Recently a dear long time friend drove all the way from the Palouse to visit me here on the edge of the continent. It was special magic to have someone who’s known and been there for me for over 20 years come all this way to giggle and play and commune with nature with me like we used to do back in Idaho. The echoes of our laughter over trying to upload photos and videos we took while on the beach and the great conversations we had over bowls of plant-based food at my wooden “bar” while the birds sang outside made this house feel even more like home.

The nature spirits were kind to us. The day she came it was supposed to rain but instead it was mild and sunny, so nice that we look a long late afternoon walk on the beach and saw so many whales traveling by that we stopped to just sit on the sand and watch them. Here I am, happy as a big giant black clam:

 

The next day was overcast with rain looming, but in the late afternoon we managed to get in a quick car ride to the beach at Taft on Siletz Bay before it began. This is a place my friend had often brought her son when he was growing up and they would come camp on the Oregon coast. They’d come to the beach and watch the seals for hours. Because it’s a car ride for me, I had heard of it but never been there. So we set out with the dogs, me for the first time, and she to return to the site of many pleasant memories.

The sky was milky grey and the weekend just done. The parking lot at this popular spot was empty and the beach was all but deserted, something I sensed was actually a rarity. Across the strait from us there were many seals lolling on the sand, and even a bald eagle picking his way at the edge of the water. As we walked to the edge of the beach, the water closest to us was thick with seals bobbing and swimming and feasting on fish. I have never seen so many wild animals at once. They twisted and turned, moving with strange ungrounded grace through the swells. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them.

I stayed 20 yards or so in back of my  friend, who had gone down closer to the edge of the water to capture their movement in a video with her phone. Because I had both dogs with me, I thought it would be best not to get too close, either to upset or provoke the seals, or tempt Cotton, who is not hip to how seals might hurt him if he got too close.

As we stood and watched them, it became apparent to me they were watching me and the dogs just as closely. There was a moment in which one simply lifted his or her head out of the water and stared, point blank, into my eyes. And then she was gone, following the drop of the swell.

I felt that gaze to the bone. A wild animal and I had regarded each other and though it must not have been for very long, while it was happening time stopped. The dogs stood quietly by me and joined in the looking, not as wild animals, but as domesticated ones who knew their place was to stay close to me. For this brief time we were all balanced in some kind of instinctual understanding on a border we can’t fully cross.

Siletz Bay can be a place where baby seals are left to rest by their mothers while they go and hunt. The babies are sometimes left for up to 24 hours. Wildlife services posts a sign far away from the baby seal and volunteers make a perimeter of driftwood sticks around it. Often a volunteer sits on a log nearby to keep watch without being too close. We were lucky enough to see all this in motion that afternoon. The sleeping baby seal must have also caught the scent of the dogs. It lifted its head up from a nap, regarding us with calm interest, then flopped its head back down in the sand to resume its nap.

There was one seal I noticed who was about to beach itself in this interesting way of rolling sideways up out of the water, but she saw the dogs and just as gracefully turned herself over back into the water. She stayed very close to the edge, patrolling, even though the dogs and I were far away from the edge and also far away from the baby. I wondered after if she was the returning mother, waiting until we were far enough away to come feed and claim her baby. It’s only a story I told myself, of course, a way of making human sense of  momvements I could never make with a human body.

Mother seal or not aside, I could not shake the fact of the vulnerability of that baby seal asleep on the beach, with nothing more than air and scant spindles of driftwood keeping it from any number of human or animal mistakes or barbarisms. It was not protected in any high security way–it was on a public beach and yet it slept on, peacefully, awaiting the return of its mother. This baby, sleeping exposed on the beach,  in the middle of what could often be a crowded beach, felt powerful in its wild grace. That I could witness such an experience in our imperiled world was a moment of wild grace for me, momentarily turning any sadness about the state of things I harbor into reverent amazement, and a strange off-beat sense of hope promulgated, ironically, by vulnerablity.

When we got home that night, my friend suggested watching an animated film about Selkies she had seen. I was a little cranky about it (which, thankfully, is allowed with someone who has known me as long as she has) because I don’t much like animation, but mostly because I was still haunted by the gaze of the wild seal and didn’t want to impose mythology as meaning for what I had experienced.

