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Writers corner

The Great Ringtail Garbage Caper

by Timothy Foote, review by Virginia Lawrence

posted January 16, 2015

Quick Links: Tim Foote bio  | reviewer's note 


Front cover.  Big Ben at the wheel weariing an
old-fashioned boater hat and a mask
as a disguise.  Drawing Norman Chartier
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.


Sketch by Timothy Foote to show Normand Chartier,
the illustrator, what Esmeralda should look like.
Click on drawing to enlarge.

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!

Timothy Foote spent his career employed variously as a Senior Editor of LIFE, and then of TIME and finally at the SMITHSONIAN where he wrote hundreds of literary reviews and scores of articles on a mix of subjects.  Among them: dog trials, feminism, Harvard, Peter Breugel, W.H. Auden, James Madison, the America’s Cup Race, Hadrian’s Wall, Sex & Tennis, Midway Island, and the Rock of Gibraltar.  He was born in London, but grew up in and has retired to Beaverkill.

Reviewer's note:  About a month ago I received an inquiry about a book Timothy Foote wrote in the late ‘70s - The Great Ringtail Garbage Caper.  Having hijacked a raccoon in a washtubl many years ago (another story), I thought the FOBC readership might like to learn about Tim's book.  Ringtail came to life in the ‘70s on Martha’s Vineyard in the town of Menemsha as an oral improvisation for Tim's son Andrew.  The story was published in 1980 by Houghton Mifflin and later picked up by Scholastic Paperbacks.  Sadly, in spite of its broad appeal, Ringtail is available today in second-hand editions only.    –Ginny

Cover Photos

Back Cover.  Click on image to enlarge.


A different cover showing Nip and Tuck. 
Click on image to enlarge.





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