R – Raccoons! (PBP week 35)

How could you not love those faces?

The common raccoon, Procyon lotor, is a nocturnal, omnivorous, and highly intelligent forest creature native to North America.  The name “raccoon” is a bastardization of a Powhatan phrase that translates roughly as “one who rubs, scrubs, and scratches with its hands.”  In many languages the names these animals were given refer to their manual dexterity or their peculiar habit of dowsing their food in water.

Raccoons are very common in the Northern California redwood forests where I grew up.

When I was a girl, my family would spend every summer camping in Humboldt Redwoods State Park.  This is where I met my first raccoons.  They would occassionally wander into our campsite in the evenings looking for handouts – sitting just outside the firelight while the kids tossed them snacks.  Just as often they would come into the campsite after everyone went to bed and break into our food locker.  Padlocks were no obstacle to them.  (Did I mention “highly intelligent?”)  Even so, they were much more welcome than the other wildlife that frequently made its way to our camp – the skunks. 

Angry raccoon is angry! 
Do not disturb his sleep!

Sometimes the raccoons would visit looking for other kinds of amenities.  One night I and my god-sisters, all pre-teen girls, wanted to sleep outside in our sleeping bags.  My parents agreed, but only if my older brother, Russ, camped nearby to keep an eye on us.  To this day, my mother delights in telling the story of Rusty waking up in the middle of the night to a growling noise.  It seems a raccoon had crawled into his sleeping bag for warmth and resented it when my brother rolled over on him.  Both brother and raccoon were out of the sleeping bag in seconds flat, unscathed, but never to see each other again.

What?  Cunning?  Who, me?

I’ve been searching online for raccoon lore, because of the experience I wrote about the other day, but I haven’t found much.  Since they are North American animals, there is no mention of them in the European traditions that I am familiar with.  Raccoons appear in the stories of several of the First Nations, often as a trickster who outwits other animals.  They have the reputation as cunning bandits, due to their intelligence, manual dexterity, and facial markings.  Oh, and their tendancy to claim any food product that isn’t nailed down. 

A bit of UPG (“Unverifiable Personal Gnosis” for those unfamiliar with the term):  If raccoons had been native to Europe, I think they would have been strongly associated with Hermes.  I get the impression He likes them.  (The mask-like markings make me think of Dionysos as well.  But then, that’s just me.)