May 5, 2006

Urban Raccoons Are Bad-Ass, Therefore I'm Gonna Make It, After All

Raccoon Recent story in the Tribune: Urban raccoon lives on top of 43-story Chicago building. 

This reminds me of something I've been meaning to write about:

I was working as a production assistant at a gig downtown a few weeks ago when I had a
close encounter with an unmistakably well-adapted urban raccoon.

Dunkin_donuts_coffeeOne morning, I was on an urgent "only you can complete this integral task,
Bella!" mission. Yes, I was walking toward Roosevelt to the
Dunkin' Donuts to pick up coffee for people whose jobs were more
important than mine. People who were taping down rugs, dusting
furniture, and warming up quiches. It was a beautiful, sunny morning.

Only a few blocks from a very busy Chicago intersection, I walked past
a storage facility and gasped loudly when a scurrying mammal entered my
peripheral vision. Before I looked directly at it, my mind registered
it as a small dog, except it didn't move like a dog.

We made eye contact. It was a really large raccoon. The immediately
unnerving thing was the disparity between my startled reaction and its
utterly cool reception to my presence. My first panicky instinct was
"Oh my god, step back so it can walk away from you, don't corner it and
scare it, it might attack you."

Rocky's first reaction to me was "What a dumb-looking, utterly
non-threatening pink mammal. Clearly it represents less threat to me than
anything else in my immediate environment." Having so assessed me, the raccoon immediately tuned me out, and probably never gave thought to
me again.

I stood there silently, invisibly, as I watched the creature cautiously
approach the street. He stood behind the protective wheel of a parked car, watching the traffic very
closely. He was clearly making frequency and speed calculations. Each time a car went by, Rocky cringed
slightly, his muscles reacting unconsciously as his mind counted the
obstacles to his desired destination. He waited just a bit until there was a
lull in traffic, and then, swinging his head back and forth to scan for potential dangers, scuttled across the road and disappeared into
a warehouse.

I really stood there stunned for awhile. Raccoons are timid and quick where I am from. But here they are watchful and cunning and adapt enough to a faster, more dangerous environment to survive, and perhaps thrive.

These animals in Chicago live only three hours away from the kind I'm used to, and they operate on a totally different set of rules and strategies.

Maybe I can evolve, too.

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