Rushed, annoyed, and feeling justifiably insecure and irritable about an increasingly perplexing romantic relationship...that was how I felt on the morning that I encountered one of the most profoundly affecting animals that I have ever conversed with during my tenure in Tickville, Wisconsin.
I parked my van at the entrance by the highway and walked the 600 ft uphill to the yurt...as has been my habit since winter came slowly trudging into the Driftless Region, laconically throwing just enough snow down from the heavens to make driving up my eroding easement a white-knuckle experiment in terror each time I was foolish enough to attempt it. I likewise trudged, feeling my age, muttering various practice conversations with my soon-to-be-former girlfriend under my breath (doesn’t everyone do this?), until I became aware of a large dark lump about 100ft ahead on the road...a dark lump that gradually took the form of an adult raccoon as I approached it.
(This was not a mistake in perception or a hallucination or one of those “reality shifts” that I drone on about to anyone careless or indulgent enough to listen...this WAS an actual raccoon...however, the verbal dialog that follows between myself and the raccoon is a complete and utter lie.)
The lump stared at me as I approached, not at all moved by my presence. It shifted slightly on its haunches, as if to be better positioned for the inevitable conflict.
I let out a yell. Nothing.
I jingled my keys at it (it used to work on my cat). Nothing.
I picked up a small stone and threw it. The stone mysteriously fell exactly in front of the creature and bounced exactly over it.
I then did what any city person would do...I called my now-non-girlfriend (a country person) and then a local friend (a city-turned-country person). Their advice was indispensable: walk around it.
I made the attempt, walking into the leaf litter that I try to avoid as that is where the dreaded ticks call home.
“This could play out badly for you, human.”
“Huh?!? What?!? Did you just speak?”
“Of course I did...do you see anyone else out here?”
“But...but...you’re a raccoon.”
“Yes, I am...and you’re an idiot...but I am not currently holding that against you...yet.”
“Raccoons can’t speak!”
“That would appear to be a false assumption if you have any respect for empiricism, would it not? For the record, I am still holding on to my “idiot” classification for YOU, until such time as you prove otherwise.”
“Wait...are you some kind of shamanistic power animal or something like that?”
“No...I am a raccoon.”
I stood mute for a while, trying to come to terms with the situation. Here was a raccoon speaking in an actual voice, not some sort of telepathic communication. Its tiny little lips were moving. From time to time it leered at me. The latter behavior was doing nothing for my then challenged level of self-confidence.
“OK...um...this is not normal.”
“Really? And you are the sole arbiter of what is normal? YOU?!? When have you said, done, or even eaten anything that was normal recently, hmmmm?”
“I guess you have a point there.”
“Are we going to persist in this mindless small talk, human, or are you going to ask me a question?”
“A question? What? Is that what this is...I ask you three questions or something? Do I get turned into stone or sent to hell if I ask the wrong thing?”
The raccoon snorted derisively and then rolled his eyes, the effect of which was irresistibly cute despite the surreality of the situation. I then did exactly what I shouldn’t have...I involuntarily said: “awwwww.”
“I should eat your eyeballs for that, two-legs. Ask a question or I will relieve you of the majority of your face.”
“OK...um...are you a REAL raccoon?”
“Yes, at present.”
“So normally are you are something other than a raccoon?”
“Something other than a raccoon is a classification that includes the rest of the multi-verse in its entirety...you may want to be a bit more specific, or just drop this line of questioning as it is not going to be of any benefit to you whatsoever.”
“So you are here to be of a benefit to me?”
“Considering that your road does not have any berries or small fish or garbage on it, and that is normally what raccoons do for a living...that may be a reasonable assumption. There is obviously not much I can gain from this encounter except for a tasty piece of your ear.”
“I see”, I said, not really seeing, “so...do you represent something...something that is NOT a raccoon?”
I thought this might be pushing the obviously cantankerous animal a little too far. I worried about my various appendages, balling my musicians fingers into fists and casting a wry glance downwards towards my pants.
The raccoon yawned and stretched. I thought about what he could possibly symbolize. For the most part, things were reasonable in my life, I was working on new music, making lots of interesting friends, starting to put a business plan together...it was mostly good, but then there WAS the confusing and progressively dysfunctional relationship and a sense that I was repeating a lot of the same old patterns in a whole new environment.
