The Raccoon That Killed Our Last Hen

I went out to close up the coop just too late. When I looked inside, she was missing from the spot where she always sleeps, and usually is sitting when I check in the evening. So I quickly went to see if she was still in the outer enclosure that we leave open during the day. She wasn’t but I found one patch of feathers, and then nearer to the bush (but farther from the entrance to the enclosure) another, and seconds after seeing that I heard a rustle in the bush and looked to see branches moving.

I bolted out of the enclosure, jumped the fence, ran back to the bushes, and quickly scanned below the branches to see if I could find what it was. I walked along the whole stretch, then went into the bushes a bit, carefully stepping between poison ivy with my bare legs, thinking of how much attention I wasn’t giving to the bush around me. I stepped onto a rock two feet high to get a better vantage, and was about to give up the search when I had an idea that I should take a step down in one spot that seemed less obstructed by brush.

Immediately after my foot pressed the long grass onto the ground, I saw a raccoon-ish blur, then as it reached the nearest tree, a clear raccoon climbing up.

At this point I hadn’t yet found the chicken carcass, but it would have been within ten feet ahead of me, about half way between me and the raccoon tree. I didn’t know if the hen was still alive and had just been scared off somewhere. I didn’t know if she would come back, and I didn’t know if the raccoon would have been there when she did.

I could have killed him.

I could have called Kim and got her to watch the bastard while I got the shotgun, and I could have blasted him out of the tree, but I didn’t because he and the other wildlife around me were here first, this is their home too. If I moved in, then killed him for what he considers fair game because he doesn’t have the capability to consider it anything else, that would be reckless and cruel. And it would be even worse given that such a large percentage of the world that used to be theirs has already been taken away, and if I act as though I can do whatever I want to this land, that I can kill or mess it up however I want, then that’s a further loss for nature. I want to minimize my effect on the natural environment and preserve as much wilderness as possible, because so much of it has already been lost.

That scarcity makes wilderness more valuable, and makes it a greater transgression to damage it.

I am Man, not Animal, I am capable of considering other life as more than fair game. I can consider some to be off limits, at least to some extent. I know that there’s something bad about killing, and because of that I have a responsibility to minimize it.

And also because I am Man, I am able to protect the life that is in my charge. I am able to make an enclosure that protects our chickens from raccoons, and I’m able to ensure that during the times when raccoons roam, the chickens are safe in the enclosure. The hen isn’t dead because the raccoon is bad and needs to die, she’s dead because I’m a lazy idiot. And if I shot the raccoon, then it would have been because I was a lazy idiot.

I could try to justify killing it with that fact that an attack on my family’s food source is an attack on my family, and I’m justified in defending my family, but no, I am capable of preventing this attack in a way that doesn’t require killing the raccoon, and it’s my responsibility to do that (and we have other readily available sources of food).

I had to attend to something else for a few minutes (which required running through the crow-mute skunk-scented forest at dusk), so I got Kim to stand in the yard while I was away, so that the raccoon wouldn’t come back just in case the hen had escaped and might return. When I got back I once again scanned the bushes–this time with less urgency and a flashlight because it had become dark–realizing that if the raccoon *had* killed the hen, he probably didn’t have enough time to eat the whole thing, and he may not have come back to get the rest while I was gone (but not everyone is afraid of Kim, unfortunately). Once again, just as I was thinking of giving up, I looked through the bush from one more perspective, and saw a hennish-reddish-blur, and when I stooped to look closer, the headless carcass of the last hen.

She was the one who had watched all her friends get taken out in front of her eyes by wild beast after wild beast. Finally, after multiple losses, we had her in an enclosure that had been built to withstand the forces of the Manitoba summer wilderness. She would now get to live out her long life in peace and quiet, occasionally playing with a child and his colorful balls. Or so we thought.

But at least we can keep this meal from the bastard, and give her a decent burial. And of course if he had been more directly threatening my family, if we had been depending on the hen for food and didn’t have a ready alternative, we’d be eating roast raccoon tomorrow. Life demands balance. I also kill mosquitoes and ticks on site: they literally want my blood.

We want to avoid interfering with the natural environment (for its sake and for ours), so we create our own separate, natural environment. We want to separate these environments, and part of what we want is to minimize the barrier between them, so that we don’t lose touch with the natural world and get lost in unrealistic dreams, but another part of what we want is to maximize the barrier between them, in order to maximize our safety and theirs.

The homestead farm is at least a symbol of this–a few people, deep in nature, but with fences and domesticated life–but with a higher level of conscientiousness it could also be manifested in urban form.  We are responsible for the things we do, and we are responsible for the place where we live, so it would be delinquent to fail to achieve this conscientiousness in some form.

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