But I needn’t have worried at all. As it turned out the animation did not interfere with my experience, a relief that made me laugh at myself. It was so completely other that I got engrossed in the story and when my internet went wonky during a wind storm, I insisted we watch the last 10 minutes of it the next night, so, narrative junky that I am, I could see how it turned out.

Then we turned to my friend’s photos and the video of the seals we had actually seen. I tried to talk about what that meant to me. It wasn’t anything like feeling a human/seal affinity, but more like  two very strange creatures reaching across an abyss of difference to pay attention to one another for a few seconds. I was literally haunted by the wild gaze into my human and not so wild eyes. And I still am.

I don’t have words for it, and oddly, I don’t want any. This place that I live in on the edge of the continent  so often takes my descriptive speech away. I spend time staring at what I’ve never seen before, what changes every day, what I can’t believe I’m seeing, and  yet it is right in front of me. The beauty and its terror. The splendor and its underside. The whales so close because the continental shelf drops off into deep water just beyond the first two sets of waves.

By contrast, one wind borne tiny jellyfish, the velella, is an amazing deep blue with a translucent “sail.” When it’s washed up onto the shore it’s not bigger than a small leaf.

But when thousands upon thousands of them are washed ashore, strung in necklaces across the newly patterned sand, as they die and dry up they create a stench that permeates everything–for weeks.

This, and looking into the eyes of a wild seal, and so many other things I see, imprint a strange and wild wordless poetry into my soul, brought on by the wind, the tides, the turning of night to day, the creek running over rocks into the ocean, the many creatures searching for food or a place to nest. It seems to me it doesn’t need to be connected to my thoughts, wishes and desires, or even to helping me be a better person. It just needs to be.

One of the graces of a long time friend is that she always gets where I’m coming from, even if it isn’t exactly the same place I started out. We talked on the phone recently, our first extended conversation since her visit, to celebrate the new Gemini Moon. She offered an acknowlegment of the isolation and vulnerability I must feel in my new surroundings, wild and beautiful as they are, without a car or many distinctly “unwild” places I can walk to, as I once could in Moscow or Portland.  She understands, too, that this is my soul’s assignment, to be here on the edge, in tandem with what she calls “primal nature.” I definitely agree, and was grateful for her careful term.

When I first visited the coast last August, I was stunned by my need reorient my sense of time to the tides, rather than all the things back in Portland I was constantly trying to keep up with. I knew it was the kind of time I need to keep. It was profoundly relaxing and grounding to open myself to that “primal” rhythm.

The longer I live with the MS and the other health challenges I have, the more discriminating I have become about the kind of stimulation I want to spend my energy on. It changes as I change, across the decades. In fact, following such promptings has become one of the fundamental ways I continue to live well with it. But that doesn’t always make it easy.

It is isolated here. Getting things done is attenuated by getting from one end of the coast to another. And it can be lonely, though I’ve made new friends, not having anyone nearby who shares my history. But it also seems that my soul’s assignment is to live on the edge between the worlds, another phrase my friend articulated that I didn’t have words for. Whatever that means in primal nature and spirit, I can do it most effectively at this point in my life if I am here. Where else could I tuck myself in bed with my dogs, look out the window and realize in awe I must be looking at a faint glow of northern lights to the northeast, because there is nothing else below it but forest? It went on for another half hour or so. I could hardly believe it was possible, but a neighbor who is an astronomer said it was. A month later, it happened again. I got up and watched it from the sliding glass door.

And no, often there are no words in this place ruled by the ocean. Just the calls of the mourning doves, the pound of the surf, the wind through the trees, through my hair, across the dog’s backs, the light white diamonds on the water against the shadow of gray clouds. This memory sketch at the top of the post, attempting to capture the gaze of the wild seal. How lucky I am, despite the challenges, to have looked into the eyes of a wild animal. And to be seen through the eyes of a long time friend. Both soothe my soul, make my life rich with these wild states of grace.

