Wily Wildlife: How Daniel Boone Got His First Coonskin Cap

Somehow it’s become entrenched in American cultural mythology that if life deals you a savage blow, you simply have to move to the mountains and your girlfriend comes back and your dog gets more handsome. The fact of the matter is that life above 9,000 feet in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains isn’t always that elegant. Take the other night, for instance.

At 3 a.m., my wife shook me awake to announce, “There, I heard it again!” Now sleep could have still been salvaged at this point if only she hadn’t followed it up with those fatal, spine-chilling words, “Go do something!”

“Go do something” is a phrase that, spoken between spouses, has to be the bread and butter of half the world’s marital counselors. Behind every good man, there’s a woman with a cattle prod, urging him to get out of a cozy bed to either conquer the world or go downstairs and see if he can scare away whatever was making such a ruckus in the middle of the night.

Some things that lurk in the forest will bite without the slightest hint of remorse.

“I didn’t hear anything,” I said, trying to jam my fists through the pillows stuffed in my ears.

“Of course you didn’t. I could barely hear it over your snoring. It came from outside.”

Outside is not my favorite place after dark. Some things that lurk in the forest will bite you without the slightest hint of remorse, so I try logic. “But it’s three o’clock in the morning. Why can’t the neighbor go see what it is?”

Men, in the end, know that resistance is futile and even in the dark I can feel her eyes narrowing dangerously. I know with certainty that I’ll be better off facing the Dark Lord of the Mysterious Noise than arguing with the devil I do know. So I gird my loins, slip on my slippers and grab the iron off the ironing board, not as a weapon but, if it is a burglar, I might be able to argue that I’m just one of the domestics finishing up a grueling day in the laundry.

My foot just hit the last stair when I remembered that I had not brought in the bird feeders. Every time I leave them out some stupid bear starts smacking them around like a punching bag trying to spill out a nourishing snack of sunflower seeds that I’ve set out for the wild pigeons. Ten years ago, I took pity on, and started feeding, one lonely pigeon and today they darken the sky over our house, hammering on the windows for more porridge. People from lower elevations imagine life in the mountains to be a year-round picnic without the ants. Ha!

So, there I am at 3 a.m. wandering around the back yard, dressed in my protective animal suit, which consists of thin cotton jammy bottoms, spastically waving a flashlight around the forest like a crack-addict in search of a bear, and all because I have been told to “Go do something.” I suppose it’s a good thing I wasn’t told to go lie down in traffic and be stupid.

Now I’m nervously standing underneath the feeders that I have hung from a wire between two trees on the mistaken theory that if I can just barely reach them on tiptoe, a bear cannot. I finally quit whirling around like a lawn sprinkler and look down at the ground at a mound of spilled sunflower seeds. Then I look up at the feeder. What the. . . YEOW! THERE’S A BEAR IN THE TREE RIGHT ABOVE ME AND HE’S STARING AT ME AND IT’S NOT A HAPPY STARE.

Remember the birdfeeders, or beware of stupid bears.

Well, wait now, those eyes are awfully close together. It must be a tiny bear. Huh? It’s not a bear at all. It’s a raccoon. It’s a scowling raccoon that also doesn’t look very glad to see me. In fact, it looks like he’s getting ready to jump. He’s six feet above my head. I pause to wonder briefly if this is how Daniel Boone got his first coonskin cap.

Suddenly that seems like a totally superfluous thought, quickly forced out of my mind by the more pressing thought that THERE’S A RACCOON ABOUT TO JUMP ON MY HEAD! I shriek, the dogs start yelping furiously and lights start popping on all over the neighborhood.

I leap for safety just as the raccoon leaps for my head. We miss each other by inches, passing narrowly like two ships in the night. In two superhuman bounds, I’m inside the door. In two super-raccoon bounds, he’s deep in the forest. The dogs thunder down the stairs in full bay now that the back door is closed and the danger is safely outside.

Or is it? My wife is standing at the top of the stairs, hands on hips, scowl on lips, “It’s a custom among MY PEOPLE to sleep at night,” she shouts loudly, trying to be heard over the hounds. “YOU PEOPLE should try it sometime.”

Oh, if only it were that simple.

Jon de Vos, who lives near Fraser, took a one-month job at a ski lodge in Hideaway Park (now Winter Park), after graduating from Arizona State University in 1973. He intended to head for law school in the fall semester. That was 33 years ago. “Colorado saved my life,” he says.