Oysters at Low Tide: A Deadly Buffet for Raccoons
Published in the Atlanta Constitution in March on 1889, poet and writer Montgomery M. Folsom filed a report titled "Gathering Oysters: A Night on the Waves with the Fishermen of Brunswick." It's one of the few descriptive works about pre-1950s oystering in Georgia that I've been able to find. Folsom focuses on the songs that African-American fishermen sing as they go about their work, using a poet's thesaurus in his work. But there's a strange section in the middle of the story devoted to the fate of a raccoon Folsom must have encountered while traveling with the fisherman.
I've blogged before about the relationship between cluster oyster in the South and raccoons, and I discussed the history of calling cluster oysters "coons."
Raccoons feast on clusters, or so goes the thinking. The other theory is that thin, slim wild oysters resemble a raccoon's paw. In Folsom's story, transcribed with some edits below, the former is the case, but the paw plays a humorous and tragic role as well.
Caught at last!
When the tide is out the raccoon walks the shore in search of a free lunch of oysters on the half shell.
The 'coon is very cunning, and long experience has taught him the danger of falling into the clutches of the oyster, as innocent and dumb as the bivalve appears to be.
When the oysters open their shells and are feeding and the shallow waters are trickling through...and everything is moving along...the raccoon finds it an easy matter to scoop in a jolly supper of oysters without consulting the waiter.
But suddenly he reaches out his paw and makes a scoop at the oyster, lying so quietly in his shell, and he allows that paw to linger a little too long.
He feels the fatal grip of the hard shell on his foot, and he knows that he has met his fate.
With a savage cry of pain and dismay, he turns these great yellow eyes landward for a last look at the sweep of curving shore, where he has lived in peace and quiet so many, many years.
A freshening in the breeze causes him to turn his eyes seaward. The song of the surges is coming nearer. The vast stretch of rushing waters seems to be rushing down upon him, and he shrieks with the agony of mortal fear.
He begins to gnaw at the foot that has been imprisoned. He will hobble out to the shore leaving his foot there rather than be drowned.
...he has just missed the joint. The waters are rising higher and higher. The boom of the billows is in his ears. Still that unyielding shell refuses to give up its prey. He tears the flesh with his teeth. It is nearly separated. One little tendon holds it.
The writer describes the Brunswick fishermen laughing at the raccoon's fate. How did he expect to beat the tide on three legs? Make it through all the mud missing a foot?
It's not entirely clear what happened, as the section is finished only in a patois dialogue, but it's safe to assume the raccoon did not make it.