Carter's best hat

Carter's best hat

There came a day near the end of May when I grabbed up my raccoon kits—Earnest, Faith, and Frank—and set off to make a memory. They fit easily into my small backpack, and rode there with their faces out and their eyes big.

All were in robust health, with fat tummies and glossy fur. They had come such a long way in only two weeks. So far, in fact, that they had no more need for me. It was time to take them back to Wildcare, the rehab sanctuary, where they would be joined by another litter to make up their “clan.” In the large outside cages with pools, stumps, and makeshift dens, this clan would have their time of “wilding up.”

Then, Susan Davis would select the place for their release—somewhere with woods, water, and privacy. Together, the little clan would explore the glory of a wild life, as they were born to.

But not yet. Not before I took them off in search of one last, grand memory. Spring had done her job of filling in the bare winter canopy. Now the forest out my back door had returned to the mysterious, compelling world of deep, deep shade and leaf-bottomed, meandering streams.

At the bottom of a favorite hollow, I took the pack off my back and set it on the forest floor. Three raccoons tumbled out to scuffle in the leaf litter. Earnest quickly found a stink bug, and spent an intense five minutes mooshing it under his paws while Frank and Faith cautiously crept head-first down a tiny bank to a place where a trickle of water emptied into a small pool.

All of them stayed within five feet of me—their instinctive safety zone when out with “Mom.” I sat down in the midst of them, making my brain a camera, clicking off images of wonder I intended to keep for a lifetime: Frank tangled in a pile of tree roots, grabbing at his tail, which I’m sure he thought belonged to someone else; Faith with her hands exploring the sandy bottom of the pool, her eyes looking faraway and dreamy. And Earnest, growling and posturing at a small pile of dirt.

Sunlight filters down in Jacob’s ladders in such forests. Every now and then, one of the coon kits would wander into the middle of a shaft of honey-colored sunlight, and I watched as—for an instant— the tips of their fur sparkled like stars.

Who was I, I asked myself. Who was I that heaven would allow me such moments? I had thought to bring my camera, and decided against it. I did not want a lens between me and those moments. All too soon, our memory-making in the forest drew to a close, and later that afternoon, I drove Earnest, Faith, and Frank to Susan’s house. I have not seen them since, except in my beautiful memories.

By the time I’d cleaned up after the raccoons, washed all their towels, cleaned all their dishes, swept under their caging, and vacuumed their night room, the phone started ringing and didn’t stop. It was the skunks, come at last, and all at once. “I have orphan baby skunks in the barn,” “Our cat brought in a baby skunk,” “There’s these two little skunks in our yard. They’ve been wandering there for the past two days…,” “I found a baby skunk by the side of the road. It’s got maggots all over it.”

Magpies with fur?

Magpies with fur?

Somehow, nature arranges these events in floods, not trickles. By the end of the day, I had nine stinkers in my garage, all with different health issues. Some were infested with fly eggs. One had pneumonia. One had maggots. Several were dehydrated and starving. One—just like Earnest the raccoon—was a screamer, bellowing out his outrage at having been born into a confusing, motherless world.

I named him Pavarotti for the strength of his lungs. The rest I named for their markings and their personalities: Snow, Cleopatra, Beauty, Ink, Flora, Eve, Doe, Joey. The gods have not made any cuter babies than skunks. There are some as cute, of course, but certainly none cuter. They looked like animated dominos, or tiny killer whales. Or little zebras with funny tails. And those faces! Oh, goodness, those little faces!

Many of you have written me, “Susan, I’m so envious of you and your little wild babies!” Yes, I must say, they are as wonderous as you can imagine. Their company is an education, a revelation at each moment. To be in their presence takes me out of space and time into wild realms where life is good, honest, trusting, and genuine. They and Wildcare are my dream come true. That’s the good news.

I am aging quicker than most. I’ve written before that my stamina is poor. Let me be, then, the clarion of what it is to be disabled before “your time.” I sit here on the coast, after too many doctor consults, needing to come to terms with what I do NOT want to ever come to terms with: I can’t do the work I love anymore. At least, not in the ways I imagined doing it. At least not for now. Maybe ever.

There is a right time for everything, and then there comes a time when certain things are done and past. This is the wisdom of the crone, and I’m embodying her quicker than I would have liked. Perhaps it is—no matter what age this truth comes upon you—always quicker than we would like.

I am wrestling with becoming less, not more. I am wrestling with truly becoming a human being rather than a human doing (as our sister Cindy so often reminds us!). When I return to my Indiana woods, I will have to recraft my life in a much smaller version. For now, I fight this truth. There is a time for disbelief and denial, and this is my time. I will grapple with these reactions willingly, however, as they are such a natural part of any big adjustment.

And as I wage a small war with what is right now (hope springs eternal—I met yet regain my lost strength), I am also making lists of what I will NOT give up. There is a power to the truth of living small. I have espoused its virtues for a long, long time. And in many ways, lived them. Now is the time to pare away yet again. Devastating. Fascinating. Challenging. Yet one more gift.

