnivorous mammal that’s in the weasel family (a friend insists his ex was in the weasel family, but I think that’s different) and in some places down south is called a polecat. Fishers live on the forest floor, hunting smaller animals and even somehow munching on porcupines, according to Wikipedia. “Despite its common name, the fisher rarely eats fish,” it adds.
Nothing in there, you’ll notice, mentions the screeching, barking, blood-curdling sound a fisher apparently makes while mating, a call that many describe as “like a woman being murdered.” (Yes, I know zoologists will say we’re confusing a fisher with a red fox, which definitely makes that kind of noise. No matter.)
Now granted, when you have experienced the trials of birthing three children within three years and then attempt to raise them while your mate hightails it to an office every day, the sounds a woman might make upon mating could get hairy. But the fisher was off the charts. We were terrified.
Wilderness was encroaching. We’ve suffered “chick-ageddons,” where a still-unidentified beast broke into our foolproof coop and devoured our entire flock of beloved chickens, leaving little but feathers behind. So far this summer, we’ve had several coyote sightings yet again, and there is an entire den of foxes currently living in our front yard. My drier’s heating unit broke down last week and while spending two hours on the phone with a Samsung call center in India, I discovered an elaborate bird’s nest built into the laundry room’s venting system.
“We solved it!,” the very nice Indian gentleman shouted into the phone, although I had, not him. “But tell me again, Miss Claire — where do you live that such things happen?”
Apparently Gurgaon, the satellite town of Delhi known as the city of call centers, was not prepared for the wilds of backcountry Greenwich.
I admit I had been warned. “If you are anywhere beyond the Merritt Parkway, you may as well be in ‘Deliverance’ territory,” my midcountry Greenwich friends had teased me when we bought our house.
Yeah right, “Deliverance” with multimillion-dollar estates. But it really is country living out here, a welcome change coming from New York City.
And I still love it, despite a raccoon sitting on my living room couch.
So remember this, fellow humans of Greenwich: don’t let those big fancy homes fool you, as you dare to cross beyond the Merritt Parkway. The fight between man and nature rages on.
Even in Greenwich.
Even in my living room.
Claire Tisne Haft is a former publishing and film executive, raising her family in Greenwich while working on a freelance basis on books and films.