May 6th – “You’ll be right in the center of all the action today, so get ready for excitement.”

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I had been waiting for my strawberries all spring to ripen before picking. The first round was eaten by slugs and beetles. After I got rid of the slugs and beetles (by slaughtering them in a bucket of soap water), I thought my strawberries were safe. I was wrong.

The next week, there were seven almost ripened strawberries. I said to myself, “Tomorrow they will be ready!” That was the last I saw of them.

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In the morning, I brought my metal colander with me to the garden to collect the strawberries. There were none.

All the ripened strawberries I eyed the day before were gone. Whoever ate them had a good nose and could smell which ones were perfect for picking. The only thing the culprit left behind was a dug up plant, leaving all its roots helpless and exposed.

There was no reason for it to uproot the plant. It served no purpose. I think it was leaving me a message, telling me, “You better have more for me next time, OR ELSE!”

Since my thief was a very capable and competent opponent, I threw a net over the strawberries and held it down with a row of potted date and olive plants. I had the net from last year to deter the birds from getting my berries. There, I thought. Let’s see what you do now!

It struck again that night. There was only one ripe strawberry available and it took it. It knocked over one of the potted plants to get to it. I could tell it wasn’t satisfied with the offering, because I found another dug up plant.

There wouldn’t be many ripe strawberries for a while, so I thought I would be left alone for a while. I was wrong, again.

I had forgotten all about my mystery strawberry thief because it had been several weeks since the last strawberry incident. It was 3 a.m. when I heard the first knock at the cat door.

It was a gentle knock, not loud. When we had 3 cats in the house, I could tell which one was coming and going by the sound of the cat door. Mr. Ox was loud and clumsy, making a “BANG” when he went in and out.  The Bowie was hesitant, but quiet, and the door would rock back and forth a few times before she exited, making a “tick, tick…tick, tick” noise. Little Rooks was the swiftest. He had been using the cat door for years and came in with just one, “tick.” The Bowie and Mr. Ox passed away this last year, so it’s just Little Rooks now.

At first, I thought it was Little Rooks because the door didn’t make much noise. The motion was gentle, but whoever was there didn’t make it in on the first try. It knocked on the door quietly again and got in. I could hear its claws on the hardwood floor and saw a dark cat-like figure walking through my bedroom. I sensed something was off.

My partner was doing his very early morning meditation in the living room and Little Rooks had taken his spot on the bed next to me. I was too sleepy to get up right away, so I reached into the darkness to the other side of the bed to see if could feel a lump of feline fur. It was there.

Slightly surprised, I sat up to see if I was mistaken. Little Rooks looked at me with bright confused eyes, wondering why I woke him up and what the big deal was.

I jumped out of bed, almost giddy, because I thought it was either Reggie or T.S. Eliot, two neighborhood cats I was forever trying to invite into our house without incurring the wrath of Little Rooks.

I walked into the living room where our surprise guest was searching for the kitchen. I still couldn’t make out who it was, and called out a little too loudly to my partner, “There’s someone here,” causing our mystery creature to scurry wildly into the bathroom.

I turned on the hallway light to get a better look. It didn’t wait and darted back into the bedroom, then out the cat door as I pursued.

Our bedroom has a sliding glass door. From there, I could clearly see who was sneaking up on us at 3 a.m. in the morning. It stayed right outside the cat door for a few seconds, waiting to see what my next move was. I had never seen this animal before, but I knew it was our strawberry thief. It was surprised that it got caught, but had not given up its mission to forage for food in our kitchen just yet. I could tell by the look in its eyes.

I screamed excitedly to my partner in the other room, “It’s a RACCOON! It’s a RACCOON! He’s still here! He’s right outside!” Two seconds later, my partner appeared in the bedroom with a long stick and plans to bop the creature on the nose, but the raccoon was gone.

By the time I got back to sleep, the sun was already up. I gave in and started my day. I went outside to check on the strawberries, and to my surprise, they were still there. No uprooted plants. I don’t know what its next move will be, but I will be waiting.

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