Move over, Bob Ross. You’ll have to make room in my heart for the Raccoon Whisperer.
His real name is Jim Blackwood, and he’s a retired Mountie and Boston Bruins fan who lives in Churchill, in Pictou County, Nova Scotia. For years now he’s been feeding raccoons on his deck, filming the encounters, and putting them up on his YouTube channel, where they were averaging 20,000 to 40,000 views each: respectable, but not Earth-shattering.
All that changed when he put up his video for Nov. 3, 2020, which showed him reaching maximum raccoon (or “max rac”, as I like to think of it). He called it “Mobbed by raccoons”, and he was not kidding: about 25 showed up for dinner, and the resulting video has gone viral, with more than 10 million views and counting.
That video was my introduction to Jim, along with raccoons such as Buddy, Woody, Scooter, and Grabby, and Jim’s cats Connor and Charlotte. I have now watched several of the videos, and I am here to attest that listening to some of the roly-poliest raccoons you ever will see quietly crunch away on dog food or Cheerios is immeasurably wonderful and oddly soothing.
The raccoons also eat hot dogs (Jim goes through up to 20 pounds of them a night), peanut butter sandwiches, green grapes, marshmallows, and sandwich cookies; I was inordinately gleeful when I learned that they like to pull the cookies apart and eat the cream filling first. I’ve also learned a lot about raccoons: for instance, that they go into something like hibernation over the winter, so are busily piling on the calories now to see them through their extended sleep.
This is one of the many things Jim shares in his videos, which contain no politics, preaching, or posing. Instead, he talks about jamming with his friend Ron, getting a new roof, his headgear (“I’ve got my Boston Bruins winter hat on. It’s some warm”), Connor cat’s antics, and his new chair: “I bought myself a new La-Z-Boy chair, an electric one. Is it ever fancy, too. I push a button and everything goes. They said ‘Do you want the one that stands you up?’ I said ‘Yeah, 3,000 bucks, I don’t think so. I’ll stand up on my own, thank you. I’m not that far gone.’”
Listening to Jim as the raccoons swarm around him, munching away, is like sitting on the back deck with the world’s most genial uncle. I always had raccoons pegged as vicious beggars who will, like the killer rabbit in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, do you up a treat if they get half a chance, but Jim’s raccoons are remarkably well-behaved. Then again, I would be too, if someone was feeding me marshmallows and green grapes every night.
Lately Jim has been coming to terms with Internet trolls (or fleas, as he sometimes calls them), who take him to task for his supposed foul language (“I don’t swear on here, it’s family-oriented videos”) or for feeding the raccoons too much. “I notice the trolls are saying they’re too fat, they’re obese,” Jim says in one video. “They weren’t paying attention, these guys gotta be fat for the winter or they starve to death, that’s why they’re big, but the trolls don’t understand that because they’re not educated. [pause] I know a lot of them can’t spell.” That last little aside made me laugh very hard indeed. It’s funny ’cause it’s true.
In a show earlier this year, late night host Seth Meyers talked about being helped out by someone on YouTube, and said “It’s a reminder of how amazing a place the Internet can be when good people use it with kindness.” He wasn’t talking about Jim, but he might as well have been. His videos are an oasis of kindness and decency: one man, two cats, a lot of raccoons, and pure goodness. Watch one or two, and your heart will be some warm, with or without a Boston Bruins hat.