A raccoon crouches on a tiled roof near an open window, and looks back down at the photographer.

Walpurgisnacht raccoon

The one who takes everything in its hands pays a personal visit

by AK Krajewska

I heard a strange noise, like a grunt, kind of like a mix between a snore and someone straining with effort, but weirder. Animal, definitely animal. Then it happened again. It was about an hour after midnight, and I groped for my glasses on the bedside table.

I went to the window to look.

A raccoon stared back at me, its snoot in the crack of the open casement window, its front paws on the window frame. Only the window screen separated us. The raccoon was alarmingly not alarmed to see me and so I started to yell at it to make it get away. Only I still had my overnight retainer on, and my own animal grunts were pretty weak. Nonetheless, I did manage to scare the crap out of Paul who also got out of bed, and wanted to know why I was yelling at an owl.

By then the raccoon had unhanded the window and got out of sight, and I explained that I had not been yelling at an owl. The raccoon had just walked over a couple of yards to the edge of our roof, and we wondered what it was trying to do and where it might go next, and, rather importantly, how did it get there?

A respectful distance

It took me a while to get back to sleep after seeing the raccoon. Our bedroom is on the second floor, so the only animals I expect to see directly out my window are birds. We get a lot of crows, especially in the morning when they do dives from the neighbor’s taller roof and down to ours. Sometimes we get a hawk, usually being chased by said crows. At night, we sometimes hear owls hooting, and have seen an owl perched on the same neighbor's roof where crows congregate in the daytime.

Sometimes, coyote yips and howls carry from nearby hills at night. I love to hear them and it’s one of the pleasures of living in this house to actually hear our urban coyotes. I can get a bit “The children of the night, what sweet music they make” and stand at the window listening to the coyotes or lay in bed happily listening to them as I drift off.

Because, you know, coyotes do not climb up to your window.

Raccoons, well, I knew they can climb very well[1]. I’ve seen them walking around in tree-tops at Lands End in the evening. And I know they live in the city and are not particularly wary of people, having seen them around in doorways and on streets at night. But to actually confront the evidence of a raccoon having climbed onto the roof and sticking its snoot into my bedroom window screen is another thing.

It took me a while to get back to sleep. It did feel appropriate that a strange visitor should come by after midnight on May Eve.

Visual evidence

My only regret is that I didn’t pause to grab my phone and take a photo. The image of the raccoon standing on its hind legs and leaning against the window is stuck in my mind, but I’m not good enough at drawing to get it onto paper.

I tried to use generative AI to make an illustration, like a kind of robot-aided forensic sketch. But it kept generating images of a raccoon inside a house looking out. Even when I added a specific instruction that the raccoon is outside, it still gave me pictures from outside a house with the raccoon inside. That, my dear bot, is exactly the situation I was trying to avoid! It got a little better when I included the human observer in the description, but nonetheless, it wasn’t getting the feeling I wanted.

So, instead I found a photo someone else took of a different raccoon, also on a roof and used it as the header image[2]. It isn’t my raccoon visitor, but at least it’s a real raccoon, and it is outside. Where it should stay.

I hope the raccoon doesn't come up to the window again, but also, I kind of hope it does. Maybe just not a night where I have to go to work the next day.

  1. They can also use their sensitive and nimble little hands to open a lot of things people think animals would not be able to open. One of the names for raccoon alludes to their proclivity to touch everything with their hands, "In Spanish, the raccoon is called mapache, derived from the Nahuatl mapachtli of the Aztecs, meaning '[the] one who takes everything in its hands.'" From "Raccoon" in the Wikipedia ↩︎

  2. Photo credit: The header image is a cropped version of a photo by Carsten Volkwein, Ein Waschbär am frühen Morgen auf dem Dach eines Wohnhauses. (English: A raccoon in the early morning on the roof of an apartment house.) CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia. ↩︎