This thought came into my head this morning: "I am tired of crumbs. I want the whole cake." My next thought was that I can't have cake because it's got sugar and flour (which I don’t eat) but I laughed at myself: My thought process was an example of settling for crumbs.
I met Mario on his break (he is definitely the whole cake and not crumbs), and I told him this thought. How do I embrace life when not all of it is what you want, like, or need? That is the question. I need to shift attitudes, priorities, outlook. Mario said, “But we are eating the whole cake. Look at what we’re doing with our writing.” I didn’t say, “Yes, but when will we make a living at it?”
I kissed Mario under the great old oak by the library and we went our separate ways. As I walked away, I thought about my job and what I would do if they tried to force me to work in a building I believe is toxic to me. Why after 18 years were they fussing about this? I started anticipating another battle, one I didn’t want to wage but would. I do my job, I do it well. Why wasn't that enough? I started imagining how we would survive if I lost my job. I heard a dog bark once. I looked up. I heard a strange animal noise I sometimes heard in the middle of the night. I looked across the street and saw two raccoons coming down the driveway of the house across the street and running toward me.
I was startled. I don't know if I've ever seen raccoons out in the bright sunshine. When I realized they weren’t actually running toward me, I stopped and watched them. They were clearly involved in their own drama. One of the raccoons stopped, looked at me and then immediately ducked back into a thicket of Oregon grape and disappeared. Then the other one looked my way, seemed to sigh, then disappeared, too. I laughed. I had dreamed last night of a pen full of all kinds of animals: wild and domesticated. It was a mess--in the dream--and I needed to do something about it. Was this my dream leaking into daytime?
Raccoons are part of our neighborhood, although I only see them at dusk or at night. They regularly eat from our compost and leave droppings on our yard. (I much prefer their pellets to cat and dog feces.) They have also made a path over our land--well, it’s their land, too.
I welcome them, and I understand they are wild animals best left to their own devices. They are indigenous to this continent. In legend and myth, they were considered tricksters. In the stories, Raccoon is sometimes a thief who is punished for thievery; sometimes Raccoon is a medicine person bringing spiritual teachings. In most of the stories, Raccoon is considered sacred and is renowned for her/his dexterity. The various Native American names for raccoons almost always mean “one who picks things up” or “they handle things.” But Raccoon’s other names are more spiritual in nature. The Aztec name means “she who talks to spirits (or gods)” and “little one who knows things.” The Dakota Sioux name means “magic one with painted face.” In other tribes their names mean “one with magic” or “one who makes magic.”
Raccoons are survivors. They pick up crumbs or scraps of food--treasures to them, no doubt--wherever they find them and they make feasts. I suppose that’s what writers and storytellers do, only our crumbs are words and we put them together to tell a story, to create a world. Raccoons and writers and artists--maybe we’re all cooks. (Or bakers?) We find the crumbs, the scraps, and we create the meal, the dish, the feast. Afterward, maybe we write down the recipe. You need a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and don’t forget a sprinkle of the other.
I don’t imagine Raccoon ever sits around wondering why things aren’t easier or why things aren’t different from what they are.
The other day I was on a trail and I was a little out of breath as I trudged up, up, up. I reached the bottom of last ascent, an actual stairway in the woods made up of 26 steps. Two women were coming down the stairs. I said to one, “Someday I’m actually going to like a trail that isn’t always going up.”
One of the women said, “Honey, that’s called a sidewalk.”
She had a point.
I chose this path in the wilderness, even if I didn't choose all the obstacles I've encountered on the way.
Straw into gold. Crumbs into cake. Scraps into a feast.
That’s what we do. That’s what I’ve always done, although I often wonder if I’m missing an ingredient or two.
Today I feel related to Raccoon, or at least akin to her. I can “handle things” and “make magic.” I know I can.
Maybe it’s time to go paint my face, raccoon-style, and get started.
(The quoted material is from Animal Wisdom by Jessica Dawn Palmer and Wildlife Folklore by Laura C. Martin.)