That has always been a theme for me, to the point where at times I would see myself and everyone around me as little more than walking bags of patterns. Patterns formed from as early as the womb (and probably before) that repeat until you find yourself looking in the mirror at some middle-aged stranger and thinking “well...he LOOKS like a grownup...why doesn’t he actually FEEL like one...or act like one?”
The patterns repeat endlessly in our lives and, by extension, macrocosmically in the greater world: wars are the quarrels of lovers writ large. As below, so above.
As I mused, the raccoon stared intently at me, waiting for just the right moment when my lack of attentiveness to my immediate surroundings would cause me to jump just high enough to dump my entire travel mug of coffee on my pants when he let out a sudden scream.
Which he did. After which, he laughed so hard that I thought he would explode. The whole routine was almost cartoonish: holding his hairy little sides, rubbing his beady tearing eyes with his almost human-like paws.
“Oh God...oooooooh god! That was priceless...priceless! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.”
I stood there with coffee running down the bottoms of my pant legs onto my boots, staring at a giggling raccoon lying on his stomach beating his paws on the ground.
“Ok now...fine! Fine! I said FIIIIIIINE!”
It was the raccoons turn to be startled. He stopped laughing and gave me an appraising look: “well, look at that...little Johnny just grew a pair. Seems you actually have limits as to how much you’ll put up with. Nice to see. Maybe you should think about applying a bit of that to some other areas of your life that are bothering you right now.”
This time my surprise was caffeine-free, as this was the first marginally non-caustic comment the raccoon had made thus far. It almost sounded like a compliment...and advice.
That brief respite from having my dignity assaulted was abruptly terminated when he then said “alright, look you putz...yes, I DO represent something...quite a few things. On one level, I represent someone who has a stupid job talking to stupid humans about their stupid issues and their stupid lives that are a mess because of all those stupid issues. Once in a great while I get a moment of joy like I just had...and you ruined it for me!”
He bared his fangs and advanced towards me, clearly angry. Being a stupid human, I asked a stupid question:
“Um...are you dangerous?” I looked around for a tree branch or something to hurl.
He stopped in his tracks and gave me a look that was not dissimilar to the same look I had one time when I had forgotten about a bag of apples for six months in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator in the condo in Chicago I had recently moved out of.
“Idiot, idiot, idiot...of course I’m dangerous...I’m a wild animal, you stupid toad. I could lunge at you and give some plastic surgeon a couple months of future job security...or not. I COULD do nothing. You have a place you want to go and I am an unpredictable factor. I am clearly in the way and you have to overcome me or get around me. You have a road to travel and goals you want to achieve and you have to contend with ME. You know what I AM, you dense little man? I am the baggage of your past, the trials of your present, and the potential threats of your future. I am the uncertainty that dogs your every decision and the possibility that each new venture may go poorly. I am the love that isn’t working that you can’t let go of, the angry words spoken to people you cherished that you can never take back, and every hurtful memory burned into your brain that impedes your ability to make a firm conclusion and stick with it, because there were times when you DID make a decision in your past that made you fall right on your mostly-hairless monkey face and you are terrified of doing it again.”
I stood there mute for a while, taking this all in. Given my ability to repeat the same mistakes ad infinitum, it didn’t surprise me that the latest incarnation of the voice of Universe was a talking raccoon...the lessons didn’t seem to be sinking in in any conventional way...like actually LEARNING them or anything. I looked at my present life and saw the parts of it that were working and those that were not and what I should give a chance to grow and flourish and what was little more than a poison weed sucking away at my vitality. I thought about the people in my life and who was showing me love and support and who was emphatically not. I became increasingly cognizant of the areas of my world where I would “settle” for a less than positive set of circumstances and just accept behavior that was unacceptable.
I also became cognizant that the raccoon was twiddling his thumbs in an exaggerated display of comical boredom as I dithered.
“Um...so is that it? You’re just a representation of me being in my own way? I should just move forward on my path and take the risks and eliminate the negative relationships and toxic people?”
“You’ve got it. Congratulations...you are now slightly less stupid than you look.”
He smiled wanly at me, showing his teeth, which now appeared smaller than I first had observed.
“Proceed with your life, make mistakes, and be happy.”
“Be happy? Why?”
“Because I could have been a badger.”