I have a sermon to write for Sunday morning, and I was planning to write about gifts and the giving and receiving thereof, but apparently what I really I need to write about is raccoons. Specifically, dead raccoons. More specifically, dead raccoons that I have found and had to - um - "deal with."
See, I have that sermon to write. And Sunday is looming closer and closer. And I can't seem to get out of my own way. The words of the sermon simply won't come. They're jammed up, stuck, blocked, perhaps. But every time I talk to people, I have to tell the story of the three raccoons I have found/unearthed/discovered/stepped on/in during the past nine days. It seems that the raccoon stuff is in the way of the sermon stuff, so it must be purged before I can write the sermon and have the words work. "Purged" is literary foreshadowing. You have been warned.
(CAUTION: GRUESOME PICTURES.)
I have a friend who starts all of her adventure stories with the words "there I was, at the Renaissance Fair..." or some such thing. So I shall give it a try.
So there I was, up on staging in what will be the master bedroom of a second-floor apartment in a small three-unit house. I was taking down the matched pine boards that used to be the ceiling. The room is built into the top of the house, with walls that come up about six or seven feet before they meet the slope of the inside of the roof, so it has the effect of a very tall room with a ceiling (meaning the bit actually parallel to the floor) that is only about six or seven feet wide by about 12 feet long. The boards I was tearing down were nailed to joists that created a wee little crawlspace at the peak of the roof. There was insulation up there.
And a raccoon.
Well, he once was a raccoon. But he had long ago parted this mortal coil. His petrified remains tumbled down from between the rafters, among approximately 80 pounds of accumulated dried and equally petrified raccoon poop, and shredded insulation. Rocky, as we named him, was flat and dried and hard as a piece of old leather that had been soaked then left in the sun. He was disfigured in a grotesque way. His skull looked weird, his spine was detached from the rest of him, and his pelt looked like that stuff they make dog rawhide chewy bones out of. It was nasty. It was only a day later, or maybe two days later, that I realized that Rocky was inside out. No kidding. Here's the picture:
See? He's inside-out. His head is in the lower right corner, and his jaw is pointed back in toward the rest of him. There was a fair amount of speculation with regards to how he came to be inside out, and the consensus, grim as it was, was that raccoons do not have the emotional attachment to family members that we human have, and well, protein is protein, and if uncle Charlie is going to chew through the wires and short himself out like that, who are we to turn down something already cooked? Yeah. I have some pretty grim (and amusing) friends.
That was on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, my helper was cleaning packed and nasty shreds of fiberglass insulation from around the chimney when she found some tufts of fur. Gentle pulling yielded a bone. And then another. I put on my little LL Bean headlamp and peeked in there. It was tight quarters all around, and there was no good way to get a grip on him, so I went downstairs, got up on a stepladder, reached around behind the chimney, found enough solid stuff to get a handful, and gently pulled. A mass of carcass, insulation, poop and mouldering I-don't-care-to-know-what came down in a shower. On me. Again. Did I mention that Rocky I fell out of the ceiling onto my head? Yeah. Now this guy. Named, obviously, Rocky II.
I sorted through the pile of nastiness that had fallen out of the chimney chase and discovered that this was a far more recent edition of raccoon. Indeed, he was still composting and was quite pungent. I believe the term used in such situations is cloying. Honestly, it was a stench that got into my sinuses and would not leave. I tried to drink coffee, it tasted of that smell. My clothes, my hair, my hands (even though I wore gloves) all smelled of decaying rodent. Ugh.
When I could get past the smell, I noticed that aside from being moth-eaten, Rocky II's face was fairly intact. Indeed, we could still see a mask and even some whiskers. His skull and teeth were nearly perfect.
Here's what he looked like:
My duty was utterly clear. I called a friend from church.
"Hi, T? It's Dawn. From church. Yeah. Hey, I've got a couple very dead raccoons. Their skulls and bones and stuff are in really great shape. You want them? Great. Tomorrow? Afternoon? You know the address? (I gave it to her.) Cool. We'll see you then."
The guy I am working for? The one who's house this is? Very nice gay man. Was ASTOUNDED that I knew within 30 seconds of discovering the carcass a person who would be interested in getting it. When I told him I knew at least two such people, he just shook his head in disbelief.
T is one of our pagan members, and she does cool and funky art. I don't know if her particular brand of pagan might involve some Wicca as well, but in any case, she is thrilled, I tell you, just THRILLED to have a couple of dead raccoons.
She came by the next day with a plastic tote to haul away her treasures. She was astounded to see that Rocky I was indeed inside out, and declared Rocky II to be "quite woofy" ("smelly") but treasures all the same. She said she was going to put them in an organic "cooker" of sorts that would rot away the flesh and fur and other stuff and leave the bones, then she'd bleach the bones and make beautiful things from them. I have no doubt.
I have to tell you that dead raccoons was the topic of conversation at coffee hour after church on Sunday.
And today, when that pile of rotted rags and newspapers in the basement turned out to be Rocky III, my phone was out and dialing while my helper was trying to collect bone shards and teeth and ribs and bits from the litter on the floor. The collection from Rocky III might be done in a paper coffee cup, but T will be thrilled again. She'll be over tomorrow after work. She's a school lunch lady.
No shit. If only the kids knew.
My life is so great. I couldn't make up fiction this good.