Photo by Anna Salisbury
Just a little further.
Just reach a little bit more.
“Hey! Get outta here!”
A light as bright as the sun blinds me. Something big is thrown at me and narrowly misses.
“I was so close.” Defeated, I hurry home before he shoots at me again.
I’m not sure how to go undetected. No matter how sneaky I can be he always find me out. What can I do? Surely someone has an answer for me. I’m going to ask Fred.
Fred was the most successful raccoon of the family. He was able to sneak past any farmer and get all the corn and cat food he wanted. He had secrets and I would get him to spill them all to me tonight.
Fred was similar to the cranky uncle that we all have in our families. If you came by unannounced, he was likely to thump you good. I would take my chances this evening. The farmer had caught me three times this week alone and the pains in my stomach would kill me if I didn’t get into his corn harvest.
As I approached his loft I heard his crackly voice come from within a hay bale. “What do you want boy? I was sleeping just fine until you came along and woke me up.”
“How did you know I was here?”
“I can see you coming from a mile away.”
I was stunned. It didn’t matter how quite I was if I can be seen from so far away. “What part of me can you see?”
“With my eyes open or closed? You’re too easy boy. Didn’t your old man teach you anything?”
“No. He was caught in a trap before I was old enough to be taught.”
He was quite for a moment. “That’s right. I had forgotten about that. Shame. He was one of the best, next to me of course.”
I had yet to see his face. It seemed odd to be talking to a hay bale. If he had picked a painted jack-o-lantern bale I would think twice about his advice.
“What makes you the best?” I would call him out even if it was the last thing I did.
“Who wants to know? Anyone crawling around with a pasty-face like that surely doesn’t have a clue as to who I am.”
“If you are so great then live up to your self-proclaimed legend and teach me.” I only hoped that he wouldn’t be too harsh even though I was being a bit brash.
A soft thud behind me quickly followed by one of the hardest blows to the back of my head I’d ever felt was all I remember that night. I woke up to the sun roasting me.
I reached up behind my left ear and felt the large lump that was there as a reminder of the encounter last night. Why had I been such a fool?
Sitting upright, I look around and see that I’m covered in mud from head to toe. What happened to my beautiful white fur? I hated being dirty and Fred was clearly the one to blame. I would talk to him again tonight. But first I had to get this mud off my fur. Who would recognize me like this?
I sauntered down to my favorite bathing spot at the creek. It was a swift moving creek which swept away all the nasty mud from my elegant white fur. Who did he think he was smearing all that mud on me like that? The nerve of that guy. I would definitely give him a piece of my mind when I saw him tonight.
I scrubbed for hours getting my fur back to its beautiful sheen. Grumbling to myself, I took a break from cleaning to catch a few crawdads that were foolishly swimming too close to resist. The way they slid down after washing them is absolutely delicious.
The moonlight finally shined its brilliance on the countryside. I managed to find a half-eaten ear of corn just up the path from Fred’s hay bale. Sweet corn from the farmer’s field was the best around.
As I grew closer to Fred’s place I was lost in thought while eating my new found treat trying to decide what to say. I heard it coming right before it hit me. Knocking the wind out of me, I went sailing backwards. With stars flying around my head I stagger back to my feet I could hear him chuckling to himself.
“Who do you think you are?” I yell at him. “Why are you treating me this way?” Furious anger burned within me.
“You don’t learn, do you boy? I tried to teach you a lesson last night. Clearly, it didn’t sink in.”
“What lesson? All I remember is you knocking me unconscious and covering me with mud. Do you know how long that took to wash off? I spent hours scrubbing my fur to get it back to this way.”
I still couldn’t see him. He was close, I just didn’t know where. Hopefully he wouldn’t hit me on the head again.
“When was the last time you saw another of your kind?”
“I can’t remember the last time I saw one like me.” Throwing my hands up, “Nobody wants me around.”
“Go to the waterhole over there and look at yourself.”
I was getting to the end of my patience. Now I need to look at myself? Looking around, I see it over to my left. Grumbling to myself and brushing dirt away, I made my way over to it and looked at my reflection in the calm water.
I saw nothing new except the newly placed dirt and mud covering my chest. Looking at my reflection was something I hadn’t done in a while. That was when Fred’s face appeared over my shoulder. I turned in shock at what I saw.
He was dark skinned!
“How are you dark?” I blurted out. “I thought we were all white like me.”
“I’m afraid there is something you should know about yourself. Can you remember what your father looked like?”
“No. He was gone before I was old enough. My mother left me at an early age too. I can’t remember her face either.”
“Your father was white like yourself. He also had a hard time finding food for himself because he couldn’t blend into the woods.”
“You knew my father.”
“I was his friend and teacher. I am much older than I look.”
“If you were his teacher, where is he now? Why have I not seen him?”
He turned around at this point and started to walk down a path. I quickly joined in step with him.
“When you father was younger, his parents gave him up because he was of the white fur just like you. They knew that he would have a difficult time in life and decided that they didn’t want to see his suffering. They abandoned him near the creek.
He struggled for days to find food for himself. That was when he stumbled upon the farmer’s field of corn. Delicious sweet corn was his favorite. It was then that I found him and knew immediately that I had to teach him how to survive or he would die soon. I took him to my den and fed him.
Your father quickly gained in strength and became one of the best. Although, arrogance quickly set its root in him.
Fall came too soon that year and I was caught off guard by it. I didn’t have enough food stashed away and we needed to gather much more than we had.
I warned him about the dangers of the foot paths during this time of year, but the arrogance wouldn’t let him listen. He didn’t come home that evening. I went looking for him and found him stuck in a farmer’s foot trap. He was lying so still I didn’t know if he was still alive. I tried like mad to get him out of the trap. I was too weak to budge it.
That was when I heard something coming down the foot path. With tears in my eyes I fled into the woods just out of sight. It was the farmer. As I looked away I heard a loud noise. I looked back at your father and I saw his life was gone. The farmer reached down and pulled him out of the trap and covered the trap up again and picked up the lifeless form and went back the way he came holding your father up and whistling while he left.”
With tears in his eyes Fred continued along the path. After some time he turned to me and said, “I’m trying to right a wrong dealt to someone all those years ago by teaching you better than I did him.”
I was silent the rest of the evening. I couldn’t work up the nerve to leave. It would crush us both.
The next day I looked at Fred with a different light in my eyes. I saw him for the caring father-like figure he was trying to be instead of the cranky eccentric type I’d thought him to be.
I eventually came to terms with keeping my fur covered in mud and dirt to help blend into the woods better. Fred taught me how to improve my stealth and I practiced everyday until I could sneak up behind him undetected.
We spent the years together learning from one another. I never had a better friend or teacher in all my life.