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  1. Cindy says:

    My dearest Susan….

    At first my heart just ached to think of you not doing what you love, (in fact my heart aches for anyone not doing what they love), but then I thought of how you are on your own path, a path that may not be one you envisioned, but surely a path that will lead you and your blessed heart to where you belong, doing what you need to be doing….and if that is to just “be” for a while, then so be it! You have so much love in your heart for the precious creatures that surround you, a love and a heart that will find new ways to manifest and express itself. Of this I am sure…..without a doubt!

    I send you the deepest love and respect and admiration that is possible to feel for another human being. I surround you in beautiful light. I am eternally grateful for the gifts you have given us here on these sacred web pages, and from me personally, I am still being blessed by the gift of “sitting with the pain/fear”…..until it lets go, and it does let go when the lesson is learned.

    Much love to you, dear Susan……you wonderful/wise/witty/sage woman you!

  2. Ingrid says:

    Wishing you much strength and clarity as you begin this new phase of your life. Those of us who get to share it with you here on this blog are privileged to be a small part of your journey. Wishing you, especially, that you never let go of hope.

    And on a completely different topic, I’m wondering whether I’m the only one who has a hard time reading this tiny white print on black background?

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Hmm, Ingrid, thanks for the advice about the print. I’ll shift back to white….And thanks for all your kind words! What treasures I have in all of you!

  3. Kerry says:

    “I am wrestling with becoming less, not more”. Dear Susan, you will never ever be less. I want to surround you with loving arms to support you through your next big transition in becoming. Some of us are blessed with a conscious and deep connection to Source which gives us strength to get through dark nights. You carry that with you, and share that wonderful connection with us through your writings. You ARE strong. That will ALWAYS shine through. My heart is with you. And, by the way, what a special picture of the kits with Carter. Happy!

  4. kathey says:

    Susan dear, Thank you for sharing with us this other journey which you are experiencing now. It sounds like you are making some firm choices, all which will, I know, enhance your life and increase your strength. Your wisdom is already so profound as you have reached an exhalted state of knowledge and joy, through the many ways in which you have touched and cared for so many little creatures in need of love and good care. And the woodland spirits, also, whose contact you have made while journeying into the hearts of forests. With us four-leggeds it comes to the point of so much to see and learn, and so doggone little time. I wish for you that every day is golden.

  5. Kerry says:

    Susan, Have been thinking of you all day. What do you mean you won’t be able to do the work you love anymore? What will change? Will you still be able to take care of the animals? I do hope so. Perhaps you don’t quite have the answers yet… My prayers are with you.

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Kerry, sadly, for now it seems, I won’t be taking on the animals. I am deeply sorrowful about this, and am looking for ways to do this work in a limited fashion. A lot of my other outside work needs to slow down as well. I’m still in the process of reinventing myself—yet again!

  6. Debbie says:

    How well I can relate to your wonderous Wisdom Words! No fear of less, for you will always be what you are. I will remind you…
    “Things change, Love remains!”
    The wealth of experience you have been Blessed with will continue to grow and evolve in ways that cannot be imagined. In turn, you will continue to share your amazing gifts of service.
    Surrendering is a lesson we all must learn at one point or another, and the Peace that is found within that most difficult, seemingly insurmountable task is something that will both come and comfort you in ways you cannot even begin to imagine!
    All that we need, surely comes.

  7. Erin says:

    Maybe I have missed something, Susan, but what is the reason that you will no longer be working with the animals? I hope you will still be posting for all of us. Much love and good wishes,
    P.S. Love the picture of Carter.

  8. D.B. says:

    Having just come out of a personal struggle that sounds similar to yours, I wanted to share that the things I had to “give up” if you will were almost immediately replaced with other wonderful things for me to do! In fact all on nearly the same vein but its like the universe tailored things for me now in this body, with my new hurtles and abilities.

    I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing things from another view, I feel certain the same will ring true for you! The Beasts will find you and you will be able to “guide/consult” others to carry on the work.

    The way you write, your generosity in creating such beautiful stories is truly wonderful to be a part of. Thank you for the constant inspiration!

    Last but not least, I hate to admit ladies but I do not like Ice Cream?! It seems I’m missing out on a really good thing!! 🙂 I’ll give it another shot! Garcia? What is that?

    With Kind Regards,
    D.B. (Denise from Northern Michigan)

  9. Kerry says:

    DB! Where does ice cream come into the picture? I think I’ve missed something. Regardless, I looove ice cream and love to eat it every day. Just last week began a brief and effective email campaign when the local store stopped carrying soy ice cream. Why

  10. Kerry says:

    Oops, accidentally hit the submit button. Anyway, don’t mean to hog the blog-waves with piercing questions and comments about ice cream!

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