I love spring as much as anyone else. It's only in the past three years that it has tended to bring with it a touch of nerves - really only since I've learned about the raccoons. It is difficult to believe that, on my average-size lot, in the middle of this good-size town, I harbor them. Yet all signs point that way, and the fact that my neighbor often reminds me of them adds to my seasonal tremors.
I owe my knowledge of these invisible tenants to the man who trims the huge oaks on this lot. I asked if he would look at the oak on the alley, because sap was oozing from two places on the trunk and the insecticide I'd used to spray the spots wasn't helping.
He said insects weren't to blame, that the tree was ailing and likely hollow. Finally, seventy feet up, he located a limb with a large hole. ''Wouldn't be surprised if you had raccoons. That's a good den tree, because it has no hole at the base. They don't like 'chimney trees,' because fire can roar up 'em.''
I showed the hole to my neighbor and then wished I hadn't when he said, ''So that's where my sweet corn has been going!'' I felt guilty, sheltering thieves, and felt sorry for my neighbor, whose garden is his pride. He asked whether the tree might come down. I asked for an estimate and the tree man said, ''Around $1 ,200.'' The raccoons are still lodging in their expensive condominium.
I recalled long ago seeing three fat little baby raccoons waddling across the backyard in an entrancing row. I assumed they had come down the alley, but last summer, as I swung the car into the drive one night, I saw another strolling nonchalantly. Indeed, I had to step on the brake, since he refused to change pace. ''This hefty creature may be the culprit breaking the top of my birdbath.'' I'd been blaming the squirrels, even though I'd often seen them leap up and drink without tipping it. Now I keep a large pan of water at the base of the tree - perhaps it will protect the new top on the birdbath.
Last year my neighbor enclosed his sweet corn with a wire fence. It keeps out the rabbits, but has proved no deterrent to raccoons. He tried taking the children's dime-store snakes and placing them in the paths, around the bases of the corn, moving them from time to time. He tried mothballs and he tried spraying the stalks with a deer repellent, hoping the bitter compound would pucker the raccoons up and turn them away.
He placed food at the base of the tree, thinking to satisfy their appetites, thus leaving the garden untouched. It didn't work. They ate the food and then went on to the garbage cans, saving the sweet corn for dessert.
When I showed him an article which advised that rags soaked daily in kerosene would keep raccoons out of corn, or that several flat pans of oil would stop them, he shook his head. ''Raccoons are just too bright to be outwitted.'' It is litle wonder that garden-planting time leaves us discouraged.
This year my neighbor has announced he is no longer going to plant sweet corn; his wife is enlarging her flower garden instead.
He has, however, made one small request: he wishes I would stop my subscription to Nature's Wild Onesm magazine. He says I do not need any more suggestions as to how to attract and protect wildlife.