I’ve been writing a lot about current events here lately, because frankly, it’s hard not to. There’s not a lot of free space in one’s brain with so much happening at once, but it’s also quite exhausting, both as a writer and—I assume—as a reader. We all know how weird and bad and weirdly bad things are out there. You don’t need extra reminders of that in your inbox from me three times a week.
Two, sure. But three’s too many.
So, in my latest editorial planning meeting, I consulted with my esteemed advisory board (ed. note: my 4-year-old daughter) for new topics that weren’t the least bit topical. It was a contentious, animated back-and-forth; tensions flared, egos clashed, names were called, snacks were conceded. But in the end? I think it was a success.
Anyways, here’s a power ranking of woodland creatures.
NOT RANKED: Panda, Sloth, Llama, Unicorn
All of these are just included by children’s book illustrators and Etsy crafters who think we’re not paying attention to what is and is not a woodland creature. You can’t be passing off mythological creatures alongside squirrels and deer. That’s not fair.
I mean, c’mon: we all know that pandas aren’t real.
Okay, technically, they check all the boxes. They live in trees, they eat nuts, they’re furry and even rather cute, I suppose. But this is a ranking of woodland creatures, and to be honest? Squirrels are a classic case of overreach. If I saw them only in the woodlands, that’d be great, but they’re everywhere. The suburbs. The city. College campuses where every student will insist that the squirrels on their campus are unique but they’re not because they’re just plain old squirrels just like on every other college campus. They’re the Boston Market or Crumbs Bake Shop of the woodland creature world. They expanded too much and they just weren’t special anymore.
Most of the squirrel comments apply, but they’ve kept a certain elan that you have to respect. Better branding, first of all. They got in early with Disney animation and that’ll carry a lot of historical weight with fans. You see a chipmunk, you might think “aw, like Chip and Dale!”. That’s not nothing, but they’re still so omnipresent that I’ve got a problem with them around my foundation. It’s a cute problem, and it keeps the dog entertained, but it doesn’t get them higher than second-last in our rankings.
A lot of conflicted emotions around this one. You can’t leave them out—they’re graceful, beautiful creatures whose rightful place in the woodland conversation is unquestioned—but there’s a lot of emotional baggage associated with their ranking.
I mean, Bambi gets right to it, doesn’t it? It’s not their fault that they’re both fauna and foodstuff, but that means we’ve got to keep an arms’-length embrace of them.
Also, a chipmunk has never totaled a car.
Probably. Has one? I’d like to hear that story, if so.
“Daddy, how come we never see bunnies around our yard?”
[staring up at the hawks that circle overheard]
“I don’t know, honey. They’re probably off having woodland adventures.”
Incredibly cute. One of the few woodland creatures that you can reasonably and legally own as a pet without ending up the subject of a Netflix documentary. But, speaking from personal experience here, there hasn’t been a person born later than 1980 who wasn’t just a little bit disappointed the first time they saw a real hedgehog. They’re not even blue.
It’s like the first time I met an Italian plumber. He fixed the sink, but still. Disappointing.
A true five-tool player, the bear can do it all. Fearsome. Cute and cuddly. Warns us about forest fires. Provides a vessel for honey. Tons of cartoon representation, from Pooh to Baloo and on through. Hard to find a fault with their game, and yet? Hard to make them the face of the forest. It’s the Mike Trout conundrum. They produce consistently every season, but they just don’t capture the imagination the way you’d hope they would.
A bit of a shock in the rankings here for an animal favored by many to be the #1 overall seed, but that’s really part of the problem. Foxes have it all. They’re photogenic, charming, plenty of famous cartoon versions of them, they’re close enough to dogs, all that and more.
But they know it, and they’ve let it go to their heads. They’ve been coasting on goodwill and tradition for far long without showing it on the field. The USC football of the forest. The current season of Great British Baking Show’s of the forest. The Dave Matthews Band of the forest. Good? Yes. Overrated? Also yes.
Okay, now we’re down to the top three. The real power tier.
What’s not to love? Stylish as hell. They’re out here in tux and tails, not worried about blending in at all, because black and white never goes out of style. Hide? They’re not looking to hide from you, they’re letting you know they’re coming before you even see them. That’s an aspirational position in any hierarchy. Reputational reach.
No one’s ever like “oh no, the dog must’ve run into a squirrel today”. Skunks get the people talking, and you can’t coach that.
Cerebral leader. Apex predator. Head on a swivel. Nothing not to like here. A creature so respected in the woodland taxonomy that high school biology classes examine its droppings, and they’re liable to find some of the lower-rated creatures on this list while they’re in there. So feared that people will buy a wooden version of them to scare others off.
If we’re picking nits here, that’s only because we have to to find a flaw. They’re a little smug. No one likes someone who asks too many questions. Kind of a jerk when you’re just trying to get answers about your Tootsie Pop. Not the kind of things that’ll hurt your draft stock in the end, but they come up in scouting reports.
That leaves our #1 pick, the unquestioned titan of the woodland.
I accept that this might be a controversial choice, but it’s the kind of choice that can turn the fortunes of a franchise. They’ve got iconic styling. They come in on day one as a household brand, and they know household brands—they’re rooting through your trash cans right now. That’s right, unlike Fantastic Mr. Fox and some of these other prima donnas, they’re not afraid to get down and dirty to get what they need. They’ll dig and scrap and claw their way to success, and they’ll look fabulous doing it.
All hail the kings of the woodland. All hail the raccoon, our #1 pick.
Disagree with these rankings? Please, argue about animals in the comments. It’ll be the most productive argument any of us have had in weeks.
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)