February 2014 home page

support us

The Great Ringtail Garbage Caper by Timothy Foote
Virginia Lawrence | Caminito Del Rocio

Big Ben at the wheel weariing an
old-fashioned boater hat and a mask
as a disguise.
Click on image to enlarge.

A group of desperate and daring raccoons organizes a bold hijacking scheme when their lush food supply is threatened by a pair of efficient young garbage collectors.

Year after year the raccoons on Martha’s Vineyard had “lived off the fat leavings of summer folk … savory cheese rinds, lamb chop bones and greasy bacon wrappers, sardine cans with tasty bits left in the corners.” But then Nip Jordan and Tuck Taylor were hired for the garbage job. “Bound for Yale, and bristling with ambition, they felt that a garbage truck was as good a vehicle as any to put them on the road to success.” They tried hard not to “clang the cans around in the dark, and they never left behind a trail of eggshells, orange peels, or goldy bits of margarine wrappers.” At the dump, they promptly “burned or buried all the garbage.”

The islanders were delighted. But for the raccoons, the “garbage crisis” became critical, so critical that an emergency meeting of the “Benevolent Protective Society of Raccoons was called at the BPSR Community Center.”

The Oldest Coon was stern. He told the assembly they would have to tighten their belts and return to their old ways. “Raccoons lived on the island long before men came. It is full of natural foods - frogs, toads, tadpoles, newts, salamanders, hermit crabs, crawfish, snails.” The kits were aghast, and their groans rose as the list proceeded. “In the back, someone was holding up a sign that read: NATURAL FOODS FAUGH! A second placard read: NO NEWTS IS GOOD NEWTS.”

But the Oldest Coon had a plan. All he needed was a Daring Dozen, and a hero.

THINK GREEN with Esmeralda
When Nip and Tuck accepted the garbage job, they immediately named the old truck Esmeralda, a Spanish name meaning “emerald” - a green gemstone. As the author explained, “on the Vineyard garbage was proverbially collected sloppily. We humans are the guys who screw up the environment with immediate effect on local animals.” Because so many people came to the island, “there was much less room for wetlands where toads, tadpoles, frogs, newts, and grasshoppers are found.” The raccoons soon developed a taste for and then became dependent on “our leavings.”

In the story, the raccoons come across as heroes. In reality, however, they are usually viewed as pests. The story shows that when trash collection is meticulous, raccoons cease to thrive. Or do they? Expect surprises at the end!

Ringtail came to life in the ‘70s on Martha’s Vineyard in the town of Menemsha as an oral improvisation for Timothy Foote’s son Andrew. The story was published in 1980 by Houghton Mifflin and later picked up by Scholastic Paperbacks. This past week, one of the Sandpiper editors read the book to two little girls (3 and 4) whose immediate desire was to go find a raccoon. The editor herself, of another generation entirely, also loved the book.

Sadly, in spite of its broad appeal, Ringtail is today available in second-hand editions only. The good news is that the Del Mar Library has half a dozen used copies on its shelves.

Timothy Foote spent his career employed variously as a Senior Editor of LIFE, and then of TIME and finally at the SMITHSONIAN.


© 2007-2015 Del Mar Community Alliance, Inc.  All rights reserved.