Untamed Lowcountry

Raccoon rescue: A baby critter is plucked from grass in Lady's Island marsh

My stepson, Tommy, thought a walk out on a marshy flat near the foot of the McTeer Bridge in search of tailing redfish would be a good way to start the Fathers Day weekend. So we parked his truck on the side of Meridian Road on Lady's Island at about 9:30 a.m. Saturday, an hour ahead of a full high tide that we hoped would bringing spottails into the shallows to feast on fiddler crabs so abundant, the ground appeared to part as we made our way through them.

The water wasn't much above our ankles when I spotted something moving in the grass about 20 yards ahead of us. At first, we thought it might be a mink or an otter, but it didn't seem in any particular hurry to escape our presence. I took Tommy's rod from him, and he turned on his camera as he moved closer toward three young raccoons swimming in the marsh.

They allowed Tommy to get within feet and didn't seem terribly spooked, but I suggested we back off and let them be. So we moved on up the flat and made a few practice casts in a little creek where we expected the redfish to appear in a half hour or so. As we did, I noticed the raccoons had swam about 20 yards in the opposite direction and were again playing in the water.

About 10 minutes later, the water was at about mid-shin, and I noticed that two of the raccoons were swimming toward shore, but the third wasn't budging. We stopped and watched for a minute or so and noticed the little fella seemed to be struggling. Worried that me might be tangled in marsh grass, we made our way over for a closer look.

Indeed, the raccoon seemed to be stuck, but neither of us had gloves or any tool except the camera and fishing rods. We weren't very keen on trying to put hands on a wild animal, particularly one that was distressed or possibly injured. But we were even less keen on watching this raccoon drown. For by this time, he no longer seemed to be floating with his rear-end up, but merely trying to keep his head above the advancing tide.

So I again took Tommy's rod and, this time, the camera and stood in front of the raccoon to keep him distracted. Tommy went up from behind and gently worked his hands underneath the critter.

Lifting him from the water, the trouble became apparent -- a mussel had attached itself to his hind, left foot. Apparently, the shell was tangling in the grass as the raccoon tried to move toward shore and he lacked the strength to pull free.

And at first, so did I.

I took hold of the mussel, expecting it to come away with a little coaxing, but it held firm. It appeared to be latched on only to hair -- no flesh -- so Tommy suggested I give it one quick, hard yank.

On the count of three ... and the raccoon was freed.

Tommy said the raccoon barely squirmed, but he could feel his heart racing. He carried him toward shore into shallower water and released him. We watched him swim the rest of the way to dry land.

Retracing our steps an hour later, I saw an adult raccoon -- presumably, momma -- swimming toward shore just ahead of us.

We never spotted a spottail that morning, but it did turn out to be a pretty good start to Fathers Day weekend.

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