Experiencing a different kind of nightlife

Summer reporter
Stephanie Hagenaars

Hailing from a big city, about 18 hours west, I seldom have to deal with wildlife beyond birds and squirrels (except for the bobcat that one time, but that’s a whole other thing).
Over the course of my time here, I’ve often been asked how I even heard of this quaint little town, and why I decided to come out here.
I will take this moment to explain.
As a journalism student at Mount Royal University in Calgary, entering my third year of studies, it is a requirement that I take an internship position before graduation.
Companies and newsrooms from all over Canada submit summer positions to the career services centre at MRU, where us students will then peruse the opportunities and apply for those of interest.
Fort Frances definitely sounded interesting, and the opportunity to work at a paper that still printed their own product was too good to pass up. Two weeks after a short phone interview with publisher Jim Cumming, I was headed down the Trans Canada Highway to the town I would call home for the summer months.
New town. New adventures. New experiences.
About a month after moving to the border town, I found a wonderful little house to rent. It was a block from the river, and away from the train, and also had some pretty good neighbours who brought me cupcakes as a welcome gift, fed me soup and blueberry beer when I was sick and helped me with small repairs around the house.
The gentleman next door also likes to ensure the various wildlife in the area (mainly squirrels and birds) were properly fed, leaving nuts and other snacks in the backyard for them to feast.
Throughout his routine of filling the feeders and yard work, he said he’s noticed a raccoon or two hanging out around the shed in the backyard of my temporary home.
That should’ve been my first clue.
My many years of school have turned me into a bit of a night owl. I go to bed late and wake up early–somewhat of a routine I have become accustomed to.
But, when I want to go to sleep, I want to go to sleep. And I’m a light sleeper, which makes the much-wanted sleep that much harder to obtain at times.
After a couple weeks in the new home, I was woken up at one o’clock in the morning (on a work night) to the sound of banging.
The house does not have central air, so the window was open. The sound was coming from the backyard.
I hear banging on the deck, some scratching, and then what sounded like someone trying to open the back door.
Well, I shoot up and out of bed and stand in the middle of the bedroom, trying to figure out what on earth is going on. I look out the window, but, duh, it’s night–can’t see anything.
So, in my sleep deprived state, I go to the kitchen and grab the broom. Yes, the broom.
Broom in hand, I make my way to the back door at the end of the laundry room and push aside the curtain to look out of the window–again, nighttime, can’t see. I turn on the back light (or what I thought was the switch for the back light) and nothing happens.
Well, I figure I’m just going to have to open the door and see for myself.
Slowly, I grab the door handle–broom tightly held by my side–twist, and forcefully open the door.
And that’s when I see them.
Two raccoons. Two raccoons are trying to break into my house.
One of them is sitting in the middle of the small back deck–most likely the lookout. The other, not even half a foot away, is in the middle of climbing up the door, its little paws wrapped around each end of the door frame.
I think it was just as scared as I was.
Here I am, at 1 a.m., in my pyjamas, broom in one hand, holding the door open in the other, staring into the eyes of a raccoon who looks like it just got caught stealing cookies from the jar.
So, I think to myself: “I can’t slam the door, I’ll be responsible for breaking its little fingers. But, I’m also not looking for a new pet.”
I softly close the door.
Backing away, I make it to the inside glass door, walk through and close it in front of me.
By this point, I’m so hopped up on adrenaline, I feel like I could run around the block a few times after fighting a bear.
After an hour or so of cartoons, I’ve calmed down. But, before heading back to bed, I grab the broom and head over to the back door.
I’ve remembered now that my cell phone has a flashlight feature. I turn it on, point it out the door window–no raccoons.
I wasn’t sure if they’d be back, but I had a feeling they were equally as surprised about what had happened. I go back to bed.
A few weeks go by, and no more nighttime visitors.
Morning of “Passport to Pride,” I rush out of the house, afraid I’m already late, to find garbage everywhere (and it was well over 30 degrees).
Sigh. The raccoons.
I frantically clean up the mess, dump everything into a second bag, and move the can to a different location, murmuring to myself about my pesky night-life neighbours.
Fast-forward a couple more weeks.
Watching TV on the couch, probably around 10:30 p.m., and I hear a huge bang just outside the front door. First thinking it has something to do with my car, I jump up and turn on the front light.
A raccoon. Wait–the raccoon!
I know its eyes.
In an effort to keep them out of the garbage, I had put the container on the front porch, possibly thinking that if it’s closer to the house they won’t bother. Fail.
I knock on the door from the inside and the raccoon, who’s eating what I’m pretty sure was chicken from a couple nights before, just looks at me and carries on. Great.
I go to the kitchen for my trusty broom, head back to the front door and, again, forcefully swing open the door. I managed to freak it out a little, but it just picks up its chicken, makes its way down the stairs, and down the street.
This happened again a few days later. I ended up using the recycling box as a makeshift lid and it seems to be working out.
My daytime duties as summer reporter here, and my late night friends have kept me busy, but, it all comes together to create the summer experience I’ve had in Fort Frances.
I’ve photographed graduations, summer camps, pow-wows and community fun, and have written stories about health concerns, personal or group achievements, community improvements and the provincial election, all while meeting friendly people and creating new relationships.
The staff here at the Times has been patient, accommodating and welcoming, especially as I learn the town lingo and give funny looks when someone mentions the “four-lanner.”
And I thank the editorial staff for not only putting up with me and helping me out, but also for the weird conversations and keeping me laughing.
I don’t know where I’ll end up next. But I do know the experience I have gained here is invaluable and will go with me wherever that may be.