Another creature of the night that caused a few surprises was the raccoon. Although usually content with hanging around just out of sight, ready to go for the garbage once the lights went out, raccoons have caused some stunning encounters, due almost entirely to bad timing.
One snuck up on Danny while he was demonstrating how he could catch a catfish with his home made spear (read: pointy stick) until it was only a foot away from him. I casually mentioned, "Dan, there's a raccoon right behind you.” This was the last casual thing for quite a while, as Danny suddenly became Samurai Fisherman, and the masked mammal dove for the swamp amidst the screaming and swinging.
In my mother’s youth, her Uncle Ackie used to trap raccoons occasionally, and then keep them in a cage at the camp for a brief and observation filled couple of days, before releasing them. One night he not only caught a raccoon in the trap, but also a skunk.
Well, the only thing less pleased than the skunk was his new roommate, as the raccoon with impressively poor timing was sprayed continuously the entire evening, leaving only enough breathable air in the whole campsite for two sparrows and a cricket. They did try to keep the raccoon after releasing the skunk, but my Aunt and Grandmother seemed to think not being nauseous was more important than studying nature, so Stinky had to go.
During my youth, an entire family of the little bandits once decided to attack the owner's dog at the precise moment that an unseen aerosol can blew up in her campfire yielding an impressive fireball which added greatly to the animal and human screams which had been occurring.
This created a combined sound like an operating blender full of weasels being dropped into the middle of the Battle of Gettysburg, bringing everyone running to add to the general (if mostly normal) levels of confusion.
While occasionally startling, the wild raccoons never generated as much fear as some domestic furry friends.
By far the most feared four legged animal Up the Lake was a dog, but not all dogs. Due to our frequent walks to the Three Mile Stand at the end of the dirt road (about three miles away for those of you not mathematically inclined) we knew all the dogs in the area.
From Chico, the Chihuahua in his cute little house with his name on it, to the two, big, furry, indistinguishable sheepdogs, we'd met and pet them all. Most were very friendly, in fact Red, an Irish Setter who would usually accompany us on part of the journey, was a little too friendly.
One night, as a bunch of us guys were conducting a complex, covert, clandestine, spying mission on the girls on the beach, Red showed up out of nowhere, and "introduced" himself to one of our crawling soldiers. Sadly, the mission had to be aborted, as the sounds of someone being molested by a canine companion, and then swatting at said companion while loudly (and accurately) defining its ancestry, tend to carry on the crisp cool evening Lake air.
While this was terrifying for the victim (and pretty dang hysterical to the rest of us), other dogs inspired true fear in everyone.
On one trip to the stand, a Doberman roughly the size of a Budweiser Clydesdale came charging down a yard at us, barking and baring far more teeth than any creature should legally own. As the monster grew closer, the three of us tried to solve the topological dilemma of how we could all hide behind each other simultaneously. Fortunately, a voice from the house (or more likely a person in the house) cried out, "Cindy!"
Cindy stopped so fast, that her back legs passed her front in a clumsy little ballet move, and then trotted back home, leaving us to restart our hearts, and pray we brought extra underwear that week.
Beastly though Cindy way, she was no match for the most horrifying dog of all in the history of Up the Lake: Flash.
Flash lived across from our entry gate, and was a monstrous, jet black, hound of hell. As he would come ravenously baying down his driveway, stunned campers would dive into the little wooden building, used as a phone booth, and patiently wait until he had finished asserting his dominance before even peering out.
One day he trapped upwards of seven hundred and fifty of us in there.
His reign of terror came to an abrupt and anticlimactic end, however. On this terrifying occasion, the black beast from the pit came tearing out of his driveway between Nick, and the phone booth. The dog was in a full charge at Nick when, either by instinct or sheer blind luck (the element that kept most of us alive up there) Nick pointed behind Flash and commanded, "GO HOME!" in a loud, if unconvinced, voice.
Flash, much to everyone's surprise (especially Nick) turned around and walked quietly home, hanging his previously feared head. Once Flash's Kryptonite -to mix super heroic metaphors- was found, he became much less of a threat.
While not nearly as dangerous as the dogs, this last animal encounter is so far beyond strange…
So far beyond bizarre…
That it can only be classified as "Up the Lake.”
A little ways down the dirt road from our gate was a farm. For many years, there were horses there, which the campers would walk over to, and feed crab apples and such.
Big thrill, eh?
During my childhood, the horses left without a good bye or even a forwarding address and were replaced by sheep. It was to this farm that the newly teenaged Nick and I walked on that fateful day, along with two girls who shall not be named to protect
the innocent guilty but highly embarrassed. When we reached the farm's gate (the rest is
behind a rock wall), there was the one, lone goat
Hi-Yo Billy ... never mind.
We started feeding it some of the ivy leaves from nearby, which it ate, mostly because, it was a goat.
At this point the girls, who were older than us and should have "known better" based on later parental review, decided that because the goat was devouring so many leaves he must be starving to death. To save this poor little animal's life, they decided to open the gate and let it get to the ivy.
Honestly, I thought little lambs eat ivy, according to an old nursery rhyme about goats and oats that never made much sense.
At this point, Nick and I decided we wanted no part of this lesson in animal husbandry, and went to sit at the side of the road up against the rock wall and pretend we were elsewhere. While the goat was cheerfully eating every leaf between Bangor and Tallahassee, one of the ladies asked, "Can't you milk a goat?" and was convincingly assured by the other that this was so.
As Nick and I stared at each other in horror with the realization of "One goat, many sheep,” she reached underneath the soon to be very surprised animal, grabbed what would have been an udder in a much kinder and gentler world, and squeezed.
The suddenly highly uncomfortable male goat made a powerful, loud, and agonizing noise.
A noise most likely very similar to one I would make under those circumstances.
Then he kicked sharply at his new arch enemy, which knocked her over.
At that point, since common sense wasn't brought to begin with, total abject panic took over, and we ran away in a cacophony of screaming children and bleating livestock.
Unfortunately for us, the farmer saw us run and recognized where we were from.
Unfortunately for the farmer, the gate was still open.
Finally, unfortunately for several passing commuters, thirty sheep got out and wandered the small dirt road, blocking traffic until they helped the farmer lead the sheep home.
So with all the dangerous animal encounters up there, it was one stupid goat that got us into the most trouble, including much yelling, an apology letter, and general, soiled feeling.
The farm has long since lost ifs farmitude, becoming a studio for a modern sculptor. With no other information, we always remind the kids to take a moment of silence at the Injured Goat Memorial.