The Persevering Raccoons
Author: Nalin Singal
Editor: Jinhee Noh
It was a chilly morning in early March and everyone was fast asleep in Yosemite National Park. The sun had just risen and was cutting through the fog and bringing warmth to the trees and animals alike. He-wan was just starting to stir when her kids jumped on the bed excitedly and dragged her and her partner, Avanya, to the opening of the hollow pointing to the first blooms of flowers on the tree. The sight brought an instant smile to He-wan’s face as spring always meant plenty of food for the raccoon family.
As usual, He-wan scrambled down the tree, found 3 large, dried leaves and rolled them together in form of a cone. She then proceeded over to the nearby geyser and filled the cone with warm water oozing out of the earth. Clambering back into her hollow, she saw Avanya waiting with some honey which she dissolved in the water and shared their morning drink.
The raccoons continued their morning regimen with some exercises at the foot of the tree after which He-wan went about to hunt and collect food while Avanya and the kids went exploring. Since their home was near the edge of the forest, Avanya always deemed it safer to explore deeper inside rather than risk encountering a human. But the kids, as usual, didn’t understand the dangers involved and begged and pleaded with her till she gave in and carefully guided them to the outskirts.
As the trees started thinning out, they heard a low hum constantly growing louder and menacing. The raccoons became really guarded and wanted to turn back but their curiosity egged them on, until they came to a clearing and saw something that sent chills down their spines.
The humans were here and they were not alone!
They had brought along monstrous looking devices that they guided to the mighty redwood trees and, in a blink of an eye, they felled the trees. The raccoons had always felt safe in the redwood forest and had never in their wildest dreams imagined someone harming the huge trees. Still in shock that something could kill a tree that a herd of elephants couldn’t move, they slowly retreated back into the woods. Avanya coaxed the kids to move faster and they scurried back towards their tree and scampered to the hollow and just sat there all day, shivering. Waiting for He-wan to return.
He-wan worked furiously all day, chasing after rodents and other smaller animals and collecting acorns for her family. Her spirits were high though, since spring was just around the corner and that would mean longer days and more favorable climate. She bundled up her loot of the day, 3 rodents and about 2 dozen acorns and headed home. She decided to take the longer way back, walking by the cliff, watching the sunset in the horizon. Everyone was headed home. A flight of pigeons flew across the great blue yonder while a herd of deer made one last stop at the brook for sip of water. This time of the day always seemed to relax to He-wan and she slowed her gait to enjoy the moment for a little longer but moved steadily towards her home where Avanya and the kids were anxiously awaiting dinner.
“Dinner’s here!” yelled the big raccoon as she entered the hollow, expecting everyone to lunge at her bag. But instead, she was greeted by silence. Walking up to Avanya, she grew concerned as she had never seen the ever smiling Avanya, so deathly pale. Slowly, in a cracking voice, the 3 raccoons described what they saw that morning. He-wan, the ever calm, reassured everyone that she will investigate after dinner and set about making a hot-pot soup using the rodents. After dinner, the kids were tucked into bed and the adults decided to cautiously visit the location where the humans were seen.
The deforestation of that section of land had been quick and complete. It was frighteningly amazing. The animals who already lost their homes, were planning to spend the night at a temporary shelter where they huddled around a fire and debated their next move. Most of the ones capable of flight were planning to leave and move north. Others, not mobile enough, planned to move deeper into the forest. Avanya listened in on a few conversations before He-wan suggested they should head back.
The next morning the family woke up to a scarier world. He-wan prepared for the day and quickly headed to the forest real-estate agent. The agent, a squirrel named Larry, was known for his ruthlessness. The raccoon reached his office and detailed the situation. After some contemplation, Larry suggested that since it is not possible to control the humans, the best alternative for the family would be to move. He drew up 2 available locations which were spacious enough to live comfortably. He-wan looked over the financing and stared at the prices for them. The cheapest one cost almost 50,000 acorns! He-wan requested the squirrel to reduce the prices and allow her to pay over time but Larry would have none of it. He looked her in the eye and pointed the way out. This was after all a seller’s market and the sudden spike of homeless animals meant, he could charge exorbitantly.
