In the relative sameness of San Diego seasons, it's not always easy to know when the seasons are changing. There are some hints that Old Man Winter is giving way to spring like the whir of hummingbird wings zooming by and, to my three year old son's great delight, the return of lizards sunning themselves on the rocks near our street. But the hummingbirds' appearances, like the lizards', are predicated on environmental factors of the San Diego winter - like how much rainfall did we get and how many warm spells did we have to confuse the spring flowers into blooming early? For example, I had daffodil bulbs springing up right around Christmas. And, as my son will tell you, lizards need warm sunny days to come out - and spring doesn't necessarily mean bright sunshine every day.
But in my house there is one surefire way to know that spring has arrived. It's not the calendar on the 21st of March announcing the spring equinox, and it's certainly not because the bulbs are finally poking up through the dirt, nor because of the quality of light coming from the position of the sun in the sky ... no, the tell-tale sign of spring happens in my house usually around 2 AM some dark morning. On that day (this year that day happened to be exactly two days ago) I am awakened from a deep sleep by the sound of my two dogs clattering their way down the stairs, down the hall, through the dog door to the side yard. This sound is followed by the sound of branches breaking, two eighty pound dogs crashing into a wooden fence, and then their crazed barking. Spring in my household arrives in the form of the raccoon family that makes its annual pilgrimage to the space between our fence and our neighbor's wall to raise their babies and it means that on any given night I may be awakened two or three times as my wonderful dogs protect their turf from these striped invaders.
I had heard that the raccoons were back from several of my neighbors but I had yet to see them. My elderly South African neighbors to the south told me that they had seen the raccoons "fornicating" one evening while they (the neighbors) were doing their "exercises" (I just left it at that). Apparently raccoons achieve a "tie" the way that dogs do as these raccoons had tumbled off of our neighbors patio onto the garden below, still connected to one another. Another neighbor (one with a now empty fish pond) had reported them walking along her wall and a third neighbor had asked me to send my dogs over to scare away the raccoons from his backyard. But the nocturnal pests hadn't ventured into my yard until two nights ago.
This ritual of spring - the clamboring of dog nails on stone and hardwood floors, the barking, the mad scramble of rodent back over the fence to the safety of the wall behind, the lunging at the fence, and the occassional screech and scream of the retreating rodent - lasts for well over a month. The mother gives birth and raises her young and they live there, behind our fence, until the young are old enough to head out of our neighborhood and back to the canyons whence they
came. My Lab, Levi, takes to sleeping outside during this time while our lazier and less vigilant Ridgeback, Kobe, remains inside on his soft bed, covered with a blanket, but he keeps an ear half cocked - ready to leap up "Woo Woo Wooing" and charge outside at the first crack of branches along our fence.
For our household, it doesn't matter what the calendar says - it's the return of the raccoons (and a few extra bags under our eyes from being regularly awakened by this springtime ritual) that says "Spring" to us.