The racoon family in my chimney moved out. Its been a week at least , maybe 10 days since my morning was punctuating by their noisy banging. It was the pinesol that drove them out. These racoons appeared to be great fans of Jimmy Buffet and Broadway musicals but the smell of pinesol was apparently too much for them to take. A few nights ago Max and I saw them, a mom with a babe scampering up a big tree where they had apparently made a new home.
But despite their decision to leave, over the last few days the house had really started to smell. I thought it was the 100 degree heat that made the old racoon droppings especially ripe. It was not a gagging, foul make me sick smell–just a ripe barnyard odor, unpleasant and ever present. Like garbage left out on a sunny day somewhere down the block. Nothing I go do would remove the smell. I banged around the house in an increasingly foul mood. Grumpy, angry, agitated. Irritated. Impatient.
Today at work I got a call. It was Juan.
J: I have good news and bad news. What do you want first. The good news is really really good.
M: Give me the bad news.
J: Don’t you want the good news first?
M: Just the bad news hon–if you tell me the good news first the bad news will just bring me down…
J: One of the baby racoons is dead. It was left in the chimney. That was the smell.
A sadness washed over me. I had really wanted that little family to make it. I wondered about the mother–the loss she must feel. At the same time my own mother instincts went into high gear. I was revolted thinking about the carcass so close to my son, thinking about the decay. I wondered: What the hell do I do now? How am I going to get a dead racoon out of my chimney? What a mess!
M: The good news?
J: I cleaned out the chimney. Its all done. Poop’s gone, hair’s gone, nest is gone. It was a huge job. I removed the carcass–had it dealt with. I knew you couldn’t do it. It smells better in the house now.
M: Thanks. You’re right. I couldn’t.
And then it hit me.
M: Juan, Do you think I killed the little guy? With the pinesol and the musicals and everything?
J: Oh, I don’t know. Maybe. Probably not. His little foot was caught in the flu. Probably he just got stuck and couldn’t get out for food and water. His mom probably left him there when the rest moved on. Its life, you know, survival of the fittest and all…
I remember the last night when I heard the crying–the night I yelled at the chimney–MOVE ON ALREADY! Poor little one was alone and dying and I was screaming at him. He must have felt so scared, so betrayed. My heart broke for him. I started to weap softly. I thought no one would have been able to tell but Juan knows me well enough to hear the tears.
J: This is good news Meg. The racoons are gone. The smell is gone. Its done.
M: I know. Thanks. You are a saint for doing this. Really. I really appreciate it.
And its true. I walked into the house this evening and felt immediately lighter. My patience with my own imperfect life seemed to flood back, hope washing over me. My grounchiness subsided. The relief was palpable.
Was the energy of a death so close so very strong that it hung over the house and colored our moods? I am certain of it. The hopelessness of his struggle was what had drifted in and clung to our clothes, our curtains, our rugs.
I walked over to my altar and lit a candle for a baby abandoned by earthly mothers. I prayed that he had found a home in the furry bosom of the great mama racoon in the sky. I also lit a candle in thanksgiving for such an unexpected kindness from the most unlikely of people.