That night, dejected, the raccoons, ate dinner in silence, fearing if they will even have a home tomorrow. As they finished dinner, Avanya remembered some animals moving deeper into the forest and suggested He-wan should go and see if it is feasible for them to do the same. Having no other option, she agreed to go the next day.
The raccoons woke up early the next day and He-wan packed a snack for the way. She decided 2 rodents she caught yesterday would be sufficient. Since the situation was urgent, she couldn’t waste time walking all the way to the middle of the forest and instead chose to spend money on the Intra-Forest Transit System, also known colloquially as the “Monkey Swing”. She climbed her tree and went up to the top branches and pulled on a branch there that raised a banana up such that it was visible above the tree. A few minutes later, He-wan heard a rustle and waited as the Monkey Swing conductor approached her and queried about her destination. She stated her intent to travel to the Grand Central and the urgency. The conductor suggested their special Sarukansen service (which literally means “Monkey Shinkansen” or the “Monkey Bullet Train”). He-wan agreed and paid the conductor the outrageous sum of 200 acorns and awaited the next cycle of the transit.
Having her hand raised up high, waiting for the transit, He-wan was getting exhausted when she saw leaves flying in the distance. As the transit got nearer, the sound of monkeys screaming and yelling got louder and as the raccoon had never travelled by transit before, started to scare her and rethink her decision. All of a sudden, she felt a something grab her raised hand and the next sight she saw was the ground 100ft below as she was swinging between her tree and the next on the arm of a monkey. As she saw the next redwood approach her, she started to wonder if the same monkey will carry her all the way but before she could complete her thought, as if the universe read her mind, she got her answer. The monkey holding her, threw her in the air and she glided over the next tree and as she was spinning in the air, out of the corner of the eye, she saw the next monkey just as it grabbed her and continued her swing over to the next tree. This was new for He-wan and it took a good 15 minutes and 25 trees before she got used to the pattern.
As it was late afternoon by now and she hadn’t eaten anything, He-wan decided that during the next swing, she will grab a rodent out of her backpack for a snack. And so, at the next mid-air swing, she unzipped her backpack and reached to grab but unfortunately, as the backpack’s mouth opened, she spun and a rodent fell out. She quickly zipped the bag to save the other one and awaited the next tree. She would practice staying upright in the next few swings and then attempt again.
The redwood approached and He-wan was preparing to practice, when the monkey holding her grabbed her attention. He mentioned that since they are out of the outskirts of the forest now and are entering the deeper section, she will now be transferred to the Sarukansen line which meant that the monkeys were going to be extremely fast and powerful and if He-wan wants to get something out of the bag, she better get it in this swing.
He-wan prepared for the jump and thought, it was now or never. She opened the bag before the jump, using her teeth and as soon as she was swung, she attempted and successfully grabbed her snack and it was not a moment too soon, because she realized the Sarukansen was no joke. The transit became incredibly fast, speeding up by at least four times, or so she felt. She used her one free hand to finish her snack and now exhausted and sated, He-wan fell asleep as the monkeys worked all through the afternoon and the evening transitioning her tree to tree.
He-wan was jolted awake by the monkey after 5 hours. She woke with a start and looked ahead and saw a long sequence of trees, having a torch burning at the top. It was a sight worthy of a painting and for the first time made He-wan realize the meaning of the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words”. She was alerted that her destination was approaching and she should prepare to disembark. She saw the Grand Central in the distance. There was no mistaking it.
10 more trees to go. 9. 8. 7. 6. 5. 4. 3. 2. 1. He-wan prepared for a slow-down but she got worried as the monkeys didn’t seem to realize her destination was arriving. And as she arrived at the final tree, the monkey swung her again, but this time high up in the air. She rose 15 feet above the canopy and screamed as she started to fall. She watched with horror as the ground rose to meet her. But before she hit, the monkeys spread out a net to catch her, thanked her for using the Intra-Forest Transit System and vanished up the tree.
It was quite dark and He-wan could hear owls in the distance. The only meager source of light was from the torches at the top of the tree. She looked around the Grand Central and found a small hollow, about 1 square foot, in the tree and crawled into it, curled up and fell asleep.
“Peck!” “Peck!” “Peck!” “Peck!” “Peck!”