 

Maria (moonwatcher)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Raccoon Medicine

by Maria Theresa Maggi on April 27, 2017

I never was the child who tore open the wrapping on the birthday or Christmas presents with abandon, paper and ribbon crumpled and cast aside. For me, there was always a reverence to the opening, a hushed feeling. Was it really my turn? Was this really for me? And then the wrapping, so pretty. I hated to tear it. Carefully, I would try to slide the ribbon off without breaking it, careful peel the pretty paper along it’s taped seams.

Once the present was opened, the hesitancy continued, no matter how deep my delight or how much it was exactly what I thought I wanted.It was as if the act of receiving it put me in some kind of bewitched awe, as if I didn’t approach it just right I might somehow ruin it. Or maybe it was that I did not have the “right” place to wear the new dress after all. Or maybe what I’d make with my new wood burning set would not come out the way I hoped. Or maybe it was nothing like this. It just seemed like I had to be “ready” to use of inhabit my gift, and that came slowly. Sometimes it could be almost paralyzing, especially if a choice had to be made quickly and publicly.

The Catholic School I attended in first grade was blissfully ignorant of the perils of large class sizes. They squeezed 64 of us 6 year olds into a room meant for about half that many, with one Irish nun at the helm. Sister Conlath. She organized us into rows alphabetically and gave us numbers. Since my last name fell in the middle of the alphabet I was desk number 28.

Sister Conlath was a bit of a battle axe, which apparently my mother didn’t know. One night when she was tucking me in and telling me all the people who loved me, she put Sister Conlath on the list. My eyes got wide, and I asked incredulously, “She DOES?”

My mother thought this was delightful, and told it to me years later, her emphasis on the cuteness of my incredulity, never on the reality of Sister Conlath. Instead she focused on the big reading chart at the back of the classroom and how every time I finished a book I got a shiny foil star after my name and number. Number 28 had the most stars, or close to it.

This should have made me happy, but instead my stomach was in a knot as we were asked to line up and file to the top of the classroom where we each in turn were instructed to pick a prize in the range of how many books we’d read. Everyone got something, but the more you read, the “bigger” your pool of choices. You could pick from lesser prizes, but you could also pick from the more grand ones, which I now realize, where left over “prizes” from the booths at your parish fall festival: pretty dolls, large stuffed animals, and so forth.

The array of choices was a blur to me. I did not want to get up in front of everyone, with my chubby self and my leg in a brace, and best anybody by picking something they couldn’t have. Also, I did not really want another doll. So as the first 27 children slowly filed past the array of things and made their choices, I scouted it all and looked for something I thought I could actually use, which would not incite the envy of anyone else. And I found the perfect thing: a golf ball.

This might seem like a weird choice, but actually it was hand in glove for me. I had been learning to play jacks, no small feat with my weak right hand. (Sister Conlath had already nixed my tendency to make the sign of the cross with my left hand, the one not affected by the mild cerebral palsy: she said it didn’t count unless I did it with my right one.) On a more mundane level, the red rubber balls that came in a set of jacks simply did not have the kick and range a golf ball had. The golf ball went higher, gave  my hands more time to scoop up the required number of jacks before I had to catch the ball. I’d experienced this while playing with my older and wiser neighbor friend, Susan, who had one herself, and generously let me try. She had said it was the best way to go.

And there, on the shelf, was a golf ball on a tee, or a set of 3, or both, it’s hard to remember exactly now. But my eyes locked on them, and the knot in my stomach relaxed. I truly wanted a golf ball, and most likely no one else would. I was home free.

Or so I thought. When it was my turn I didn’t hesitate; I went right up to the golf ball and claimed it as my own. As I began to make my way back to my desk with a contented smile blooming on my often serious face, I suddenly heard Sister Conlath’s reproachful Irish brogue–sh–why in the WORLD had I picked a golf ball when I’d read more books than anyone else in the class and could have my pick of the beautiful dolls and other large prizes?

I froze. This was exactly what I had hoped to avoid–being singled out publicly for “besting” everyone else in their reading achievements. I was mortified. But I held my ground and tightened my grip around the golf ball.

“I want it for playing jacks,” I said, stubbornly and simply, looking her in the eye. I wasn’t going to budge.

