Facing off with a malodorous mammal.

Crinch, crinch, crinch. The soft pitter-patter of little feet, crunching through the dry leaves on the ground, came from the dark woods behind our tent as I sat beside our dying campfire on my young family’s first-ever camping trip.

Regular readers of his space may recall that I was pretty nervous about how this would go, but it turns out that both of my boys absolutely love camping. Tommy (nearly 3 years old) could spend hours gleefully running in circles around a tree in the woods, while Seth (14 months) has decided nothing could possibly be more delicious than twigs, dirt, and small rocks.

That night, I was pretty sure Seth hadn’t escaped from our enormous tent — he was safely tucked inside a portable playpen/crib. Tom was more worrisome, because he hadn’t been sound asleep and because he also knew how to work the tent’s zipper. I hadn’t heard him open the tent, but if he was the one scrunch-scrunching through these bear-filled woods, he’d be in big trouble.

I flicked on my flashlight and shined it toward the noise. Whew — it wasn’t the boy. Instead, it was a small furry creature, maybe the size of a miniature groundhog.

A small, furry, black creature.

I didn’t quite place it until it looked back over its shoulder at me, its eyes glowing with reflected light under a small white patch on its forehead.

Uh oh. I quickly turned off the light and tried to stay as quiet as possible as animal scurried away.

Our tent and I escaped unsprayed, but my wife, who had been brushing her teeth at the bathhouse during this episode, reported that something else near our site wasn’t so lucky. Just in case, I made sure to shine my light around and make plenty of noise as I walked to the bathhouse, avoiding any more surprise encounters with woodland creatures.

Article © 2008 by Michael Duck