Love Penny, Lost Raccoon

The other day I’d taken my jar of change in to Walmart to redeem some big-time cash for my savings. After the coins had all filtered down through the machine I heard one final and ringing ‘clink’ sound. I checked, and to my surprise retrieved one single penny, cut into the shape of a heart, and with the word “LOVE” stamped into it. Having been rather at the end of my rope recently, and finding even this outing to be something of a challenge with respect to my panic attacks alone, I couldn’t help but see it as a sign. Some readers may smile and nod knowingly, others may think me silly. Who cares, regardless of the means, this little love penny came to me. It came to me at a time when I needed a secret hello of some sort from the universe – real or imagined. When I went to redeem my change for the big money (I even liked the sum: $17.17) I just had to share my story with the gal at the register. She thought it just as sweet and serendipitous as I, and I departed, happy, feeling like I’d just been given a mysterious, secret wink from the world. I tucked the little copper heart into an interior pocket of my purse. Several times during the day I’d pull it out and examine it in wonder. I imagined the person who tossed it into the machine, smiling, thinking of the recipient, hoping it would make their day. I thought of them, thanked them and received the special little penny with gratitude.

Today I awoke with a heart lightened by my surprise ‘love penny’ from the day before, and an attitude refreshed by a sense that things might still be on my side, in spite of all I had before me. Needing someone to bear witness to the unbelievable volume of the stuff I had collected in my basement alone (and needed to get rid of in the coming few weeks), I had my mother – bum knee and all – brave the cellar stairs and come down to witness the enormous mess before me. “How did you get all this stuff?” she asked me, unaware that even she had played her own small part in the chaos; a Sierra club backpack here, a stack of Audubon bird calendars there… Crap everywhere. I don’t even understand how it all got here. I just don’t know; stuff finds us. Hand me downs – a very welcome staple of our life here in Greenfield – take up far more space than I’d realized. Having excavated the old ‘root’ cellar I find the main room now piled from floor-to-ceiling with bins upon bins… It seems so innocent at the time, a friend sends a box, someone leaves a bag on our steps, a classmate one size larger leaves us a bin… Don’t get me wrong, we need this stuff. It’s what clothes my child. Between what I make and what his father sends – there’s not enough to buy clothes after our bills are met. So it’s all a tremendous blessing – only we can’t ever use all of it. And it takes a lot of time to go through and set the extra stuff aside. And besides – some of it is still too big for Elihu right now, so we have to save it. It all takes up space.

But so do old Halloween costumes and boxes of paper airplanes. So do RC cars and defunct helicopters and vintage computers… It all adds up, and the result is a basement in which we can both no longer find things nor walk around in. And I for one have had it.

So when folks lightheartedly ask me what I’m doing for the summer (you know, with all this time in which to relax!) it’s impossible to answer them as truthfully as I’d like. I have a LOT of shit before me, from my own personal stuff to that of the Studio. And I’m just one woman. But I take heart this morning, because after all, someone, somewhere sent me little give of love… and just remembering this makes me smile. Yeah, I have a lot to do, and a huge adventure still before me, but I’m beginning to feel hopeful again. I’m in my own personal zone now; I don’t even know where my kid is – it’s only when I check in on Facebook that I see the photo a friend has posted of him. He’s in Fort Wayne, Indiana today, busking and netting some good tips and giving an interview to the local paper. Good for him. I’d like to check in, but I gotta keep moving.

Today I’m emptying the garage, cleaning it, having the brush dealt with and setting traps for the raccoons. May not sound like a lot, but it is. A wonderful fellow named Joe came today and worked hard in the hot summer sun cutting the chest-high brush and cleaning up a years’ worth of neglect. It was a good day. I began to feel that I might be regaining some control over things. I began to feel like the universe was putting out little signs for me, hoping I’d pick up on them.

The day before, just before I’d found my heart-shaped penny, I stopped to watch some guys unloading a bin full of donated clothing. I’d been doing a little reconnaissance regarding the destination of all my stuff… I was wondering where this stuff ended up, and if in fact it all got used. They insisted it did, and furthermore, they offered that they could even come to my house to make a pickup. Although it was mostly clothing that people’d left in the bins, I saw that other artifacts had been tossed into the heap as well. “I don’t even know what this is” the young man said as he held up a bas-relief portrait of Buddha. “That’s Buddha.” I informed him. He gave me a rather blank look. “He’s kinda like Jesus for another part of the planet.” “Oh, yeah, I’ve heard of him. Yeah. Cool.” he set it down again and went back to throwing bags of clothes onto the truck. “Would I be breaking the rules if I took him?” I asked. “Oh, you’re cool. You can take him.” the boy answered. And so I did. I thanked the guys, wished them well, and tucked the Buddha into my backseat. It felt very much like a little nod from the universe. I could definitely use a little Buddha today. A little paint and tlc, and he might just be a perfect pick-me-up and addition to our wall at home. And then I got the penny not a half hour later. Both of em, just what I needed, at just the right time.