There were no such things as super balls when I was in the first grade. The golf ball was the best there was if you wanted to play jacks well. I felt sorry for Sister Conlath that she didn’t see this. I tried my best to explain.

She let me keep the golf ball, but only after chastising me for picking a “silly” prize that was unworthy of me. She meant well. Her order of nuns were excellent reading teachers, and I attribute my great early skills in that area to their insistent and progressive approach. She was merely trying a rare, for her, opportunity to award us all for the efforts she insisted upon every day, and so she must have been anxious about doing it right. But just perhaps this is where I learned to fall back on that hesitancy, wanting to be sure it was now safe to enjoy my new gift, my new choice, whatever it was, without ridicule.

As a young adult, I started realizing how entrenched this tendency had become when I began having poems accepted for publication in small literary journals and magazines. When the hard copy would finally arrive in the mail for me to look at, I’d freeze. I just couldn’t open the pages to where my work had been printed. Would it look ridiculous? Be embarrassing to read on the page? Would my name look ridiculous? Would it be spelled wrong, or would something be left out or, worse yet, would something I left in ruin the whole thing? I’d have to work up to it. Find a quiet time when I could take a deep breath and just look. Turn to the page and be able to make sense of what I was reading and allow it to be in print for other people to read.

As is often happily the case, my child, when he came along, forced my hesitant hand by showing me a better way. From the beginning, he approached the receiving of presents with focused dedication, not only for himself, but for everyone else. At the ripe age of two, he insisted on being the one to hand the presents out from under the Christmas tree, charming everyone in the room. He’d say to young and old alike, as he stood by to watch the unveiling, “You better open it up–you never know–there might be a TOY in there!”

When he got a little older than that he fell in love with lego sets and every birthday or Christmas required a new one he hadn’t yet built. Our Christmas rituals required that we never have to be anywhere or do anything for a few hours afterward because he would disappear with his new set and literally not be available until it was all built. Then we could eat, go visit, whatever else was planned.

The same was true for his birthday. Once when he was visiting my parents, they gave him a set for his birthday. Of course he set right to work building it in their “conversation pit,” a sunken area around the fireplace. My mother thought she’d keep him company and chattered away at him while he was trying to sort things out. He paused only to write a sign that said “don’t talk to me–I’m building.” No one but my son could pull anything like that with my Mom and get away with it. She was flabbergasted and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It was next to impossible for her to keep quiet. In fact she talked about how he had shut her up for years to follow (it takes a Leo to know a Leo). At the time, she called me and I let her know the drill. And we both laughed. And my son had his peace and quiet to build in.

I carefully and somewhat wistfully observed that just naturally he didn’t hesitate to receive something he wanted or had asked for. And he also didn’t hesitate to demand the conditions he needed under which to enjoy it. I started to realize that maybe I ought to try to devise more conscious and deliberate strategies for accepting the gifts I am given, whether they are treasured objects, experiences or opportunities.

I’ve gotten better at it, but it still doesn’t come easily. There are shadowy places still where I think it doesn’t matter. As with so many profoundly important things in my life, it continues to be a work in progress.

Enter my teacher, the raccoon.

As some of you may remember, I nicknamed my new house “hummingbird house” because of all the hummingbirds that come around. But after I moved in, although I have continued to maintain the hummingbird feeder, and have seen many more, it became abundantly clear that long-time neighbors had another name for my new home: raccoon house.

The stories about this varied. The realtor seemed to think they had lived in the attic and/or under the house. Others seemed to imply they had come in through the chimney. Another was certain they’d entered through the once-rotted bathroom floor. I never heard these graphic details during escrow. I had also been assured that this name and all that came with it was a thing of the past.

There are so many wild animals in this neighborhood that I lumped this history in with other stories I’ve already heard: black bears that cross the highway to rummage through the dumpsters at the trailer park  where I  used to live part time, seals floating on the swells, and of course the legion of bunnies we see everywhere in the scrub bordering the beach. I’ve even heard that stands of elk have come into the neighborhood and range around on the bluffs. And this doesn’t even begin to cover the birds: hummingbirds, seagulls, crows, mourning doves, finches, robins, blue jays and bald eagles I have yet to see. Even the slugs here are the length of my hand. So squirrels and raccoons seem part and parcel of the teeming wildlife population.

