Operation: Raccoon

In our German Village home, we are snug in the middle of an urban area.  We’ve got squirrels by the score and lots of birds, but that’s about it on the wildlife scale.  The last raccoon probably exited German Village in or about 1920.

662480_101In Stonington, on the other hand, we’re much closer to woodlands and other areas where the deer and the raccoons play.  And that means we need to start thinking, with laser-like focus, on a key issue:  raccoons and garbage.  Specifically, how do you keep devilishly clever and creative critters, with very nimble, hand-like paws, from getting into your garbage and spreading every disgusting, smelly, damp, coffee ground-covered item all over your driveway and yard that you then have to pick up and rebag in the morning?

We’ve had to up our game in the trash management department.  At first, we just put the lid on our trash can.  The raccoons saw this lame attempt and no doubt howled with derision, alerted every other raccoon in the area to join the party, promptly removed the lid, and spread the trash around with reckless abandon.  Then we locked the lid using handles.  The raccoons again chuckled at our ineptitude, knocked over the trash can to free up the trash again, and had a high time cavorting in the refuse.  Then we used a pulled-taut bungee cord to lock down the garbage can lid so tightly that it was difficult for even us to open it.  The raccoons paused briefly that night, perhaps briefly applauded our more meaningful attempt with their little paws, and then battered the garbage can around and rolled it across the driveway until the bungee cord was loosened and they could get at that delicious garbage once more.

Picking up gross garbage isn’t much fun.  The first time, you might ruefully acknowledge the raccoons’ ingenuity, but by clean-up attempt number four you’re cussing the sight and the smell and vowing to outsmart those little bastards at all costs.  So now we’ve moved the trash can, with full bungee cord and locking handle protection, behind the fencing under the deck and locked the gate.  This morning I went out with some trepidation to see whether the raccoons had figured out a way to access the trash, but — so far at least — the garbage is secure and the lawn shone with dewy pristineness.

I know those conniving creatures are out there somewhere, plotting their next move in this colossal chess match, with garbage as the ultimate prize.  Bring it, raccoons!  It’s on!

Garbage, Our Leading Economic Indicator

Amidst the durable goods orders, and factory output analyses and aging inventory evaluations that typically are the focus of the dismal science, there lurks an economic indicator that is highly accurate and smelly, too — garbage.

A study has concluded that, of the 21 categories of items shipped by rail, the one that has the highest correlation to Gross Domestic Product is garbage.  Trash has an 82 percent correlation to economic growth.  The correlation is logical, and obvious, because the more people produce and purchase, the more they throw out.  So, if you want to assess how the economy is doing, keep an eye on the volume of refuse collected by your friendly neighborhood garbagemen.

Unfortunately, the garbage indicator isn’t predicting good economic news — carloads of waste are way down.  We’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed that the decline no longer accurately predicts economic activity and instead reflects that our neighbors have finally gotten serious about recycling and composting and other trash-minimizing activities.

Reducing Our Garbage Footprint

Every Thursday, the houses in our neighborhood put their trash out by the curb for pick-up. When I walk the dogs on a Thursday morning, I’m always amazed by the cumulative output, from just one neighborhood in just one suburb of just one American city.

My goal therefore is to make sure that our house sets out the smallest amount possible.  I toss every bottle, aluminum can, milk jug, and other plastic item in their recycling bin.  I break down even the most sturdily constructed cardboard box and throw every stray scrap of paper — newspapers, brochures, mail-order catalogs, and junk mail included — into the paper recycling container.  I put food scraps into the garbage disposal and rake yard waste into the beds behind our shrubs.  I know these efforts are small, but the multiplication effect means that little efforts can have large consequences.

In any case, I feel better knowing that our garbage footprint is as small as possible.  Some years ago I had a case involving landfills that addressed how they are constructed and operated.  I learned how they are lined, and capped, and how leachate — great name for the fluid that inevitably seeps out of  crushed garbage, isn’t it? — is collected.  Landfills are carefully regulated and engineered, but the fact remains that they are permanent pockets of garbage buried across the landscape that will forever limit how those locations can be used.  I don’t want our little household to contribute unnecessarily to their proliferation.

The Penny Chronicles

My name is Penny.  I am mad today.

I like getting into the forbidden areas, because they have the most good stuff.  I figured out how to get into the best forbidden area of all.  Then I could pull out the trash can, look inside, and always — always! — find something to eat.  One time, there was a big part of pizza in there.  I’m not kidding!  That really happened!  Now that was a good day.

Then one day the trash can was gone and this thing was there.  I hate this thing!  I know the good stuff is in there, but I can’t get inside.  It is too slippery for my paw to pull out.  When I knock into it with my head I can’t open it.  I can still pull out the paper towels and boxes of trash bags from the forbidden area so other members of the pack can see how smart I am.  That’s fun, but getting at something to eat is what is really important.  And now I can’t, and it makes me mad.

I am hungry!

Man, Dogs, And Garbage

It is the eternal triangle.  Man creates garbage.  Dogs crave garbage.  Man tries to figure out how to keep dogs out of the damn garbage.

In this colossal, unending struggle of elemental natural forces, there are few clear-cut victories.  Once a dog figures out how to get into the trash, the lure of rooting around and potentially finding some marginally edible food is just too strong for the canine psyche to resist.

So it has been with Penny.  She’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but she pursues the prospect of chow with an awesome, single-minded intensity.  A few months ago she figured out that we kept the garbage in the cupboard under the sink.  She began scratching and nosing at the cupboard door until she established a kind of toehold that allowed her to open the door a crack and get her nose inside — and once that happened, all was lost.  The garbage can would be pulled out and knocked over and interesting contents removed.  Penny also discovered the fun of shredding paper towels.  We then discovered that there are few things more irritating than picking up damp wads of chewed paper towel remains covered with dog saliva.

We tried disciplining Penny.  (Yeah, right!)  We tried securing the cupboard doors, but that didn’t work, either.  So we broke down and bought a new garbage can, one of those old-fashioned aluminum types where you step on a lever and the top flips open — and that has done the trick.  Now Penny walks around with a hangdog expression.  Underneath that morose exterior, however, she is no doubt pondering, with steely determination, how to get back into the garbage.

Man 1, Dog 0 (for now).