Tuesday, November 20, 2012

There are still creatures here.

It’s night time, but still early.
I’ve parked the truck after a trip to Los Betos, eager to tear into two pounds of chicken nachos supreme.
Locking the truck, I start through the parking lot and notice unusual movement to my left.

So I stop and look. Not twenty yards away, along the sidewalk moving in silence, is a furry creature.
The overhead streetlight etches its shape in a stark contrast.

It’s too big to be a cat. Lumbering too heavily, not feline at all. It’s not a dog, its movement is too deliberate to be anything remotely domesticated. I’ve seen javelina before, this isn’t one of them. This thing has a long banded tail, drooping low. It's stronger looking than a coyote or jackal, and doesn't have a skip to its step like they do. 

In the small town of La Porte, I once walked alongside a family of possums. This was more like a possum, but didn’t waddle as they did.

I need to know what this thing is. So I take a few quiet steps across the pavement and onto the thick, winter lawn. It’s cool and forgiving under my feet, making no sound. The creature still hasn’t noticed me.

I wish instead of this bag of nachos, I had a National Geographic accent and a camera.

I follow it slowly, crouched, getting closer. It’s stopped at the base of a tree, the only object that looks familiar to it, I figure.

This is a wild animal. No one owns this thing. It hasn’t run away from somewhere, no one’s looking for it, or given it a name and collar. It’s just out here adapting and surviving.

A breeze comes from behind me, making the plastic bag flap a bit. I cringe at the sound. The creature hears it, and stares right at me. My cover is blown, so I remain still.

Its face, I recognize it now. A black mask, like war paint over its eyes. This is a raccoon. But far larger than any raccoon I’d seen on TV. If raccoons had professional wrestling, he would be their Hulk Hogan.

Its eyes were unblinking, alert but not afraid. Only a glint of light revealed their aim at me.

Neither of us move, just watching each other. The city sounds of cars and bustle seem far away now, a nuisance neither the raccoon nor I want around.

There’s something unreal about this encounter. It makes my regular life seem ugly, robotic and empty. This creature has no set schedule. No bills, no anxiety, no depression, nothing to envy, no one to impress.

It’s doing so well despite a million reasons to be afraid. If our situations were switched, and I was stuck in his normal environment, I would die within mere days. I’d wither and fail, worthless and soft.

This raccoon is better at life than I am.

I take a cautious step forward, it matches with a hand on the tree. I say ‘hand’ because I was close enough to observe what looked more like fingers than paws, even in the dark.

By now, this raccoon, however he’d manage to survive in this city, had seen his share of humans and avoided them successfully. I’ve never seen something like him, though. I wanted to help him, or pet him or something. Stupid city boy.

I knelt down, opened the nachos and took a handful out of the box. The crackle of the bag sent him a few feet up the tree trunk.

I tossed the handful towards him, at the base of the tree. If I threw a little harder, I could have hit him. His eyes remained on me, unwavering, pondering and weighing threat levels.

I take several steps backward, improving his odds.

He smells the nachos with a twitch of his nose, eyes flicker to them, then back at me. He moves down the trunk in a way that the streetlight fully illuminates him. His hair is wild and coarse, like armor scraped after many battles. This is the king of all raccoons. 

I take a few more steps back. He’s at the base of the tree again, shoulders square with mine. He’s going to eat them! I’m so happy about that.


Our moment shatters. Monster raccoon flies up the tree, hidden under the leaves now except for the tip of his tail. He doesn’t trust me, or my nachos, anymore.

Some girl has revealed herself, about to go on a walk with her purse dog on the other end of the parking lot. I pick up my bag and move away in the dark, as the girl and her dog come onto the lawn.
Because of her blaring headphones, she is completely unaware of me.

Her purse dog’s collar has a little bell on it that jingles. The dog and the girl move without any of the cautious calculation that the ‘wild’ raccoon had. Doggy has discovered the handful of nachos, he eats it, while being scolded “Ohmygod ew what are you doing! No!”

I look back to the tree, she has no idea a giant raccoon is just above her head, either.
Raccoon and I have something in common there, for a moment.

I see the tip of its hairy tail flick, then retract into the unseen.