I knew that my new home had stood unoccupied for a number of years before the woman I bought it from purchased it and began to fix it up. I knew that during this time raccoons had gotten into the house, which was why it had acquired its nick name.  So I laughed at the stories as an odd and interesting thing of the past. And sometimes I tried to imagine what the house must have looked like with raccoons living in it. Unlike the realtor, I had my suspicions they had indeed entered beyond the crawlspace. It turns out I was right.

I discovered a couple who lives down the street had looked at it as a possible fixer upper some years ago before they decided instead to purchase a lot and build new. Another couple I knew at the trailer park had also looked at it in this unoccupied state. One of them, a very talented retired interior designer who is not afraid of a big project, said, “It was a MESS.” So I let out a big sigh of relief the first time he came to visit and pronounced it very nice indeed.

And thus, with each exclamation of praise for the new fence, the new roof, or the way my furniture seemed to fit inside as if I’d been living here forever, the  raccoons remained a shadowy figment of the past. At the same time, I was letting a few shadows grow over the house. Without quite realizing it, my old habit of hesitancy to accept a new gift was still in force.

During the inspection I had while in escrow, it was deemed that the threshold on the back door had rotted, and should be replaced. It’s servicable, but is still awaiting a time when my  contractor can come and replace it. The house backs up to trees, salalle bushes and another house fairly close, so my yards are on each side of the house and the back is simply a  mulchy pine needled passageway, with a culvert dug out around the house. It’s not an access I knew we would use a lot, since there’s no fence and I didn’t want the dogs wandering into the neighbor’s yard as they staked out their new territory. But when I had the new fence built around the south side yard, I did have the contractor put in a “back gate” so I could go all the way around the house if we wanted and enter through the back door. But mostly it remained locked and closed.

Because of this, I neglected to remember that the porch light at the back door was burned out when I moved in. With so many things to settle, I kept forgetting to ask someone to change it for me. I would sometimes try it out, and be reminded it needed to be changed. The ability to do it myself safely, with everything else going on, was just out of reach for me. But I thought it wasn’t a priority. Without realizing it, I literally  let the back of the house slip into a kind of shadow.

This tendency became accentuated by my love of turning off all the outside lights at night in order to see stars, either standing outside, or from my bedroom window as I fall asleep or wake up in the wee hours. (It’s often cloudy or I don’t have the right view, but I like the opportunity.)

One night,  all tucked in bed in the wee hours, the dogs and I heard some loud thumps. They seemed to be coming from the back southwest corner of the house. This happened periodically, usually on nights it wasn’t raining. I couldn’t find the source. One night they were so loud I was certain someone might be trying to get in. I even poked my head out that back door. Nothing. Then all would be quiet. It wasn’t constant. I didn’t know what to make of it . With the weather so frequently stormy I chalked it up to a tree branch tossed in the wind hitting the side of the house. I kept it all in shadow.

Then one morning I got up and went to the bathroom counter only to find the tile and everything on it on the right side absolutely drenched in water. I could find no leak anywhere. It just didn’t make sense. So I wiped it all up and decided I must have really missed the mark the previous night when I was cleaning the mirror with a spray bottle, though that didn’t make a whole lot of sense either.

The dogs and I went out for a walk. Once we were home, fed, and I was settled in at the computer, it began to rain with purpose. I started to realize I was hearing really loud dripping that wasn’t coming from the rain chain just outside the living room window where I was sitting, or the way the drops can sometimes hit the large kitchen or bathroom windows facing the back of the house. I went into the bathroom to find a large steady drip coming from a hole in the ceiling where there mostly likely had been a light fixture and no one had gotten around to caulking it closed. I was in shock. Apparently my new roof, twice inspected, was leaking.

In all my 21 years of homeowning and all it’s maintenance challenges, I had never experienced a leaky roof or ceiling. I went blank for a few minutes, then ran to get my bucket. I texted the couple I know best and asked for more buckets, once I realized I would have to empty it when I could still move it and I’d need a replacement. The intensity of the leak ebbed and flowed with the intensity of the rain. The harder it poured the faster, bigger and more intense the drip.

