Kage Baker frequently averred that she hated Nature.
“No, you don’t,” I would say.
“Yes! Yes, I do!” she’d insist, waving her hands in the air. “I hate Nature! I hate fresh air and fluffy bunnies and little smiling wildflowers and all that soppy crap! I love – neon! Cocktails! Booths upholstered in red Naugahyde!”
Which is true; she did. But unless driven to distraction, she actually did like Nature. She just usually preferred it through a pane of glass, or on the far side of a nicely burning campfire – out in the damp dark, while she reclined in a comfy camp chair and drank from a glass with a flamingo on a swizzle stick.
When, in The Anvil of the World”, she has Lord Ermenwyr bounding under the canopy of a hotel bed chanting: “I-love-decadence! I-hate-Nature!” – well, she was speaking from her heart. A part of her heart, anyway. While Kage understood the necessity of being eaten by a wild beast if one carelessly fell afoul of a hungry predator, it had better have had clean paws when it grabbed her. And sworn not to drool on her.
Camping with Kage was always interesting. Her preferred technique was a good fire and a good chair and hot food; a secure tent tall enough to stand up in (“No crouching!” she would growl.); an air mattress and a down sleeping bag. Nights when the air mattresses failed – which they did sometimes – were a misery for everyone involved; Kage not only did not sleep, she did not shut up about it. Many’s the dawn it was a miracle she saw the sun with living eyes … She actually slept out of doors about 3 times in her life. They were legendary. And the morning we woke up with frost on the sleeping bags, it’s a wonder I survived her wrath. I had to drive 15 miles in the ere-dawn to secure an Egg McMuffin before she’d pupate and come out of her bag.
Mind you, when we had all our gear and it ll worked according to plan, camping was a most civilized and pleasant activity. Many of Kage’s friends will attest to how charming a fireside companion she could be, as we toasted hand-made marshmallows and Kage assigned Stone Age names and occupations to everyone. But most of them were never with us when we’d forgotten the tent poles or a skunk decided to visit.
Anyway, she insisted she hated Nature. I insisted I loved it. (Well, I mostly do.) Our opposable opinions informed a lot of the Anvil universe.
However, having moved back to the peculiar urb that is Los Angeles, I have take somewhat against our little friends of the fields. Los Angeles, despite its reputation for concrete and internal combustion engines, is actually a very green city. We are lousy with trees, and whole tropical biomes flourish in every empty lot. Only occasional brush fires keep Downtown from being buried in cobalt-blue morning glories. The parks are bastions of animals that no one ever thought would survive the Coming of Man, and they all venture out every twilight to explore humanity’s inadequately bastioned redoubts.
Here on the edge of Griffith Park, we are most neighborly with skunks, coyotes, raccoons and opossums. To be honest, they all have their charms and uses, and most of us have learned to live with them. Newbies from back East tend to freak out, of course, but they also get hysterical at the peregrine falcons hunting pigeons all over the MOMA, and the feral cats forming prides in the foothills … some people just can’t take wilderness, you know? A little thing like a coyote den in the LA River or a bear in the local 7-11 just sends ’em right off the deep end.
However, I must admit that in my encroaching old age I have grown especially opposed to – raccoons. It has become obvious to me that they are minions of Evil, and in the direct pay of some minor Prince of Hell. How else could a nocturnal animal survive when it has NO NIGHT VISION? Because they don’t, you know. It’s why they paw frantically through the garbage and fall out of trees and run unto the walls of houses. The little bastards can’t see in the dark, yet their evil nature keeps them running about in it like more competent animals. It’s positively embarrassing for the skunks and possums, I tell you.
And they are attracted to blinking lights. We keep LED faerie lights in our front yard tree, for discreet lighting, and the raccoons can neither leave them alone nor manage to stay up the tree. They crawl around out there grabbing at the tiny coloured lights, until they fall out of the branches with horrendous squeals. They bite through the wires, too, so occasionally they’re also smoking when they squeal and hit the ground … though I don’t want them to get killed, you understand. But neither do I want them to set the redwood mulch on fire!
They are also intrigued by the blinking red alarm light of the security system in my car. A nice little scarlet monitor light blinks on the dash board of my PT Cruiser, keeping it safe from car thieves. However, it does nothing for raccoons – whose little black hands are just strong enough to pull at the locked doors. That sets off the alarm, horrifying and waking everyone. And after a few years of the raccoons trying to get into my car, they’ve driven the alarm system insane. It goes off and will not stop; or goes off over and over in broad, raccoon-less daylight, and then the engine locks down and won’t start.
It did it again today. Nothing would restore sanity and movement to my car. It was towed away to the mechanic, where the defunct alarm system will be removed so that the greater good may be served. Like, I can actually drive my car.
Somewhere, I know Kage is laughing at me …
Ah, yes, raccoons. We had a blue seal point Rag Doll for a few years – a big friendly cat named Pat. Everyone called him ‘The Chancellor of Love’ because he was so good at bringing people together.
And then. Ooops. One night Blue (the Corgi/Sharpei/Staffordshire) started fussing, running back and forth from front to back door. We heard Pat on the front stoop trying to sweet-talk . . . someone. But back in the bushes to the right of the door, something else was growling and snarling – neither cat nor dog . . .
It was a mother raccoon with three kits. Pat was trying to invite them in to dine. Momma was having none of it, but wasn’t breaking cover until she was sure the coast was clear.
I brought Pat into the house, and kept Blue from getting out to attack the intruders. Momma and kits departed. Pat complained bitterly that I’d ruined his dinner date. Blue complained bitterly that I’d thrown away her dinner.
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Well, my husband just spent a half hour this morning replanting potatoes the fox cubs dug up (and played with) last night. He came in, grubby bathrobe and slippers and all, muttering imprecations and vain threats. He’s turned into Elmer Fudd, and I’ve evolved into Wile E Coyote, devising elaborate contraptions to discourage squirrels from attacking the bird feeders. It’s Warner Bros here, for sure. Probably just as funny as well. Cameras, please….
Here we have lotsa raccoons but the main scourge is the Eastern gray squirrel. We feed black oil sunflower seeds to the birds, so also to the squirrels, which means we have had to go to a metal mesh feeder, as they destroy the plastic or wood ones. They gnaw out the door holes of birdhouses, so my husband built the last batch with giant metal washers at the doors, which so far is working. Now they are eating the plastic flower-shaped ports off the hummingbird feeder! I’ve found an all-metal one, which I have on standby until the day (coming soon!) when they destroy the current one.
Now I’m picturing you and Kage wearing solar toupees and bringing along cocktail shakers and croquet sets when you went camping, very much in the style of the naughty British ex-pats in Happy Valley, Kenya before WWII.
Here in my corner of the East Coast we have shitloads of Nature, despite of what people think of New Jersey as being a foul, smoking wasteland, something like Mordor but not as pleasant. We have raccoons, and squirrels both black and grey. (An urban legend claims that a mad scientist at Princeton University bred the black squirrels for some obscure but probably evil reason, and they escaped into the wild.) We have whitetail deer which wait until a car approaches and then fling themselves into the road. We have bears, and possums and chipmunks and skunks and all sorts of things, including, (maybe) the Jersey Devil.
I happen to like Nature, although I dislike dirt. I wish Nature wasn’t so full of dirt.
Raccoons are indeed the spawn of the devil. I used to think them cute and winsome, before I discovered their evilness. They are akin to pigeons in my book. Now, skunks …. they are winsome and cute, just smelly.