3 Things I learned About Writing From Raccoons

We had a visitor last night. Actually, we had three or four. And we finally caught sight of them.

Our writer’s group had rented a house in a resort area/ subdivision of nearly identical rental houses. The management group picked up the trash regularly and the can was located on the front porch. There is no level ground at this location, so this was really the only choice.

We noticed early on that the trash can lid was often removed, and having grown up in rural America, we recognized the work of raccoons. We tried to only take the trash out in the morning before the trash man arrived so as to avoid having trash in the can overnight. That worked as long as the trash collection happened that day, but sometimes it didn’t. Since we weren’t sure of the schedule, our visitors checked every night to see if there was some morsel to delight them that night.

To do this, they needed to get the lid off. The can only had one side that “latched.” Two handles and a bungee cord and we could have probably kept things a little cleaner for the yard. We tried to wedge it under the porch railing to “catch” the other side and make it more difficult for our visitors to make a mess. It didn’t work.

Which brings us to last night. As we were discussing things after supper, we heard movement on the front porch. And there was a large very well-fed raccoon on the porch railing. We turned off the inside lights, grabbed our phones or cameras and planned to spy on him. I don’t think he took any notice of us at all because when we later opened the blinds and made some noise, he just looked at us like we were the animals behind the glass (window).

The first order of business was to remove the lid. This took no time at all. But, when you practice every night, you get pretty good at it. All he (or she – but since we didn’t look, let’s assume male) needed was a quick swipe or two on the unlatched side and off it came. Then came the delicate balancing act to reach down for the one bag of trash we had in the bottom. How he probably wished we generated more trash. We were amazed at how agile he was. How he could hold on to the edge with just one hind foot and reach down into the can time and time again was amazing to see. He obviously has good core muscles.

He frequently stopped and looked around while he was working. He stared at us behind the windows, so we weren’t the threat. Later, we saw a larger raccoon coming up the walkway. We got ready to witness a fight, but there was only one small scuffle. They both left, and one soon returned. Was it “our” raccoon, or the new visitor? We think our first visitor ran the other, larger one away but it was hard to tell in the dark.

The raccoon, maybe both at different times, returned frequently to dig through more and more trash. Since they were large and we didn’t want to tangle with them in person, we let them do their thing. If you had seen how long (and sharp) their claws were, you might have done the same.

Our third visitor arrived about an hour later. We thought it was “the return of the raccoons.” (At one point, we worried that if something happened and we had to leave, they would block our path and we’d be stuck here forever.)  But, it was another animal who arrived too late for the best scraps. The opossum, not nearly as cute, was just as nimble as he hung by his huge rat-like tail.   Maybe it was because he was thinner and smaller, but his claws seemed to be much larger. In any case, we were staying put for the night.

This morning, one of our women picked up the containers that the animals had left behind after their buffet. But, I got to thinking about a few things that can be learned from our visitors…particularly as a novice writer.

  1. To get really good at something, you do need to work at it. No matter what direction or obstruction we put in the way, the raccoon was able to get past it to get to what he wanted. Now, I know that they make trash cans that are animal proof, but we didn’t have one. So we did the best we could, but his methods were victorious.
    1. Whatever skill or craft you want to improve, it will take practice to make the effort “effortless.” Because I work nights as a nurse, my schedule varies each week, so I can’t set a certain day or time as my “writing time.” But, I can look ahead at each week and block time to write for one hour or one day. And, if I actually add it to my calendar, I am more likely to get it done. (sorry – just took a break to make sure I did that last step)
    2. If this happens to be related to physical fitness, the same applies. Regular visits to the gym will make the 50 yard walk up a hill much easier. For those that joined me this week, you will remember “frog hill” – a steep hill that appeared to be at a 45 or 60-degree incline. Some walked it for exercise. Not me, I haven’t been to the gym for awhile. (I probably should add that to my calendar too)
  2. It would have helped to have a schedule.If we had known what day(s) the trash man came, we could have avoided putting out the night buffet and lessened the clean-up later.
    1. When trash ended up in the yard, it was because we missed the timing of the pick-up. It’s a stretch, but it reminds me that when I try to write when I’m not at my best, more of it ends up as trash (cut out in editing). But, when I write during my peak times, my writing is clearer and more likely to flow. Becoming familiar with your own circadian rhythms can be helpful. Some of our writers are up at dawn girls. One writes all night.
    2. One advantages of a writer’s retreat is long stretches of unscheduled time to write when the inspiration hits. That is not the case when we go home.  So, we’ll have to be more intentional about collecting and writing our thoughts.
  3. Sometimes you are just going to have to work past the obstacles to get what you want. Because these raccoons were large and fluffy (such a nicer word than fat), they had learned the tricks to be persistent and get fed. What they wanted was hidden. They just had to use their resources (claws and teeth) to get at it. And, they were able to ignore the curious faces in the window.
    1. One look at any schedule will reveal the obstacles to getting any writing done. That is why retreats are so productive. In the real world, if you really want to write (or develop any craft) you will have to be persistent to find the time and use the resources you have. You may need to trade babysitting with another woman so you both get time to work on your blogs. You may just need to realize you are in control of your calendar (to a point – since employers do want you to show up as scheduled). Between work and other obligations, we all have discretionary time to be used for whatever we want. Rather than watch another re-run, perhaps 30 minutes honing your craft is time better spent.

If I don’t remember the raccoon, I might just end up like the oppossum and only have leftover time and my writing time is like to be skinny as well.

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