Prior to going on my recent camping trip, I finally got my paperback copy in the mail. It was a delicious feeling to hold the book in my hands, drink in that new book smell, and caress the pages that held my imagination. Let me tell you, that is the best paper I have ever felt in my life. This whole selling-my-fiction-for-money thing is a dream that I’ve been actively pursuing since I was nine and getting to see my work in a BOOK is a dream come true. I feel triumphant and energized and hopeful that my story will make people smile. Optimism about this being but one step in my literary journey with more to follow in the not-too-distant future is also revving me up.
Since I got the book in the mail before my trip, I figured that I would bring it along. Why not? Paperbacks are tough and what better place to read a story set in the woods than actually sitting in the woods? I guess that I’m a little method but who cares.
We got to the state park in the upper midwest and set up camp in a nice clearing. Like most state parks there was a picnic table set on more or less level ground and a fire ring. The site was surrounded with a nice mix of hardwood deciduous trees with a full, bushy understory and a wet spot/creek bed running through the area. It was lovely.
My friend and I did our hiking and came back to camp later than we planned to cook dinner but, no big deal, right? Well…we weren’t alone. Remember all those lovely big trees with a moist bushy understory surrounding our site? At dark we quickly realized that there was a meso-predator who called the site home and he wanted something besides the numerous cricket frogs in the moist spots to eat. A raccoon wanted in on dinner and was quite bold about saying so. It was clear that people had fed him. This raccoon approached the picnic table even though we were there and started chewing on the tied up garbage bag before my friend shooed him off.
As we sat at the picnic table eating our campfire food (delicious baked stuffed onions and cakes in oranges), the raccoon kept creeping up. I have no doubt that if we had been less antagonistic in waving our lanterns at him, that he would have felt comfortable sitting at the table and helped himself from our plates. Being us, we disapprove of such shenangins, wildlife should be wild thank-you-very-much, and were careful to clear everything edible up and away in the car for the night. I rather thought that, without anything in sight anymore, that the raccoon would put his energies toward other foraging and leave us to ourselves.
We pulled our camp chairs to the fire and settled in to relax. I had a cup of tea, my lantern, and my book. I even took a picture of the first page of my story for posterity because why not. There were stars gleaming above between the tree-tops, more stars densely packed in that one clearing of sky than you can easily see from my whole backyard, and it was a lovely quiet night.
Then my friend saw the raccoon, driven by curiosity to explore our picnic table. He trundled off after we snapped some pictures. The pictures were not terribly good but it had been worth a try. Again, I figured that he would move on and went back to reading my story.
As I read my story, getting drawn into the suspense and keen to see that the copy was clean, I was startled by that elemental pricking at the back of the neck one reads about in books occurring on my own neck. I heard paws treading into camp. The raccoon was back again to verify the absence of goodies. This time I snapped a decent picture of the interloper, he scampered off, and that’s it, right? Nope.
Again, I was roused from concentrating on my own story, during a chase scene no less, by the shuffling paw steps of the raccoon coming toward our fire from the other wooded side of camp than the picnic table. I could hear the raccoon’s paws moving through the underbrush and leaf litter. I don’t know if he was that loud, it was that quiet, or my hearing is that much keener than I thought. I couldn’t see him, my eyes were dazzled from the whiteness of my page, which only added to the primal anxiety aroused by the situation. My friend and I both jumped, startled from our separate pursuits by the raccoon’s intrusion. Why would he come back? We had no food left out, we were just sitting there. This was incredible. In all my time in the woods over the years I had never before felt the scrutiny of an interested predator, albeit a small one, in my movements, environment, and objects. Feeling encircled and studied by a wild animal bent on exploring our space and stealing our food definitely added an extra dimension to reading my story. All the suspenseful bits of “Kitsune Tea” had an extra edge to them than there would have been if I had elected to read the story in an armchair at home.
I was able to finish reading my story without further interruption by the raccoon and I was happy. “Kitsune Tea” was as I remembered with a clean copy having nary a typo in sight. I was both pleased and impressed. Going to sleep that night was tough. For one thing I was still excited by the day and having read my story in a book. For another, the night was teeming with sounds from owls, crickets, cricket frogs, cicadas, the murmur of other campers at other campsites, and other unknown rustlings in the woods.
I also kept thinking about the raccoon. How many calories did he get from campers? How did he choose which campers to pursue and which to avoid? From a raccoon perspective, the site was perfect habitat with those trees, water, and frogs so the human element might just be the cherry on top rather than the main draw. It was fun to ponder. I have always been fond of urban wildlife and the ways in which they thrive. A raccoon living in a well attended state park might not be exactly urban but he certainly knew the perks of the human herd. I don’t know if there is a sequel to “Kitsune Tea” in my brain yet or not but, after my experience with that bold little raccoon, I think there very well might be another adventure set in my imagined Maintou State Forest in the not too distant future. We’ll see.
All in all, I have to recommend reading in the woods generally and particularly reading my “Kitsune Tea” in the woods if at all possible. It was fun. I hope that my encounter with a raccoon made you smile, dear pond readers. Do you have a raccoon anecdote? Do you have a comment or question? Please, leave a comment below and thanks for stopping by the pond today, dear readers.
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