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Crossing Paths

Before venturing along the walk to the Brandywine River Museum today, I thought I’d be writing of the juxtaposition between civilization and nature. It was yesterday’s experience of sitting on the rocky outcropping amidst the Brandywine, listening to the water fly over the riverbed stones and the birds singing poetry, as the Doppler-affected cars plow on top of the bridge above it all, as humanity aspires itself to be, that provided the motivation to return once again. However, even with the acceptance that two days can never, and should never, mirror each other perfectly, the difference was still jarring, and I believe the impact would still resonate even if I had not had yesterday as a comparison.
Of course, there were countless little changes from yesterday. I woke up an hour later than the usual, consequentially, I was outside an hour later as well. Today, I had packed my backpack with a purpose: to read and write and observe the natural world. Yesterday, I had simply wanted to go walking. Stepping outside, I took little notice of the weather apart from that it was muggier and cloudier, like my mother had warned when I told her I was preparing for another walk. I knew that all these little things were not sufficient enough to prevent my plans from reaching fruition. So I walked on to my little corner of the universe, optimistic about what lay in store.

Like yesterday, I ran across the street, from the neighborhood driveway to the gravelly beginnings of a walkway that lay on the other side. I waded into the knee-high grasses perpendicular to the gravel, teeming with cicadas and scratching at my bare shins, on the way to the narrow boardwalk that winded through the marshes.

When I was only a few yards away from the base of the boardwalk, a raccoon emerged from the right of the walkway. He had a reddish tint to his fur; reminiscent of the red pandas I researched for a project in third grade. He did not walk so much as drag his body through the grass; a cloud of bugs hovered above his head.

I willingly ignored these worrisome observations, instead of thinking only of how cute he was, and how lucky I was to get to see a raccoon close-up and during the daytime, when I had previously learned that these animals were mostly nocturnal. I got my camera out, ready to take a picture.
But then, the little raccoon stopped pulling himself forward, and I could not ignore the black cloud of insects that descended upon him. Every couple of minutes, the raccoon twitched, and the bugs drew back for a moment before attacking the little guy again. Finally, I faced the facts, and realized that the little raccoon was dying.

I thought of going home and telling my mother, to have her save him like she saved the tiny little squirrel that fell out of his tree during a storm so many years ago, but then I remembered this wasn’t a baby squirrel, victim to some random untimely fate. I was dealing with Fate, that which befalls every living thing upon God’s green earth. Fate did its work, and had no reason to provide an excuse, unlike a person playing God. And I knew I had no good reason anymore. I was no longer a child, living in a world where sunshine and smiles could solve any number of problems. I have had the time to see and misunderstand death and what great, terrible things it does to warp a person’s consciousness forever. Like countless others, the little raccoon’s string had been cut, and the only thing to do was accept the consequences.
So I walked on, making a wide arc around the little raccoon lying in the grass. I feared that it was rabid or something, and the shame of going home to my Boy Scout leader dad and first-class scouting brother bitten by a rabid raccoon would be too great. I didn’t make it to the museum, or even the rocky outcropping. There were too many people, and I felt strange among them, a solitary teenager among families of talkative outdoorsmen.

When I went back to the foot of the boardwalk, the little raccoon was gone. It must have found the strength to drag itself away from the noisy people, disturbing it as it entered into a void of which they knew nothing. I knew that animals, unlike people, liked to embark on the next leg of their perpetual journey alone.

Though it has been many weeks now, I still wonder where the raccoon went, and who will be next to follow, and whether she will be alone or comforted by circles of friends and family. I wonder which is the better way to wander, but I still choose to walk alone.




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