Take the road straight north from here and you might think you’re driving miles and miles through woods. But this is farm country. The trees reach back only so deep and behind them are orchards and cornfields, mainly, interspersed with the front and backyards of houses dating from last week to three hundred years ago, raised ranches and split levels, Cape Cods, saltboxes, half Colonials, real Dutch Colonials built of stone by people who spoke Dutch, a few McMansions. There are no large developments, just clusters of houses where over time the farmers have sold off lots at the edges of their fields or in hollows or on hillsides that were too troublesome to work or where the hamlets and small market towns have pushed out in pockets and ribbons from their centers, little archipelagos of development. In summer when the trees are in leaf, the road is deeply shaded during the day, blackly shadowed at night.
And all day and all night long the roadsides are busy with animal life…and gory with animal death. Skunks, possums, woodchucks, foxes. They're all plentiful and on the move. Deer, too, of course. Deer are a serious hazard along here.
But you know what I’ve never seen many of in all our years here and our thousands of trips up and down that road?
They’re out there. I know that. But they keep very late hours and are smarter than those other mammals and know enough to stay out of the road.
At least, I thought they knew.
Last night, or technically this morning, around one-thirty, I discovered the house was without necessary supplies. So, under a waxing, orange-tinged gibbous moon, still high and large in the west, I set out for the only store relatively close by I knew would be open, the convenient mart six miles to the north, and about three miles up the road I saw the two raccoons.
Just in time.
They were in the middle of the road, talking over something nose to nose across the dividing lines.
I stopped about ten yards short of flattening them.
They were smallish, so females or young ones or both, and more all over a lighter, more powdery gray than I think of raccoons as being. Their bandit masks weren’t as black or distinct as I would have expected either, but that might have been due to a general washing out of color from their being caught full on by my headlights, which didn’t seem to faze them at all, by the way. They looked straight at me, blandly, as if they were seeing through the windshield and taking my measure.
Oh, they appeared to be saying, do you want to get by?
“Yes,” I said out loud, as if they could hear me. “If you don’t mind.”
They didn’t mind, although they thought it over for a bit. Then they turned and scurried off together and I went on my way.