Lotor Grows Up Fast

A strange noise woke the raccoons. Mother Raccoon peered out from their hollow in a tall elm tree. Then three smaller heads appeared beside hers. Below their tree a truck stopped, and two men got out and slammed the doors. The raccoons, frightened, ducked out of sight. But curiosity got the best of Lotor, one of the small raccoons, and he soon peeped out again.

Below him one man pointed at the tree and said, “This one will make good firewood.”

The two men brought an ax and a chain saw from the truck, and one of them began chopping a notch in the tree’s base.

For the raccoons to stay until the tree fell meant possible capture or even death. Mother Raccoon quietly urged her three youngsters out of their hollow and onto a tree branch. The limb of the tree overreached the branches of another tree, and Lotor scuttled over onto it.

The commotion of the rest of Lotor’s family on the branch caused the axman to quit chopping and to look up. “Coons!” he yelled.

The other man dashed to the truck and grabbed a rifle. There was a loud craaack, and Mother Raccoon fell to the ground. Lotor’s brothers scurried back to what they supposed was the safety of their home in the hollow of the tree.

Lotor scampered down the other tree and fled deeper into the woods. When he felt that he was out of danger, Lotor quit running and crawled under a bush.

Raccoons usually sleep during the day and forage at night, and Lotor was very tired. But he knew that he must find a new home. It was midafternoon before he found a high, hidden hollow in a tree much like his old one. The weary youngster clawed soft, rotted wood from the walls to make a “mattress” and lay down. After several plaintive whimpers for his lost family, he slept.

Lotor awoke shortly before sundown and descended the tree. He was hungry. Reaching a creek, he swam upstream. As he passed beneath a sweet gum tree, he heard a buzzing sound overhead. Remembering that his mother had once scooped honeycomb from a bee tree before the bees drove her away, up he went.

On the underside of a limb, halfway out, hung a nest. But there was no smell of honey. Lotor crawled out on the limb, then reached down and tapped the nest. The buzzing grew louder as several hornets flew out.

Lotor’s fur protected him against the hornet stings. However, his nose, eyes, and ears were exposed. When a hornet stung Lotor’s ear, he retreated rapidly, swatting as he went.

The little raccoon eventually found himself at the edge of the woods. By then a full moon lighted the sky. Beyond the woods was a pasture, and Lotor could see something tall growing in a field. He was about to go back into the woods when the breeze shifted. The smells of chickens, dogs, and man were all in the air. Another of the scents Lotor recognized was one he had smelled once on his mother’s fur when she had returned home with a couple of ears of corn in her mouth.

All was quiet, and Lotor was famished. He slipped under the pasture fence, ran through the pasture to the cornfield, hid among the cornstalks, and began to feast. Lotor was almost full when a new scent reached him. A fox was upwind!

Suddenly hens began squawking and dogs began barking. Lotor headed for the fencerow.

The hounds were baying now as they ran. And the fleeing fox was leading them toward the right, away from Lotor’s side of the cornfield. Nevertheless, the raccoon thought it wise to return to the forest. But before he got to the fence, the chase changed direction, and the baying hounds were headed toward the woods too.

Lotor and the fox reached the edge of the pasture at about the same time. The fox ran directly at Lotor, then swerved away and sped between him and the fence. Circling behind Lotor, it flashed toward the creek. Touching the bank, the speeding animal circled the hornets’ tree, came back to its trail where it had swerved to avoid Lotor, whirled, and retraced its flying steps back to the bank. Leaping far out into the creek, it headed upstream with its nose barely above water back toward the dogs!

Lotor understood. The dogs would find a trail that circled to nowhere, the creek would carry away the fox’s scent, and he, Lotor, was in the middle of that clever circle! He whirled toward the creek, but he was too late! The hounds saw Lotor and forgot about the fox. Lotor ran up the tree with the hornets’ nest.

The dogs leaped and snarled. Lotor sat quaking on the limb with the hornets’ nest. The only limb reaching close to another tree was the one on which he crouched. As he tried to ease past the hornets’ nest, he caused the limb to shake. A few hornets flew out of the nest, and one of them stung Lotor on his ear again! Angrily he slapped at the nest. It broke loose and fell between the two dogs, bursting open. The hornets swarmed over the hounds, and their baying became shrieks of agony as they fled.

Lotor descended, trotted to the creek, and swam across. On the other bank water flew in all directions as he shook himself dry. Then he ambled toward his new home. He was no longer a raccoon kit. In one adventure-packed day, he had grown up.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dick Brown