The Neighbors

Man, our next door neighbors came home from a night on the town a couple nights ago—the whole family traipsing in at 6 am, chattering away. I could hear the whole thing through our bedroom window. Oh, maybe I should mention that that family is all raccoons.

So our next door neighbor the whole time we’ve lived in this place was a rather old woman and it’s obvious from the state of the yard and the glimpses we’ve had into the house that she was something of a hoarder. She didn’t interact much with the neighborhood. A “younger” (that is, 60-year-old) man would come by every now and then and mow her front yard. Even more occasionally she’d have a “yard sale”, which is to say she’d sit out in front her house, the back yard brimming with abandoned bicycles and so on, and put three purses out on a blanket. And there was a window at the back of her house that looked straight into our dining room and there was always a light on it, 24-hours a day. The first few years it made me nervous—did it mean she was always looking into our dining room? But after a while I figured it just meant that the light switch had been covered up with boxes or something. And then a few months ago the light went out. I wondered aloud if it had just blown out and the state of the house meant no one could get to the socket to replace it. But then a big orange City of Chicago notice was posted on the front of the house—”Notice of Interior Inspection of Vacant Building”.

Notice of Interior Inspection of Vacant Building

Now all this is, I suppose, not strictly necessary background to the rest of the story. It’s possible that it would have all gone on even if the house was inhabited. But it does mean that the house is kind of falling apart, so it’s rather easy for, say, a family of raccoons to set up shop in the eaves of the house. And it means that there’s no one to get upset and call Animal Control if, say, a family of raccoons set up house in the eaves.

So a few months ago, Jen Ellison was over at our house because Drunk Monkeys were being interviewed for Serial Optimist (I’m pretty sure Monique had gone by the time all this happened). Outside the dining room windows we suddenly heard caterwauling and screeching. We all looked out and there was a tiny raccoon sitting on a pile of wood next door.

Raccoons next door - first encounter

It was fumbling around and just pacing back and forth. After just a short time, we heard more screeching and realized that the mother and two other little ones were up on the roof.

Raccoons next door - first encounter

The mother was very agitated—she came quickly climbing down a drain pipe and hauled the young raccoon off by the scruff of its neck into the junk piles. But then the raccoons on the roof were yelling and she appeared up there and the prodigal raccoon reappeared on the woodpile! She went back and forth like this several times, stopping to glare at us staring at her children through our big dining room window, until finally she was able to lead her errant child off safely.

Raccoons next door - first encounter

A few days later, we heard the same sort of screeching again. One of the little raccoons (the same one?) was on the woodpile again? Had it gotten up early and tried to go exploring? It had evidently had climbing lessons in those few days, because this time it was trying to climb straight up the side of the house, without much success.

Raccoons next door - second encounter

This is video is right on the line between funny and sad and I only share it because, spoiler, the story has a happy ending:

It seemed to take a while to wake up the mother, who appeared at a hole in the eaves. She seemed to yell down to the little one to climb up the drain pipe, which it eventually tried to do with a little more success than going straight up the wall, but not well enough to get back up to the top of the house. Eventually she came down the drain pipe and led the little one away into the junk piles again, I guess to go some longer, easier way back up to their nest.

That’s been the extent of the drama, though we do hear them come home in the morning if we have our bedroom window open, and we did run into them out on the street one night, the whole family climbing up and down trees. And they’re evidently as curious about us as we are about them, because at least one of them came and paid our dining room window a visit:

Raccoon paw prints on the window

A few more photos