When was the last time you danced with a raccoon?
Journal | Week of October 24, 2022
For those new to this e-community, I offer my readers weekly snippets from my daily writing (tidied up a bit ;-)
October 24, 2022 | Monday
Sleep deprived, there’s a scratching in the walls at 4:12 am. Listening. What is that? Mice back? Cranky, I think, Go away Manx or Trim or whoever you are.
This is how attention works. The scratching, or is it scraping?, blares, filling the room—my mind a sleepy amplifier. Also, now I’m visualizing Manx and Trim.
Two completely adorable deer mice, they’ve found their way in to my kitchen multiple times. I’ll hear them, the tap-dancing of their clawed feet in my green, tubular mouse trap. More like a diner really, it’s a little room without any killing or harming functionality. A plastic door closes behind them as they munch on peanuts.
Manx has a very short tail. Trim’s tail is partial, too, though longer. Both have been in someone else’s trap, or mouth, and lived to tell about it, or at least go peanut-hunting in my kitchen. The greenness of their diner-trap makes it hard for my cats to see them, so after a good sniff, the kitties lose interest.
I can’t kill the mice, especially now that I experience them as individuals. I wish war worked that way—we could retire the word and the act.
The scratching and scraping loses its loudness as I think of Manx, how I carried him in his green dining room, way down into the woods in the middle of the night a few weeks ago.
I set the trap on a soft pile of redwood needles in the earthy smell of damp decay. In the dim beam of a flashlight, I lifted the door to free him. He stood in the opening for several long seconds, perhaps wondering if it was safe to step out into the misty chill with a giant beside him.
Several fast, leapy steps, then a pause to look back at me. Funny, it felt good to be seen by Manx. Funnier is when I’d climbed the hill back up to the house, about to go inside, my flashlight caught Manx skipping full steam past me, into a fern by the door. “Diner closed for the night, Manx.”
Memory, at least this one, is a sedative. I start to drift off, when my tabby begins moaning. Little mind-reader, he thinks I’m awake enough to feed him. Jumping up to my ear, purring, he ambles to my hip and parks. A cat silhouette, his ears are satellite dishes, honing in on the scratching.
We’re both curling into sleep, when the smoke detector starts chirping. High-pitched, loud as a bird in pain. Battery needs replacing, at 4:52. Not so funny, but not hearing the scratching anymore.
October 25, 2022 I Tuesday
Withering. The one I love is withering. In his words, “I’m fading.”
What more is there to say?
In the kitchen, a vase of flowers waits, stems bent, petals below, the brilliant colors faded to mulch-brown, though still that one spray of statice, holding on to its purple. You rest your eyes in the purple.
Memory, come here please. Let’s go back to the buds opening. Yes, I can still smell dirt on their leaves.
When the one I love walks bent, breath no longer easy, I tuck him back into his chair. When I look into his still-blue eyes, we are hiking a ridge, we are laughing, we are watching birds fly, we are the birds, flying.
October 26, 2022 I Wednesday
Black horse rearing up under a moonless sky. Nightmare didn’t come into my vocabulary until I was a teenager, and that’s what image came to mind, and still does, though not in my dreaming, only in my day-lit, wordy mind.
When I awoke sweaty and afraid as a child, which is part of every growth journey, my mother simply called them bad dreams. Child-mind heard, bad dreamer. I could do better.
So I began thinking of lovely things each night waiting for sleep. Puppies. Painted toenails. A prayed-for baby sister. Stars. The way a tiny ant could carry an enormous leaf all by itself, which now, looking back, seems the perfect symbol of possibility a child needs. Good girl!
Last night, no black horses, but a vivid dream of being unable to breathe or speak. There were people I knew who were going to call for help, but disappeared. Then people I didn’t know who just walked away. I kept trying to speak, motioning to my throat, tapping on my lungs. Frantic inside, I could also see myself from the outside, so I knew anyone looking at me could see I was in trouble. I found a nurse who glanced at her watch, her shift over, she turned, gliding down a long corridor into fog.
Alone, always a question-lover, I wondered, What is worse, the inability to breathe or to speak?
Intuitively, if I could speak, I could breathe, so I focused on making sound. Finally, a low, guttural, animal sound rose up as a felt energy from belly through ribs then throat, pressing out between my lips. It was a kwock!, a raven-ish sound, and I was awake.
