Every morning…I go out and feed the animals. Lots of them and lots of different ones. We have all kinds. Out here in the woods.
Why do I feed them? Because they feed me. And because they need it.
Some dispute this. But what do they know?
After I’ve finished caring to my little charges (some are not so little, even; and I of course would never think of them as anything else, never think of them as “my pets” or “my animals”); once I have been able to stop admonishing them about fighting with each other over what I am giving; once I have been able to stop cautioning them to share the feed I am giving them… I begin to talk to them about poetry and philosophy and the history of the world and the science of the world around them.
Who else would I speak to about such things? Who else would listen?
And once in a while I talk to them about what I read, here on Medium, and some sillier things. Or, I tell them some personal secrets.
I know that, of the few people who know me, some think me a tremendously unspiritual ass because of what I write. And so, I speak to them also of this.
I like to share with them. For many reasons.
I know some think me less than spiritual because I laugh too much or at the wrong things or perhaps at the wrong moments. Because I no longer spend my days writing love poems to unnamed persons or because I do not read and cherish the Tarot or hang my heart on the whims of moving stars.
But I do throw the Ching and I discuss this with raccoons in the evening.
I’ve been reliant on the I Ching since I was introduced to it as a teenager, working for an internationally renowned underground newspaper way back when, taught it by a self-proclaimed witch (we didn’t call them “wiccans” back then).
Hetty, a middle-aged Scottish lady, originally thought me to have something of a dark aura at the time (she literally bumped into me while I sat, at age fourteen, very moody, atop a folding ladder) but came around to seeing some kind of light in me, and so went the extra mile to gifting me an old Rider deck of Tarot and began the process of teaching me the difference between up and down.
This continued when I moved to San Francisco where I was in a band and met Cynthia, a practitioner, who read with me every day. But she then taught me the I Ching and it was there I took off on my own journey.
Youth is a time for many things. One of those is expressing the idea that you know too much and don’t need to know much more. Or that you need to know certain things and not others. Or that you need certain knowledge from some and can ignore the knowledge from everyone else.
It is a time of self-absorption. It is cute, this time. From the outside. And it can be frustrating, from both sides.
For some it is a briefer journey and for some — perhaps even more unfortunate for the rest of us than themselves — it never ends.
Some such attain positions of supreme power in our lives and the lives of many without necessary knowledge or wisdom. Without having completed that journey through youth.
They even become President.
So I see, here, often, such struggling, frustrating cuteness. Those who say, “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck,” while writing endless love poems to the unnamed, while dreaming of a better world and doing nothing to create it, while simultaneously chasing after gold for themselves and reading the Tarot believing it may lead them to a more spiritual path somehow.
Cute, this confusion. And often without a shred of laughter.
Oh, yes, of course, the old become windy and pompous and useless. I am often windy pompous and useless. Which is why only the old and animals will bother with them.
Which is why the world never changes. And the young, like the old, continue saying, “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.” Often to themselves in mirrors. Often to each other. Often to the animals they meet.
Not me, of course. I NEVER use that word. I always say “shit.” And I never say “shit” where I fuck. Important rule, kids. Don’t forget it.
Now, about those raccoons.
But, first, why for me (and others) the I Ching and not Tarot or astrology?
Because, perhaps, Tarot and astrology are so modern and dependent upon influence from white, European culture that seeks something less pure. Because, even more importantly, I Ching clearly has ancient origins deep in the roots of nature itself, despite the need for human interpretation.
And because the word “Ching” means “change,” something I believe in because it is the most critically REAL element in the UNIVERSE. While the other two “games” are rather, well, static.
Now, everybody has a spirit animal. Most people don’t have a clue. This is very much a part of the problems encountered in youth, this “not having a clue” business.
You become so self-absorbed that, even if you have a fascination with nature, with animals, you never get around to establishing contact! And some are even afraid of contact with nature, or specific animals — or where they reside, the places they are particularly connected with. All’s the pity.
Many people experience the animal world through pets. Pets are usually not spirit animals, although they can be. But some people even avoid pets.
Allow me to be pompous for a moment. Ahem…
If you want to understand what a cat scratch feels like, you have to interact with a cat.
“But I don’t want to feel that.”
Fine. But if you want to feel what holding a cat in your arms, purring feels like, you have to interact with a cat.
“Oh, that sounds nice!”
So, here’s the reality: In order to feel that cat in your arms, purring, you must also be ready to understand what a cat scratch feels like.
And, this is a basic, primary rule that runs throughout all of life. The kind of lesson that interaction with animals teaches. You have to take the good…with…
Yes, it does. And we can take this one step further. You could declaw that cat.
“Yes!!! Yes!!! I like that! That would do.”
No, it wouldn’t! That is an unnatural thing to do. You, as a human, do shamelessly unnatural things all the time. But cats are not unnatural creatures. They rely on those claws for all sorts of things you could never even begin to comprehend.
When you remove those claws, you change their very nature. When you remove those claws, you do so very selfishly, for your own purposes, and they no longer retain their catness. *
Now, let me tell you about those raccoons…
But maybe I should give you some background. After all, one never actually starts with raccoons. I promise not to go on and on. You know, it does get boring after a while. Jungle Book. Charlotte’s Web. Lion King. Ho Hum.
I was born and grew up, sort of, in one of the world’s largest cities. My contact with Mother Earth was directly through concrete 90% of the time. Oddly, I never felt comfortable there. People used to tell me, even my own childhood friends, that this was the “natural” feeling, the “energy” of the city. I was fighting it, they said.
Bullshit. I belonged someplace else.
