The mother raccoon with three babies I mentioned is relatively new from the perspective of the wildlife here. She and her offspring took me by surprise when first they visited me some four or five weeks ago. I was enamored immediately with the family. In each of them could be seen a disparate personality. Yes, the typical raccoon curiosity and violent nature presented on many an occasion, but as with all creatures, they were easily identified by distinct traits.
The mother was protective yet aloof, letting her children exercise self-protection by engaging competitors. When the offending raccoon responded, her maternal instincts immediately spurned her to act. She engages whatever interloper is harassing her kids with a vehement response that is as much quick as it is commanding.
One of her offspring is so timid and anxious that it scurries up the tree at the slightest noise. And then it takes the poor soul forever to find enough bravery for the descent. Too many times have I stood and chuckled quietly as I watched the wee baby sit about eye level in the tree, head turning this way and that, occasionally looking at me to ensure I was not also leaping the fence in preparation for attack, and ultimately too afraid to be as pot-bellied and healthy as it appears to be.
Another of the little bandits is the complete opposite. While still weary of a strange and alien world to which it must still adapt and for which it must still prepare, it seems more comfortable than its siblings do. This one has very little concern for my presence. In fact, in a somewhat disturbing way for which I can offer no explanation, since the first time it visited it has always come to the fence to sit right in front of my feet when it is either somewhat concerned about a disturbance or when it has retrieved a favorite morsel and wishes to dine in peace. I stand and peer over the fence when upright; I lean in close enough to see clearly without endangering myself when I’m kneeling. Regardless of my position, this one seems bizarrely attached so long as things are not particularly worrisome. If they are, however, it too becomes the nervous little ball of ferocious fur that raccoons are known for.
And the third? Yes, the third… The last child landed betwixt the other two. It neither seemed interested nor disinterested, neither nervous nor unnaturally relaxed. It would come to the fence and investigate me for a brief moment before returning to whatever tasty bonanza I earlier prepared and served for them. If its mother seemed apprehensive, it was apprehensive. If Mother ran, by golly it would run too. Overall, the tot was essentially the averagely inclined raccoon. I would not expect it to climb the fence and challenge me any more than I would expect it to flee if a leaf rustled in the undergrowth.
Becoming familiar with the various animals that come through has been as educational as it has been fun. I learned two evenings ago that it is also emotional. When the mother raccoon made her appearance, stepping quietly through the natural barrier constructed of bushes, only two babies were with her. They have grown in the short time they’ve been visiting. Despite that, I find it difficult to believe the young one left of its own accord. Because two of her children were still with her, there is no way to justify the premise she forced the third ring-tailed juvenile to leave the family.
Perhaps in a few weeks they will be ready to move out, or perhaps in a month, or perhaps even longer (I’m not entirely familiar with the intricacies of raccoon parenting and development). The absence of her third adolescent struck me to the core. I stood for several minutes whispering into the tree. The endeavor was borne of my hope the tyke escaped into the tree upon hearing my noisy exit through the bedroom door. I then stood quietly for several more minutes to see if lack of sound and movement would bring a small furry bundle down from the upper branches now hidden in night’s darkness.
Resolved no baby was forthcoming from the shadowed foliage, and equally resolved it had not slipped around the corner and was waiting to see what mayhem I might unleash, my eyes fell upon the remainder of the family as the realization sank in: it was dead. Too young to survive on its own, a fact certainly confirmed by the other two offspring still foraging with and relying on their mother, and too small to survive the various predators and threats overly plentiful in this area, a sorrowful cloud enveloped me as I mourned the loss, wept for the absence of a simple child, and washed my cheeks with silent tears memorializing the cruel hand nature dealt the youthful marauder.
Why does such a thing bring me to lament? It was not a pet. It was not a family member. It was, however, a friend, even if such a thing is defined by the casual bond I feel for all living things, but most especially for those I know well enough to identify under the cloak of darkness and amidst several look-alikes. I stood there that night, a moment of anguish washed in gloom, and I watched the surviving members. Did she miss her child? Did they miss their sibling? Even then as they ate, did any memory of the now lost soul reside within them, a conscious gap in normalcy that strummed their heartstrings with even the most basic of loss? I am sure of it.
At least a few times of late have I discussed such matters with friends and family, and in all cases, no one disagreed. Despite the inability of most to demonstrate in ways we might understand that which is felt, all animals share the same emotional foundation. We see it in creatures both fantastic and mundane. I believe a common ancestor, the same source responsible for two eyes and one nose and one mouth being placed in such recognizable patterns on the faces of a great many species, gave every creature the depth of heart to feel things and to express those feelings in ways understandable at least to their own kind, if not the dedicated observer. For hair and skin and two arms and two legs and many other traits, emotions likewise burst forth from that which preceded all of us, a feeling creature of similar makeup in both fundamental appearance and emotional awareness. We creatures have at least that to celebrate as shared. It is up to the open of mind and accepting of spirit to identify and enjoy this collective sensitivity.
For the life bequeathed to that end unto which all life travels, I cry. My heartsong’s behest is that all beings of consciousness realize the destination all paths flow toward carries each of us to the same target. That journey grants us the irrefutable gift of blessed and cursed feeling. Therein lies the substance of sentiment, and in that substance is a link between all that feel. As I dried my physical tears that evening, so I dry the tears of passion now bereft of the wonder and beauty offered by such simple an experience as having briefly known this tiny animal. A living thing of breath and fur is lost. A wandering spirit of flesh succumbed to that end we all will meet. I wish I could share more directly in their loss. Mine is poignant; theirs is more so, and it is sharp and immediate and direct.
I need not see their weeping to know it is there.