I’d set the humane traps the day before for the raccoon, but had been twice duped by the clever beast. First, somehow, she’d managed to retrieve the chicken thigh cooked in bacon fat without so much as tripping the damned thing. That morning she’d fooled me again, by digging underneath the closed trap and retrieving the bread from below the cage, through the mesh. Inside the house I’d been having another ongoing drama with Gwendolyn, our resident chipmunk. She’d gotten so comfortable in our house that she’d now sit on the kitchen table while I drank my coffee in the morning, sitting as still as I believe a chipmunk to have the patience to, and she’d just watch me while I sipped. A good two or three minutes would pass before she decided she’d had enough, and she’d flit away. When I’d taken Elihu to the airport last week, I’d also taken Gwendolyn, or at least one of her relatives, and so there was every chance that a family had taken up residence in the car as well. For as sweet as they seem, for as endearing as Gwendolyn was as we shared our moment in the morning, I cannot forget that she and hers threaten the electrical system in my car as well as  the safety of the food in my pantry. Like the raccoon, she too thwarted my efforts to use the humane trap on her, escaping the closed trap with the bait, and without injury.

It’s not been an easy decision for me by any means to take action, but tonite I had to. I had Joe set a real trap for the raccoon, and rat traps will follow for the chimpmunks. Tonite, shortly after I’d taken a shower and was about to get into bed, I heard a shrieking sound. I went out to the edge of the woods and saw her there, stuck, flailing. It was not as I’d thought it would be. I ran to the garage and searched in vain for my sledgehammer with which I meant to end her suffering.  Now in tears, I ran to call neighbor Zac, who showed up only moments later, but just too late. The raccoon had finally died. And as Zac and I worked to free her from the trap, I saw she was a mother. Her kids had likely stopped nursing and were grown, she didn’t have milk, but still, it was hard to see. Having just died, she was warm and soft. I held her like a baby, I told her I was sorry. I understood it was she who’d taken my beloved hens, yet still I didn’t feel glee at her death. A little relief, yes, but it was still sad.

It’s so hard to reconcile all of the extremes in this world. One day I can’t imagine waking up one more morning, the next day I’m encouraged by tiny signs…. One day my heart is angrily set on taking out the animal that’s been killing my own, but in the end, I feel a mix of sorrow and a mild sense of regret. No celebration. No mourning really even. Just sort of a nondescript settling in of the process. Tonite I feel a mix of so many things all at once. The relief that soon my extra things will be gone, that soon the Studio will be underway, that the raccoon is dead. Good and bad, despondent and hopeful, living and dead. It all exists in such close proximity.

I think of my penny, and I go to retrieve it from my purse. It’s not there. In a mild panic, I search for it everywhere I can think of, in the junk drawer, in my car, in my jewelry drawer, in every corner of my purse. I don’t remember moving it since the last time I dropped it into my bag… How on earth is it gone? Yet it must be. In my possession for less than a day and night, I am saddened at the loss. I hadn’t even taken a picture of it. I google the image, and I find nothing like it. There is no proof of my sign… it’s gone…. And then I think of the love penny and how it did just what it was supposed to at the right time, and now it was simply on its way to do its job again for the next person in need. And I think of my new friend, Mr. Buddha. That middle way he talked about. Let things come as they will, and let them go. I guess I just gotta go with it. Easy come, easy go.

I can’t help but look to tomorrow with a new sort of excitement and anticipation, and at the same time I look at the past with gratitude and a sense of wonder. I’m sorry about the raccoon, and I send her my love. On we go, may we all be on the way to a better place, whether it’s here or somewhere yet unknown…

IMG_7434My garage is bursting…

IMG_7410… and my basement is full with Halloween costumes and the assorted detritus of life.

IMG_7413Some things I can’t part with… old concert posters and a certificate for my father signed by Pablo Casals.

IMG_7550Elihu drew these on his easel at five, shortly after me moved here.

IMG_7427God bless Katie and Kat – they helped with the gruntwork.

IMG_7475Some things – like this paper plane of hundreds – get burned.

IMG_7442Joe has been another Godsend. He’s helped cut the overgrowth on my property, which is wonderful, but I learn he’s a trapper, too.

IMG_7446It takes a bit of finesse to set it right.

IMG_7449This is what it looks like when he’s finished.

IMG_7560This is an unsuccessfully closed trap from which a chimpmunk escaped – with the bait. !

IMG_7565I’m sorry to say that in this picture she’s still alive, and struggling. This was horrible to witness. From now on when I do this I’ll have my sledgehammer on hand. This must be quicker and more humane.

IMG_7570When she does finally pass, I admire her hands. So clever, just last night she’d removed bait from a humane trap and escaped. I’ve even seen her use these hands to remove the lids from garbage cans. She was very smart and talented.

IMG_7584I can’t help but cradle her. She’s dead now, but still soft and warm. I thanked her for being a good mom and doing what she was supposed to. Even Zac, as seasoned a farm fellow as he is, he wasn’t any happier about this than I was. She’s now been double-bagged and is in our freezer pending ideas from Elihu. I think it’ll just be a memento of a tail. I just don’t have an appetite for revenge barbecue. Bless you little girl, hope you’re in a better place. I’m relieved that I don’t have to fear for my hens anymore. Hopefully we’re onto a new chapter.


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