I groped my way through a gaggle of arrangements. I had been given a warranty document through e-mail for new roof the seller had put on just months ago, but I couldn’t find it. So I wrote my realtor asking her if she could locate it for me.  My neighbor came over with extra buckets. He wondered if it was a possible pipe leak. He went upstairs above the bathroom but thankfully all was sound and dry up there. We determined that while I awaited information about how to get hold of the roofer who had done the work, I should also call my own contractor friend and urge him to come take a look. I knew he was mired down in a job way across town and was also fighting the elements. But my neighbor said, “Tell him to get his butt over here. It’s an emergency.” So I did. At the very least he could cover up whatever hole might be on the roof while I awaited word from the outfit that had done the job.

The warranty e-mail attachment arrived. It was vague, with no conditions or date of service or expiration, only the date issued, as if it had been made up at my request, an afterthought. But it had the firm’s name and contact number on it and my realtor urged me to call him. He was hours away but agreed to come by at the very least before dark and take a look. In the meantime, the bucket filled.

My contractor friend, bless his heart, heard my distress. He created a stopping point at his other job and came to look by late afternoon, long before the original roofer, who was tied up in inspections inland, had promised to get here. Destination on the coast is attenuated, because the coast, by its very nature, is also attenuated, and not right next to the valleys and mountains that eventually give way to it, so it was truly a gift he was able to get here in the time he did.

His face through my sliding glass door as he came down the ladder looked as if he had seen a ghost. He had sent me this photo from up on the roof, which I had not yet seen.

 

In all his work as a roofer and contractor on both sides of the continent, he had never seen raccoon damage like this. These were some determined raccoons, their instinct most likely driving them to the “home” where they had been born just a few years ago.

If you’ve ever read Wind in the Willows, you may remember Mole’s instinct for home described like this:

“We others who have long lost the more subtle of the physical senses, have not even proper terms to express an animal’s intercommunications with his surroundings, living or otherwise, and have  only the word ‘smell,’ for instance, to include the whole range of delicate thrills which murmur in the nose of the animal night and day, summoning, warning, inciting, repelling. It was one of those mysterious fairy calls from out the void that suddenly reached Mole in the darkness, making him tingle through and through with a very familiar appeal, even while as yet he could not clearly remember what it was. He stopped dead in his tracks, his nose searching hither and thither in tis efforts to recapture the fine filament, the telegraphic current, that has so strongly moved him. A moment, and he had caught it again; and with it this time came recollection in fullest flood.

Home! That was what they meant, those caressing appeals, those soft touches wafted through the air, those invisible little hands pulling and tugging, all one way! Why, it must be quite close by him at that moment, his old home that he had hurriedly forsaken and never sought again. .  .”

I would later learn that the house had stood unoccuppied for 5 years, that my seller had owned it for 2 years after that, and that the raccoons had been so expert at pulling the shakes off the old roof that in the end she had replaced the entire roof with materials everyone considered raccoon proof.

Now I admit, there were a few moments I put my head in my hands (all this happened during my nap time, so no nap of course), but there was another part of me that was perking up to pay attention. And even chuckling a little, in a paradoxical combination of incredulity and recognition. Of course, even though they damaged my roof to the tune of almost $500 (just under the amount any insurance I have would pay for it, and of course raccoon damage is not covered by a warranty designed to ensure workmanship), I did not want a solution that would harm them, only one that would discourage them. Intuitively, I understood how strong their instinct to find “home” must be.

My contractor friend had relocated many a racoon on the east coast, so he suggested a have-a-hart trap and offered to be the one to do the relocating if it came to that. And I began to ask the internet the 64 thousand dollar question: how to deter raccoons naturally and without poison or anything else that would intimidate my rather mild mannered dogs.

My first search efforts turned up a solar battery powered device on a certain online retail giant that flashed a red light that purported to repell the raccoons. The first review was all praise and success, but the second one showed a photo of the raccoon right up next to it, completely unphased. I laughed out loud. Maybe fancy new flashing red lights were not necessary. Too much like a squad car. I began to backtrack and review my own behavior and then to look deeper about what the raccoon had to teach me about myself.

