Environment & Conservation

The Raccoon Trees

Raccoons might be my favorite animals. I identify with them on a deep soul level, and I truly admire their adaptability, ingenuity, and curiousity. Their impressive cleverness is precisely what puts them into frequent conflict with the human world, a society that ironically prizes intelligence above all else. Maybe we’re jealous of their talent. We build our cities and we expect that they’re just for us, that everyone else will just leave. Raccoons find a way to stay, to survive, and to thrive. They work with the resources they have available. I think we could learn some things from them.

Some of you may be thinking about my chickens right now. It might surprise you to learn that in six years, I’ve never lost a chicken to a raccoon. This is partially luck and partially thanks to the electric fence I employ to protect my flock. Yet, I can’t help but wonder if any of it has to do with the bargain we made on the first night my chicks slept outside. Dear raccoons, you are welcome to help yourselves to the cat food, but you must never harm the cats or chickens. I won’t say I haven’t had any conflicts with the raccoon population on the farm, but they’ve resolved peacefully for the most part, with a little help from strategically placed motion activated lighting.

They wait for the mulberry harvest. I see them checking the trees weeks before the berries ripen, eagerly anticipating the season of plenty. When the berries are ripe, large gatherings of raccoons congregate underneath the mulberry trees nightly to hoover up all the fallen fruit. I don’t usually see adult raccoons climb up in the trees, but I recently watched these kits (babies) stuffing their faces with the choicest berries at a height of 40 feet.

Raccoons are most active at night, but they are frequently out in the daytime as well. It’s a myth that daytime raccoons are all sick. If there is better food available during the day, they adjust their schedule to take advantage of that resource. They adapt. It’s kind of their thing.

Humans and raccoons often find ourselves in conflict with one another, but I think it’s important to remember that raccoons are simply doing their best to adapt and survive, just as we are. They have as much right to be here as we do. I’m not worried about them eating “my fruit”. These mulberry trees predate me. The fruit is a gift. If there’s not enough for all of us, then I’ll keep planting more until there is plenty. That’s one of our superpowers as human beings, the ability to construct a more abundant future.

There’s really no reason for anyone to be hungry in this fertile part of the world, raccoon or otherwise. Yet we live in a culture that engineers scarcity. We are taught to poison the edible dandelions with herbicides so that inedible, nonnative grasses can grow. People remove fruit and nut trees from their yards because the food they produce is “messy”. About 40% of the food that is grown and packaged for sale in this country gets wasted rather than given away. The scarcity we create necessitates competition and conflict, with the animal world and amongst ourselves.

There are myriad small, easy changes we could each make to increase abundance in our world, and more abundance leads to greater harmony. It’s not enough for me to plant trees on my own plot of land, but every tree does matter. Let’s fill our parks with unsprayed edible native plants, line our city streets with edible fruit trees, and carpet our lawns with strawberries and bright blooms. It’s about the wildlife, but it’s not just about the wildlife. It’s about the pollinators, but it’s not just about the pollinators. It’s about the people, but it’s not just about the people. We’re all part of a greater whole, a larger ecosystem. Let’s choose to see each other as allies rather than competitors. Let’s lie in the sun and eat mulberries until our fingers are purple, our bellies are full, and our hearts are at peace. Let’s keep planting until there’s more than enough for us all.

A Note About Mulberry

White Mulberry is an invasive tree in Eastern United States, but Red Mulberry is native. I don’t cut down the established white mulberry trees that are already growing here, because I feel that the fruit they produce is needed. However, all new mulberry trees that I plant are the native variety. I highly suggest that you look for native red mulberry trees if you’re going to plant mulberry. Other native fruit trees of great abundance include serviceberry, persimmon, pawpaw, and wild plum.

Note: This article discusses edible and medicinal wild plants. Always do your own thorough research before touching, foraging or ingesting any plant that’s new to you. Identification mistakes can happen and so can allergies, interactions, and idiosyncratic reactions. Information presented in this article and elsewhere on this web site is for educational and entertainment purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any health conditions. View our full legal disclaimer here.

For Further Reading

“The Problem of Lawns” by Lakis Polycarpou, Columbia University
“Food Waste FAQs” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture
“Morus rubra (Red Mulberry)” from the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center
“Raccoon” on Wikipedia

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