Ah, wilderness! Keep it outside

Kevin Cowherd

August 21, 1991|By Kevin Cowherd

Every year at this time, we like to take a family nature hike through the woods near our home to see the rabbits and deer and all sorts of other interesting creatures.

The good news is that I again managed to beg out of the family nature hike, this time citing the raccoon that attacked a bicycle rider in upstate New York, I think it was.

As the story goes, this guy on a bike was riding along a road, minding his own business and certainly not looking for any sort of confrontation with one of God's creatures.

But suddenly a raccoon came charging out of the woods like some sort of crazed rhino and bit the fellow on the leg.

"My God!" I shouted when the story appeared on the 11 o'clock news. "What kind of a world do we live in when even the furry, lovable little raccoon has turned into a blood-thirsty killing machine?"

(A popular theory among biologists, by the way, is that the sight of bright, garish Spandex, particularly on a clearly overweight person, might enrage raccoons, much as it does humans.

(In other words, if a few raccoon toughs were hanging out by the side of the road and spotted a guy with a beer gut in tight, lime-green bicycle shorts, they might very well snicker: "Get a load of this guy!" and then attack. As I said, it's just a theory.)

The point is, it would be one thing if these raccoons confined their attacks to picking off a stray bicyclist in Spandex. It might even make the world a better place in which to live, at least visually.

But if they are branching out and attacking even the non-Spandex-wearing public at large, then I would say we have a full-blown ecological crisis on our hands.

It's one thing for these raccoons to be knocking over garbage cans or causing mayhem in vegetable gardens and then retreating back into the woods, giggling their fool heads off.

But it's quite another thing to be taking a chunk out of passing bicyclists. It's probably a good thing they don't run the Tour de France in upstate New York, because we'd be talking wholesale carnage. You wouldn't need a medical van following the field, you'd need a traveling mortuary.

In any event, this whole business of a possible raccoon uprising so unhinged me that I remained at home the other day, marking the eighth straight family nature hike that I have managed to avoid.

"Daddy, don't you like nature?" the kids said as they prepared to leave.

"Of course I do, kids," I said. "Even as we speak, Daddy is planning to open this bag of Cheez-its and crash on the couch and watch the Orioles."

The fact is, I am all for getting face-to-face with nature, as long as there is a thick pane of glass between us and an air-conditioning unit humming on my side of the glass.

It also helps to have a small well-stocked refrigerator on my side of the glass, so that when we actually spot an animal, I can tap the glass with my bottle of Coors Light and say: "Oh, look, there's an interesting creature! Now what do you call that?"

Then the kids can roll their eyes and say: "Duh, that's a squirrel, Daddy" in that condescending tone of voice that the ecologically-correct love to use on those of us who are less, um, riveted by the great outdoors.

Sadly, the woods are filled with other dangerous creatures besides raccoons.

Take rabbits, for example. Traditionally, rabbits have gotten good press in this country, particularly during the Easter season.

Invariably, they are portrayed as gentle, lovable creatures, interested only in gamboling about the woods, etc.

Which is a lot of hooey, as far as I'm concerned. Many years ago, I had a rabbit lunge at me in as vivid a near-death experience as I ever want to have.

Fortunately, the rabbit was in a cage at the time. My mother said he was only trying to get at a piece of lettuce I held in my hand. But there was a murderous gleam in his eye, it seemed to me. I had no doubt that if our paths had crossed in the woods, as opposed to the laundry room where we kept him, I'd be typing this essay with one hand.

It's the same thing with deer, foxes, skunks and what have you. Sure, they're all cute, innocent, furry, woodland creatures -- until you cross them.

Then they turn on you like . . . like animals. I don't need that kind of aggravation in my life.

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