Whenever I begin such a review, the most simple things I’ve left out become painfully obvious. From my reading, it was obvious that raccoons are nocturnal and are discouraged by light. The porch light had to be changed and left on, along with the very bright lights in either direction at the sliding glass door. It finally dawned on me that’s what the lights were there for in the first place.

The night after the leak, the roof was tarped and secured with bricks. The lights stayed on and no one dropped onto the roof. Early the next morning my contractor friend repaired the roof, replaced the chewed flange, and pruned back the huge cedar branch that was overhanging that section of the roof, allowing the raccoons to crawl out onto it and swing down onto the roof from there. Thump. Like monkeys almost. Apparently there was someone trying to get in the night I looked. I just didn’t know where and how to look.

This also made me smile, a good sign. The night after the repairs, we went to bed with the back porch light on. But I forgot to turn on the double duty ones near the sliding glass door. Again, in the wee hours of the morning, the dogs and I heard a thump, this time near the front of the house. We immediately went to the front door, and went out and made a racket. I let the dogs roam around and I yelled something about going away or getting off the roof. I turned the side lights on and the rest of the night was quiet. Every night since the lights have been on and there are no more thumps in the night.

The raccoons, though they tried mightily, never made it in, and I never saw a one. But clearly they had a message for me.

On the third night after the leak in the bathroom ceiling, I stood on my front door threshold as twilight approached, and had a conversation with the raccoons I was certain were nearby. (It turned out that I later learned they might have been very close by–in general they live in the culverts that run around the outside of the lots all through my neighborhood.) I told them that I truly did understand about being displaced, but that now the house was no longer truly a safe and private place for them to come back to nest to. I wished them a cozier, safer place in the forest just a block over, or wherever else they chose, where they would not be trapped, poisoned, frightened or otherwise bothered. I said it was non-negotiable because the place their instincts remembered was gone. Two rather large dogs, from a raccoons perspective anyway, lived in it, and a human, to boot. There were lights and noisy machines. It wasn’t easy to get in and out of anymore. But it would be very easy to get trapped and be very frightened. To seal the deal, I walked around the house with my  lit smudge stick, first smudging in the bathroom where the leak had occurred, and then all around the house and the trees that offered them access to the roof. I watched as the extra solar lights I had placed began to glow, and I turned on all the porch lights.

It felt like something had shifted, mostly in me. I was sweeping away the shadows and claiming the entirety of my space  without violence or conflict.

In my reading on raccoon prevention I had turned to an approach not many might embrace, or even take seriously, but which for me is essential. I thought it would be at least as worth my time to read about the significance of raccoon in native american lore and medicine as it  was to learn they avoid areas that are brightly lit to begin with. In my reading I found some very delightful things that hit the nail on the head and made me laugh.

Apparently one spiritiually minded woman had first tried the same solar powered red light flashing device I had read about when the raccoons made for her vegetable garden right outside her sliding glass door. They simply figured out how to turn the device on its side so the flashing red light was covered, and went on eating the veggies. After a few nights of this, she admitted defeat, but the device in the garage, and meditated on the spirit of raccoon, asking it to please spare her garden. The raccoons went away.

I think I also need the porch lights on, but I also know in my gut my respectful conversation with them made a difference, even though I can never prove that. What it did for me was take me out of a place of hesitancy and anxiety. It helped me step up and claim the gift I’ve been given in the form of this new home, and claim it all the way to every dark corner and edge.

And though I’d never actually seen them, I thought it would add to the power of our shamanic connection if I spent some time sketching their images, out of respect for their lives and their needs, not so different than mine. One of those sketches is at the top of this post.

Raccoons are scavengers. They squat and take what does not appear to be used. I had to laugh about that too, because I align with that energy. I find or glean things all the time no one else wants and make use of them. I have many clothes and garden pots and objects I found in free boxes in Portland and even the laptop I am typing on I bought refurbished. I have discovered a seemingly defunct community garden within walking distance of my new house, on land owned by the fire district. The administrative assistant encouraged me to go ahead and squat, after weeks of inquiry about who, if anyone, is still coordinating it turned up no answers. Another couple asking the same thing surfaced and the three of us are making a place within it and waiting to see who else might come along, hoping we can all work together. And like the raccoon, I learn about these things I find by holding and manipulating them in my physical hands.

