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"Let's Leave the Balcony Door Ajar"


The Rapidan building at Shenandoah's Big Meadow Lodge. The second floor rooms have balconies (not shown here) that overlook a partially wooded area and the Appalachian Trail. Bob Janiskee photo.

Ajar (a•JAR) Partially opened.

It's mid-June and Sandy and I are at Virginia's Shenandoah National Park, where we've enjoyed some beautiful scenery, fine hospitality, and excellent wildlife watching. In less than two full days we've seen an amazing variety of birds, countless deer, and 12 bears, including one big female with twin cubs and another with triplets. The hiking has been loads of fun, and so has the leisurely windshield touring on Skyline Drive.

We have to leave in the morning, but tonight we're ensconced in a comfortable second-floor room in the Rapidan unit at Big Meadows Lodge. We turn in early. The day's activities, which included a hike on the Appalachian Trail, have been a bit taxing.

The room is a tad too stuffy for comfortable sleeping. It's a breezy-cool evening, but not quite enough cool air is coming in through the little screened window. We don't want to turn on the air conditioning unit, since we're enjoying the quiet too much. I suggest that we leave the balcony door ajar.

Sandy objects. She's afraid that a snake might get in. I remind her that the door opens to a second floor balcony, and that we have nothing to fear from a no-shoulders in these particular circumstances.

"What about bats?," she asks. "Won't bats fly in?" I assure her that no bats will fly in.

"How about icky bugs?" I assure her that no icky bugs will get in.

"How about mice?" I reprise my second-floor explanation.

She finally relents, and I leave the balcony door ajar. A cool breeze wafts in, bearing a hint of wood smoke from the campground. Perfectly delightful. We're soon fast asleep.

Not for long, though. With a great "Ker-whack!" the plastic wastebasket near the foot of the bed is upended, spilling sandwich wrappers and the remains of a blackberry cobbler. We bolt awake and I leap from bed. The next ten minutes are, shall we say, "interesting."

An hour later, we're still discussing the evening's events. It's complicated, but the discussion basically goes like this:

"Bob, you are a perfect idiot."

"Nobody's perfect, Sandy. And anyway, you never asked about raccoons."

Postscript: We're home now, but certain aspects of this incident are still being debated. For example, Sandy insists that the masked marauder weighed at least 25 pounds, but I am equally confident that he weighed not an ounce over 24. We also disagree on the perp's exit, which was quite stylish. Sandy says that he was smiling as he finally bolted from his hiding place under the bed, made his way to the door, and turned around to look at us before departing with his treasure. I say that he was laughing.

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Too funny! Raccoons are very advantageous little creatures.

If by "advantageous" you mean rascally, I heartily agree. :o)

Great story-reminds me of a second story scorpion at Sequia NPS. It could have been even more interesting if it had been the black bear and her cubs.

Thanks for sharing your experience; racoons are indeed ingenious creatures. I visit Shenandoah every spring, either the first or second week in May, staying at Skyland. Planning my trip to the Southern Appalachians helps get me through the Connecticut winter!

Gee, to think I was "bugged" about a huge centipede crawling across the floor in our room at Skyland this past spring! Glad I closed the doors and windows. Of course it was cool and raining so we had no desire to leave the doors open, or the even windows for that matter. If that is a typical raccoon it probably makes the rounds of all the units each night looking for open doors. The good Lord gave them that bandit's mask for a reason!

Raccoons can definitely climb. Twice I've heard of them coming down a two story chimney. Be careful chasing them out of doors - they'll bite if cornered and occasionally carry rabies.

Worst I've had to deal with personally are mice - at both Yosemite and Bryce Canyon Park lodges.

Another hilarious story from Bob! We just got back from Big Meadows and it is just the place to unwind. I have to say you were pretty lucky though - in season the courting barred owls love to perch on those porches at night and make a real racket. We stayed at the campground not far from the lodge last week and was told to be on the lookout for a young bear looking to scarf easy munchies. I had to sign a receipt stating that I read the rules about food storage - but these critters can be pretty creative!

I've enjoyed the feedback on this little yarn. A few comments are in order. @ Jim: Bears on the balcony is a bit of a stretch, but I do wonder what happened to the bear trio that was hanging around the Lodge when we were there. I'm pretty sure that the sow and two cubs that were darted and transported shortly after we left were the very bears we photographed at the power line on the newly blacktopped loop. Before the sow started browsing for berries, she sent the twin cubs scooting 50 feet up a tree and out onto a limb scarcely big enough to support them. It was quite a sight. @ Anon: You don't happen to work for OSHA, do you? :o) @ Bat: I agree that barred owls can make quite a racket. A pair of them that raised young every year in the woods behind the house we lived in several years ago made such a racket from time to time that they would wake us from a sound sleep. Those were some of the weirdest sounds I've ever heard a bird make. Alas, early one morning, one of the adults flew into a woods-edge power line and its outstretched wings touched two of the lines at once. There was a bright flash, a loud bang, and the lights dimmed for a moment. I buried the victim and put a big rock atop the dirt heap so the raccoons wouldn't dig it up. They got to it anyway.

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