He-wan woke up groggily to the sound of a woodpecker enthusiastically pecking away at the tree. She looked around for Avanya and the kids for a few minutes before realizing she wasn’t home. Slowly making her way down, she wondered where she would find some honey for the morning drink. After spending a few minutes looking around and not locating a viable source, she decided to just boil some leaves in the hot water that she could get from the nearby geyser. She truly appreciated the abundance of water geysers in the forest.
Morning ablutions taken care of, the day began in earnest. After locating a map of the area, she started to explore each neighborhood. The population in the center of the forest was quite dense. Trees seemed closer together and each tree seemed to accommodate four to five families which was different from the forest edge where each family owned their tree completely. The diversity was staggering too as she saw raccoons, rabbits, squirrels, eagles, parrots and other animals living in the same cluster of trees.
However, finding a place to live won’t be easy. Other animals had already moved in from the deforested areas and after spending three hours knocking on some eighty odd trees, He-wan decided she needed to change her search strategy. She saw a sign for a town-hall meeting that was taking place and decided to attend and find someone at the meeting to help guide her around.
It took a while to locate the meeting and she was a bit late but it seemed a large squirrel had the stage and was delivering a speech. He-wan decided to listen in and then find someone once the meeting was dismissed. The squirrel talked about changes in the bear population and increased safety for smaller animals. He-wan was ecstatic as the kids and Avanya would be safe in this area. She listened half-heartedly to a lot of other topics until the topic of deforestation came up and her ears perked up. The squirrel talked about the unfortunate state of affairs and the human problem. Apparently one of the dignitaries was in talks with other larger animals of the forest and they were talking about the possibility of guerrilla attacks on the humans to discourage them from chopping down the forest. But the talks hadn’t progressed much and the problem of immigration from the edge was causing overcrowding and stretching of resources. The squirrel continued with a new policy that would be effective in a day, preventing anyone from the edge to enter the forest and the policy would be enforced by tigers patrolling the deep forest borders.
Needless to say, this policy shocked the raccoon as she slowly slunk back through the crowd and eventually left the meeting.
He-wan came across a local watering hole and sat down in a corner. She didn’t know what to do anymore. She surely couldn’t return and tell her family that she couldn’t find a new home for them. And as she thought about the lack of alternatives, a wave of helplessness washed over her.
He-wan was rejoined the world when she heard someone sitting beside her say, “It’s a beautiful day. Too bad it will rain tomorrow. The dampness hurts my bones.” She turned to see an old eagle. Old was an understatement as the eagle had lost use of its wings and used a cane to move stumble across the forest floor. Still lost in her thoughts, she just responded with a nod. The eagle and He-wan just sat there for a long time, silently.
After a while, it was He-wan who broke the silence.
“I don’t know what to tell my family. I have let them down.”
“Why do you say that, my dear? What seems to be the problem?” queried the eagle.
“I don’t know if I should say anything.”
“Feel free to unburden yourself if you feel you need to.”
He-wan just remained quiet and stared off into the water.
“You are from the deforested areas, aren’t you?” offered the eagle.
He-wan nodded and after a few seconds continued.
“I can’t find a place here and the new policy prevents my family from moving in anyways. We have no place to go and we will lose our home in a few days. There is another place near the edge that is safe but it costs 50,000 acorns. I don’t have resources for that.”
“Hmm... there may be something I can do for you. Wait here for a few minutes.”
He-wan agreed and watched as the old eagle slowly stumbled away.
A few minutes turned into an hour. And then two. He-wan gave up on the eagle and started to leave when he appeared in the distance. He-wan walked up to him and they sat down on a rock. “I was able to talk with my friends about your situation and we will be able help you …” He continued, “… but it will take a few days to organize. You should go home and wait for my message.” He said this so calmly and matter-of-factly that He-wan thought he was joking. It took a few minutes for it sink in that he was completely serious. The raccoon was completely ecstatic and thanked the eagle profusely and hurried back home.
Avanya hadn’t heard from He-wan in a while and since she didn’t have a way to contact, she was starting to get anxious. She spent the day like He-wan normally did, gathering food, and being busy provided some respite from the stress by distracting her. She had given strict instructions to the kids to stay indoors and after being scared about being harmed by humans, they decided to obey her this one time. After a day of gathering acorns (rodent hunting was He-wan’s domain), she returned to the hollow and was extremely pleased to see He-wan playing with the kids.