So I began to see that raccoon medicine might be saying to me, “hey, if you’re not going to use all of this house as your own, we’ll just swing down here and try to get in our old haunt again.” Keeping it dark and covered by a low hanging branch was my “permission” for them to enter. Now that I have filled my space completely with a better energetic boundary, lots of light, and trimmed branches, it seems my new message has been delivered.

If not, there are other non-destructive, non-invasive steps I can take. But for now, this “less” is definitely “more.” And when I need reminding, I listen to this song a wildlife relocator used to accompany her film of a mother raccoon moving her kits to a new location in the forest, beyond the fenced area where she had temporarily placed them, after rescuing them from a house situation that was not tenable. The first time I heard it I couldn’t stop giggling. Initially it seemed an unusual, excessively silly and sentimental accompaniment. But as I continued to listen, I realized it delighted the heck out of me and the words were the very ones I needed to internalize in order to claim my own space:

Time and space stretch out before you/and the universe implores you/take your place among all things/and see what tomorrow brings/to your own self be true/there’s nothing more to do.

In truth, it made me so happy and delighted to hear it, I’ve played it as a kind of soundtrack each morning I’ve worked to finish this blog post. So I’ll leave you with the opportunity to take listen to it here.

Even in my 60’s, I’m still learning to claim my golf balls, unwrap my presents with relish, and wiggle my toes all the way into them. At the same time, I hope I never stop finding things or favorite “secret” spots others have left by the wayside, but mostly I hope I never stop discovering affinity in the most unlikely experiences. It’s the best gift of all.

Maria (moonwatcher)

 

 

 

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At The End Of The The Rainbow

April 3, 2017

It’s barely visible, but if you look closely at this photograph, there is a fading rainbow just above the tops of the trees. And it you look even more closely, you’ll see the residue of another  one above it where the clouds are breaking through. It is the Spring of 2014 on the Palouse. This […]

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At Home in the World

March 11, 2017

  Several years ago a man who broke my heart told me that somewhere in the Casteneda books, the wise man told the seeker that if you’re in love with the world you’re never lonely. This man said he thought that I was one of these special people, that I was in love with the […]

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Thinking About My Things

February 11, 2017

  When I first began to teach myself how to draw again, I focused a lot on objects from life or from photographs that captured my eye. It took me a long time to attempt to draw something from memory. When I do draw from memory, I learn a lot about what was most prominent […]

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A Hummingbird And A Seagull Made Me Do It

January 26, 2017

As Christmas approached, and we were to spend the bulk of it at the trailer, I began to regret that with all the moving, I had no clear idea of where my Christmas decoration box actually was. It wasn’t in my condo in Portland, and I didn’t remember seeing it in the basement storage room […]

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Wrapping The World in Light

December 21, 2016

Happy Solstice Dear Readers! I have performed a little pastel magic to wrap our beautiful blue ball of earth in light. Wherever you live on it, we are all on a threshold through the longest night, or reveling in the longest day. It seems to me to hold such opposites in our hearts is exactly […]

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Blood Oranges and Slow Miracles in Poetry

December 6, 2016

On December 1st, Blood Orange Review, an online literary journal at Washington State University, announced its newest edition, volume 8.2, was now live. That edition includes a poem of mine called “As If We Were Solid and Did Not Go On Forever.” This poem is about an experience I had over 20 years ago that […]

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It’s Just A Tea Bag

November 19, 2016

I am a creature of the deep force of habit. As so many of you might be able to relate to, my morning bowl of oats is at the hub that drives that wheel. The way I prepare them hardly changes through an entire season, and the arc of change is usually gradual, like the […]

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Close Calls

November 15, 2016

Is a wave still a wave after it throws itself onto the shore, and then recedes, flattened, back into the surf? The water is but a few inches deep, and on this particular day, filled with foam. It’s early November, almost noon. We are walking on a state beach at low tide. The sun has […]

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