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MARTHA SEZ: ‘It is now illegal in Austria and Germany to keep only one raccoon’

It’s cherry season! My sister texted photographs of her 11-year-old grandson Charlie pitting cherries and making a cherry pie, complete with a lattice crust.

“Charlie has come up with a plan to become a chef so that he can make dinner for his future dates,” she explained. “He thinks burgers and fries–not too crispy–and classic desserts. William (Charlie’s twin) gives the kitchen a wide berth.”

I have been making cherry pies myself, with the help of friends, 8-year-old Abby and 4-year-old James, who pitted all of my tart cherries for me. They are excellent workers.

“I love to help,” James informed me. He also said “It’s hard work!”

I’d like to include my grandchildren, Emma and Jack, in the pie making, but they live in California, and the new coronavirus is keeping us apart, for who knows how long.

One Christmas I made my brother Bill a pie using canned cherries. I mailed it to him from Keene, New York, to Boulder, Colorado. He received it in 48 hours, in perfect condition. The scarf I mailed to my sister in Birmingham, Michigan, on the other hand, never arrived at her door until almost three weeks later.

“The universe loves Bill,” Sissy said darkly.

Cherries are perishable; you won’t find fresh ones in farm stands or grocery stores except when they are in season. Harvest begins in Southern California in late April, gradually moving north through Washington state, finally finishing in the higher elevations in late August.

At Northern Orchard in Peru, New York, the tart cherries start coming in around the middle of July, usually following the sweet cherries by a week or two. Tart cherries are the best for pie, but their season is short, especially during hot summers like this one.

The other day I noticed that the porch roof was covered with what looked like little hand prints, dozens, maybe hundreds, of them. Raccoons.

I wasn’t too surprised. I knew that a mother raccoon and her five kits had a den underneath the deck downstairs. I supposed it was only a matter of time until they began to use my cat Jupiter’s staircase, the old apple tree, to get to the kitchen window.

When I researched raccoon behavior (“researched” sounds so much better than “Googled”) I learned that in 1908 H. B. Davis, an animal behavior scientist, learned from a study that raccoons were able to open 11 of 13 complex locks in fewer than 10 tries, even when the locks were rearranged or turned upside down. Raccoons, he concluded, were equal to rhesus macaques in their ability to understand the abstract principles of the locking mechanisms.

Zoologist Sam Zeveloff, author of “Raccoons: A Natural History,” wrote that the raccoon population has surged over the last 80 years. They are well-suited to life in the suburbs, and even urban life. They are extremely nimble and dexterous, and can easily enter and exit homes through cat doors.

Native to North America, raccoons now inhabit North and Central America, Europe and Japan. Toronto has earned the title of Raccoon Capital of the World. They were brought to Germany and Russia for their fur. It is now illegal in Austria and Germany to keep only one raccoon. Raccoon owners must keep at least two individuals to prevent loneliness.

The idea of these dexterous and nimble creatures shuttling up and down the apple tree to check out my kitchen is somewhat disturbing.

When my sister and I were teen-agers, our bedroom window opened onto a porch roof, and a raccoon we called Chrissie used to visit occasionally. We looked forward to these visits, and put out food for her without the least trepidation. There were raccoons in the attic of our big old house sometimes, too, but no one but the family dog seemed alarmed by this, and apparently they didn’t do any harm.

On the other hand, my cousin Melinda was besieged by raccoons in her Ann Arbor home. They made holes in her roof, invaded her pantry and ate the cookies in her cupboard. Melinda live-trapped and relocated a good many raccoons before she finally admitted defeat and moved to an apartment building across town.

Jupiter must be familiar with the nocturnal goings-on of all the wildlife in the vicinity, and I wish he could tell me about them. Meanwhile, I have to keep that kitchen window closed at night. I don’t want the raccoons helping themselves to my cherry pies.

Have a good week.