They sat down to have dinner which comprised of acorn medley followed by honey glazed acorns for dessert. After dinner Avanya updated everyone on the deforestation activities that had occurred and mentioned the humans were at most 2 days away from chopping down their tree. He-wan described what she had seen, the squirrel’s policy, the chance meeting with the eagle and his offer to help. Knowing that there was hope was sufficient for them to have peace of mind, at least for a while and they all retired for the night.
The next day was uneventful with everyone waiting for a message from the eagle. At dusk, it finally arrived via an owl. The message read:
“He-wan, I hope you reached back safely. I was able to arrange everything for you and your family to move into a hollow in my part of the forest. But as you know, the new policy restricting immigration has gone into effect already and following that we will have to use some unconventional means to get you here. Be ready to leave at dusk tomorrow. Your friend.”
Everyone wondered what the eagle meant by “unconventional means” but they didn’t have time to ponder. They needed to pack and prepare for the journey. They wisely decided to travel light and just packed the basic necessities. He-wan also went out the tree trunk and clawed apart a small piece of bark that had the first claw marks of the kids. They barely slept that night, the anxiousness and excitement keeping them awake but eventually fell asleep as the sun came up. After a sound sleep, they woke mid-afternoon at which point they ascended the tree and waited for dusk.
The sun set behind the mountains, the orange sky slowly turning gray. The raccoons wondered if the eagle was going to use the Intra-Forest Transit System. They looked out into the distance and thought they saw dots in the sky. Initially they wrote the dots off as tricks of their imagination but the dots persisted and gradually became larger. A kettle of eagles was heading their way and as they neared the tree, the eagles formed single file and swooped down grabbing one raccoon each in their claws.
Flying over the forest canopy, the raccoons could see for miles in every direction. Below them they could see the Monkey-Swing working at full capacity as everyone fled to different parts of the forest still accepting refugees. The eagles explained that they will drop the raccoons off in an eagle only territory and the old eagle made arrangements to smuggle them into the deep forest. They were explained further that the eagles won’t smuggle them in because of territorial issues as the skies over the deepest parts of the forest were controlled by falcons, their sworn enemies. But the journey to the eagle’s nest would take about an hour so they just relaxed and decided to just enjoy flying which would a once in a lifetime experience for them.
The raccoons spent the night and the next day in the eagle’s nesting grounds. They would be smuggled in at night.
As was expected, four bears showed up near twilight. The big furry bears were perfect to hide a raccoon each in their dense fur. The two kids and Avanya each tucked themselves into a bear and camouflaged perfectly. He-wan, however, was larger than the rest and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t hide completely in the fur. It was a risky proposition but it was too late to change the plan now and so He-wan clung on to the bear and they started the journey.
Tigers patrolling the borders were quite diligent, ensuring no blind spots. As the bears approached them, two tigers came up to them and questioned them. They continued their interrogation for a few minutes and satisfied the bears were legally allowed to enter, let them continue. The raccoons breathed a sigh of relief and the bears slowly moved on.
Stuck in the bear’s fur, He-wan’s claws were getting sweaty and slippery. Her grip was loosening but as the bear was moving slowly, she felt safe enough that her grip will hold. Suddenly, the bear jumped a little to climb over a fallen tree and that was the final straw. He-wan’s grip gave away and she fell out of the bear’s fur with a noticeably loud noise.
The noise alerted the tigers and everyone watched in horror as the tigers attacked the bears and He-wan. The bear in a state of panic, grabbed the fallen raccoon by its ear and ran. The tigers gave chase for a few minutes but couldn’t outrun the bears and soon gave up.
He-wan and her family thanked the bears for their help before bidding them farewell. Avanya looked at He-wan’s missing left ear and cursed the bear for biting too hard. After patching her head with some honey coated leaves, He-wan, Avanya and the kids continued their journey to the old eagle’s home and to start their new life.
All rights belong to its author. It was published on e-Stories.org by demand of Nalin Singal.
Published on e-Stories.org on 03/11/2013.