My husband, groggy in sleep, reached his hand over to mine. “You okay?”
“Yes,” I whispered, “just a bad dream.” “Are you a raven?,” he asked. “Yes, I am.” His hand squeezed mine, mumbling, “that’s good.”
Gratitude flooded into me, tears tickling down each side of my face. Some day the dark horse will come again, and there will be no hand reaching for me. But. For now, his hand was there, warm, and it held mine.
Listening to a trickling of rain, watching the subtle shadows on the ceiling, I held on, thinking only of one lovely thing—his hand clasping mine, the way the body is pure love.
October 27, 2022 I Thursday
When I open the door, stepping into black and stars, a little growl. Flashlight in my pocket, I turn its beam on the sound. “Hello, raccoon.”
She stands up on two legs, as if welcoming me to her home, which I call, outside.
After my creature-loving, curly-haired friend J got her hand caught in a raccoon’s mouth this summer, I respect the space between raccoon teeth and my body parts. I’m holding a plastic container of grain, or chicken scratch in feed-store lingo, intended for wild turkey, jays and dark-eyed juncos, and the deer who will arrive with daylight.
Shaking it to startle her back, instead she drifts down on all fours and starts trotting toward me. Instead of seeing me as intimidating warrior-woman, she thinks I am her waitress, or server, to be gender neutral.
For a moment my mind is sidetracked by its own thought: gender neutral? I don’t think I’m gender neutral, hearing Helen Reddy suddenly singing, “I Am Woman Hear Me Roar.” Still, past a certain age, maybe I’ve become gender neutral.
Note to self: Your hair is disheveled, you’re in a robe with a tea stain on the sleeve and slightly worn animal slippers, and what you thought you were thinking in your head you are actually saying to a raccoon. Hmmm, when was the last time I roared?
“Ms. Raccoon, step back, please.” Do I sound like a traffic officer? She is near our truck, “Step away from the truck, ma’am.”
Yes, she is a she, this summer’s mama, and now two of this year’s mostly-grown babies chitter to her, shifting back and forth on their hand-like feet exactly where I’d planned to toss the grain.
She stands up again. I step right to get around her, and back on all fours, she steps right. I step left, and she goes left. Right, left, right, left, step, step, step, step.
I’m dancing with a hungry raccoon. I’m also smiling hugely, looking up at Orion with his starry belt, who’s seen so many women and raccoons come and go.
Does life get any better than this? Roaring is overrated.
October 28, 2022 I Friday
Today is a one-liner kind of day. Okay, technically two.
If you close your eyes, looking into that inner darkness long enough, eventually you’ll see only light, perhaps tinged red, reminding you how forever you are.
October 29, 2022 I Saturday
Yesterday, talking with a woman on the phone dealing with grief, she tells me her life is over. I’ve heard this before. I’ve felt this before.
It’s never true, though the mind tries to make it so, especially the later in life one gets.
“Why? Can you tell me more?” I ask. On leave after her husband died, she said she was “coping” until she started working again. She likes her job, thought it would help keep her mind off her loss and get back to “a new normal.” She’s accepted weekend shifts, too, as money is tighter now.
But, she says, “each week it’s like stepping deeper into a dark hole and I can’t see any future.”
Listening, among her challenges, one word arises. Windowless. She’s working long hours nearly ever day in a space without windows.
Sometimes my own words surprise me. “The absence of windows can kill your spirit,” I offer.
“It’s not just you looking out of them. No. It’s all that out there crowding the view, reminding you that life is big and something better is always possible. Can you go to a window now, and tell me what you see?”
October 30, 2022 I Sunday
Today, a text message. A newborn in the family. Doesn’t everyone need news and views of a baby?
In a photo, our first-time mother has that smile, the one that asks, How is it possible a new human has come out of my body? The father, shirt off, holds the baby to his bare chest, skin to skin, this new being smaller that the tattoo on his arm. They’re part of each other and separate, too.
Our first loss is leaving our mother, out of the warm ocean into the first sting of air, then the umbilical cord snipped. Do you remember that shock of entering this life? Neither do I. Once you realize you’re held by a force bigger than you, why look back?