Hansen: Wild animals and fantasies: same difference

It's getting late and you're wrapping up chores before bed. Half asleep, you walk out back to throw the garbage away when you are face-to-face with Rocky Raccoon, sitting on your garbage can, eating a persimmon.

"What?" he says, wiping the juice off his chin.

Suddenly, you are very awake.

"Geez … you scared me," you say, stepping back, heart pumping.

"Just go ahead and leave that," Rocky says. "I'll go through it."

That's essentially what happened to me on Monday night, more or less.

The difference is that I called out to my youngest son: "Cole, come out and look at the raccoon!"

Cole, 12, arrived in PJs, holding a flashlight.

We all stood staring. Rocky continued eating the persimmon. I felt like getting him a napkin.

"Can I pet him?" Cole asked.

"No, you can't pet him! He's a raccoon. He could bite you."

"Does he have rabies?"

"I don't know," I said. "That's what they say."

"He looks cool," Cole said. "Kind of like a mix between a big cat and a rat."

Rocky finished his persimmon, got bored and trudged off.

Animals in Laguna Beach are not news, but they are always startling. What's interesting — and a little funny to me — is how they immediately command your attention.

It's as if we have inculcated our lives with pavement, Starbucks, books and irony. We have shielded ourselves with a dome of invincibility. There is simply no need for animals.

For Cole, it was like "Ratatouille" -- some talking, anthropomorphic rodent that he could invite inside.

Who does that? Is there some assumption now that if an animal is urban, it is somehow more tame? Is it a fundamental lack of appreciation for what is wild? Have we completely forgotten that we were once dessert for saber-toothed cats?

Unfortunately, mountain bikers in Whiting Ranch know how wild mountain lions can be.

Pet owners near the Top of the World know to keep their Yorkies inside because coyotes will take them.

Anyone who has walked local trails in the heat of summer and almost stepped on a diamondback rattlesnake knows about wild.

And yet we still fall back to the smug comfort that we are the master of the universe.

Mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, deer, raccoons, opossums, skunks, weasels and all forms of reptiles completely occupy their own habitat. We, however, are oblivious to ours.

The big cat — by far the most dangerous — is not seen in Laguna very often. Bikers say they see mountain lions in the area on occasion, but officially, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife says there hasn't been a documented sighting for about 10 years.

Several residents disagree, saying there were some last year in El Moro Canyon and nearby locations. Either way, it would not be particularly surprising.

The point is, as always, do what the experts tell you to do: make big and make noise.

Don't do what city people do: Try to get closer and take a picture for Instagram.

Laguna Beach has a lot of wildlife tips on its website. The one I like the most is when you find that some animal has taken up residence in your house, such as the attic or crawl space, you are supposed to "place a radio near the den entrance and play music loudly during the day."

Somehow, in Laguna, I'm thinking the animals probably enjoy the music. It's an artistic town, after all.

Plus, here the raccoons talk and boys still believe in fantasy.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at davidhansen@yahoo.com.

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