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  • Katherine Sirvio

Don't Feed the Animals

It was quite some time ago, Andy and I were young and took our vacations via motorcycle and camping. I have some of the best memories from those penny pinching vacations. We used to ride a lot. Andy had, and perhaps still has, a goal to ride his motorcycle in or to all of the continental United States. I remember one trip we rode two up, long before I said enough of that and got my own bike, all the way to New Mexico. We had the best tacos at Freddy's in Taos and loved the ambiance. The ceiling was covered in a mural with the battle between heaven and hell. One side of the restaurant walls were covered in crosses of all types, shapes and sizes. The other side of the restaurant was all different depictions of the devil. It was so interesting and hip. But I digress again...​​

So, on this particular trip, we headed south to visit the Mammoth Cave National Park among other destinations that are never known at the start of a trip. But it was there in Kentucky that we found ourselves in the damp caverns that stretch over 400 miles underground. It was a magnificent sight to see with so many different types of rock formations created over the years. But lets go back and start at the beginning of the story. We arrived later in the day and found the people come to visit the park by the bus load and it is a hustling, bustling tourist destination. So we stayed fairly close to the park as we wanted to get an early start and beat as much of the crowds as we could the next day. It was a sponsored camp ground by the National Park and it had power hook ups for the big Winnebago's, and smaller camp sites with a picnic table and a fire pit for the 'tenters'. The ladder is where we were headed.

When we reached the entrance, the park ranger took our camping fee and stressed to us 'do not feed the animals, do not leave any food out'! 'We are having quite a problem with raccoons'. My antennae went straight up. Being an animal lover, all I wanted to do was see the raccoons and any other animal that may come around in the quiet dusk evening that was sure to ensue. So we slowly scoured the camp ground and selected the most pristine looking site, furthest away from the central cabin site where they sold fire wood. The back side of our selected camp site butted up to the forest beyond and would allow us first access to see any animals that may stray from home into the campground.

We unpacked the bike, we were younger and hence in better shape and smaller than we are now. But still, we must have been quite a site - two up on a motorcycle with two sleeping bags, two Slumberjack mats to lay the sleeping bags on, a tent, two saddle bags, two duffel bags, and a smattering of other oddities all secured with a snarled mess of bungee cords to the back of the bike. So, unpacking takes some time, as does setting up the tent. But we made short work of that and hopped back on the bike to head into town for some dinner.

When camping, you tend to wake up at the crack of dawn and then go to sleep shortly after dusk - unless of course you are participating in the events of a camp fire with friends. But for this particular trip, we were solo and tended to go to bed early. We also wanted to be the first to arrive at the caves. So I am sure dinner was some type of expensive, gourmet treat that would send our taste buds into a tizzy of delight - a grilled cheese and soup at the local diner or the homemade meatloaf sandwich with a side of fries. (I almost had you there, right? - gourmet - too funny. ) But as stated, we were young and had no money, or apparently not too much common sense either, because the next thing you knew, I had talked Andy into going to the market and getting some marshmallows.

We arrived back at the camp grounds while it was still daylight, but the weight of the sun was heavy in the sky and falling quickly. I was so excited, I could have peed my pants. We were going to eat a couple of the marshmallows and then set the bag out on the picnic table so that I could watch the raccoons come and nibble on a marshmallow or two. I knew we would have to be very quiet in the tent so that if one came around we wouldn't spook him off. I was concerned though, what happens if I fall asleep before they come? I may not hear them. I decided to put a single marshmallow on the picnic table as 'bait' and then place the bag of marshmallows in a plastic bag and the plastic bag in a paper bag. That way I would be sure to hear the subtle crumpling of the bag as the little guy came to get a second marshmallow. We were all set.

The adjacent campers were close to us, perhaps about 30' away. They were a young couple too, but younger than us. It almost seemed that this may be their first time camping, maybe even their first vacation ever. They reminded me of the kids you would see working in a fast food joint, with barely two nickels to rub together, as the saying goes.

Dusk came and darkness was upon us from the cover of the trees and we made our way into the tent. We had changed into sweatpants and t-shirts and had barely nestled into the sleeping bags when we heard the first rustle of the bag. I couldn't believe it, my plan had worked. But from that point forward, everything happened so fast - it is almost a blur.

I reached for the flashlight that we hung from the center point of the tent on an 'S' hook. I don't think I even had my hand on it, when the noise grew to a loud and rapid roar - I was now officially scared. What was out there? What was eating the marshmallows, certainly it was not the innocent raccoons that I was waiting for. Oh no, there were many of them. The fighting began, screeching and growling like nothing I had heard before. It sounded like Tasmanian Devils spinning out of control from the Bugs Bunny cartoons we used to watch as children on Saturday mornings. I was hiding in my sleeping bag now and Andy said 'come on, don't you want to watch the cute little animals eat the marshmallows?' Then there was a scream, a shriek, definitely human, I think it was from the kids in the tent next door. It sounded like the bag of marshmallows, that I was almost concerned the raccoons wouldn't be able to open, was now in their camp and the fight of these beastly animals continued. Those poor kids, I don't think I told them my plan, they didn't have any idea that I completely disobeyed the Park Ranger and left food out for the animals.

I could lie, say I completely forgot the marshmallows on the picnic table. No one would ever have to know, except for Andy - who had warned me that this was not a good idea. I thought it was brilliant, until that moment when these creatures started tearing apart the tent next door - at least that is how it sounded. Oh, I feared that they would come back our way...'please don't come to our tent' I chanted in my head. They sounded so close, I just waited for a claw or fang to puncture the rain flap on the tent. That is the last thing I remember before drifting off to sleep.

Dawn came fast and we emerged from the tent to see the scraps of paper and plastic bags strewn around the camp site. 'Did you guys see those raccoons fight last night?' the kids next door asked. 'We were terrified.' The raccoons rolled over to their tent like in a bar room brawl that only the movies could produce. They rolled right into the side of the kids tent. However all was well and none was injured. Andy asked if I learned my lesson. I am sure I answered yes, but we all know, deep down inside, I still may feed the animals.

A photograph from Google of the Mammoth Caves in Kentucky and Andy in the foot hills nearby.


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