Every time I went to our parks, sat in the grass, under the trees and communed with the animals there, I felt better. More in tune with…something.
But I didn’t have enough time for that. I was, what? Self-absorbed? Also, quite a bit absorbed in the matters of the day, if I can allow myself some back-patting.
And because of this happy combination of affects, I was drawn out of said city, inch by inch, to places further and further away, closer and closer to places where that supposed “energy” was felt less and less, where I was able to more and more commune with nature.
Until finally, one day, as the result of interminable “failures,” I found myself gobsmacked with paradise. Where I am today.
And then this raccoon was there, one day long ago, leaning against a deck rail, like some hipster holding up a street corner lamppost, beckoning to me, chin up, eyebrows flicking, making this unusual sound, something between the voice of a terrier and that of a mourning dove…
I thought she was going to ask me for a match. She winked!! Did I know the time? Or was I looking for a date, mister?
I was there, setting out food for the flying squirrels (another story for another night, kids). Instead of a date though, this raccoon asked, quite clearly, “Mind if I have some of that stuff for my kids?”
No, silly. It wasn’t English, and it wasn’t spoken as such. I’m not delusional. But it did come across clear as that proverbial bell. It was absolutely unmistakable.
I turned around and looked at this one flying squirrel, Ian, and said, “I don’t believe this.” He kept nibbling at the peanut in his paws, hanging from the post oak, his large, black, beady eyes staring at me. They do not like to talk with their mouths full. Very polite animals, flying squirrels.
Not wanting to frighten the raccoon, I hesitated to approach. So, instead, I merely turned the basket of home-cooked peanut suet in her direction. This raccoon bent her head over and looked in from her post about five feet away, made a face and you could see she was nodding, slightly.
“Yeah, that’s the stuff.”
I shrugged, like, “Where do you want it?”
“Wherever. We’re flexible.”
I gestured towards the slab of concrete that is something like a patio. She fell onto all fours and wandered off in another direction. I walked towards the small, pebbled area and began spooning out some suet.
Then they appeared. That raccoon and three, smaller others trailing behind her. I spooned out some more, in separate piles, walked away, back to the house, and watched.
It is interesting to watch a raccoon eat. You should see it. They often sit up, like people at a deli counter, and eat without even looking down, just scooping up what they already know is there; scooping it up with their long claws, scoop-scoop-scoop, then shoving it rapidly into those long maws. Very different style than any other animal. Very casual.
I’ve been interacting with them for 18 years in this manner. Several generations. So, this family all know me, they’ve grown up with me.
And, as with all the others, I began conversing. The kids were always the…well, dumbest, because they were always busy doing things, learning and being self-absorbed or just playing and being foolish. The parents, usually just the mothers (fathers!! Who knows where the fuck they get off to?) when they weren’t busy corralling the kids or eating would have time to chat.
That’s when I realized the difference, what was going on. Immediately.
I mean, I saw the difference that first night, because of the intimacy in the “talk,” but, as time went on, and the raccoons continued talking back…
I understood I had discovered my spirit animal.
Now, of course, they aren’t ever “talking” talking. You have to be there to understand what’s really taking place. But, of course, if “you” were actually “there” nothing would happen. So, happily, you aren’t.
And if you are still lost on the subject at this point, I can’t help you…
One night I had tossed the I Ching just prior to bringing out the suet to that same raccoon and her brood. This evening I had come up with the 22nd hexagram, Pi, or “grace.” Throughout my life this one had been my bete noir.
I don’t believe Princeton University will mind my stealing a bit from the Bollingen Edition I’ve been utilizing all these decades. If they do, I’ll have Einstein’s ghost haunt them. After all, they should have let him coach the baseball team…
ABOVE… ken: keeping still, mountain
BELOW… li: the clinging, fire
This hexagram shows a fire that breaks out of the secret depths of the earth and, blazing up, illuminates and beautifies the mountain, the heavenly heights. Grace — beauty of form — is necessary in any union if it is to be well ordered and pleasing rather than disordered and chaotic…
Grace brings success. However, it is not the essential or fundamental thing; it is only the ornament and must therefore be used sparingly and only in little things. In the lower trigram of fire a yielding line comes between two strong lines and makes them beautiful, but the strong lines are the essential content and the weak line is the beautifying form.
This has nothing to do (or does it?) with the Christian concept of grace. (So, perhaps — and pardon me for saying so — this Christian concept is a farce. Which is why it fails even in the hands of most converts. But then, so does everything else, apparently.)
Musing over it, and with little else on my mind, when the mother raccoon seemed to be finished with her suet, and the babies were rattling around in the leaves, I put it to her. I’m not certain why after all. Perhaps it’s the stripes in their tails that made me think of the hexagram…
“Do you ever struggle over this business of when to be strong and when not to be?”
She looked at me, wriggled her nose and barred her teeth unmenacingly. “Life is difficult. Isn’t it difficult for you?”
“So why do you complain so much?”
How did she know… “Because I want it to change.”
“So would I but…”
“But I have other things to do.” She stretched out her arm towards the kids.
“So do I.”
“So why not do them?
“I do.” I heard a kind of whine in my voice.
“So why do you complain so much?”
“I don’t know. Why do you scrounge so much?”
“It’s what I do. It’s my nature. Like climbing up trees. Do you?”
I was lost. “Do I what?”
“Climb up trees.”
She paused. “See.”
“This is what your Ching is trying to tell you, I think.”
I paused. “Oh.”
“Wasn’t that easy?”
“No, not really.”
“Maybe we need to talk some more, then.”
“Some other night. I’m busy with the kids, now.”
“I know. Mothers.”
“True. Glad you understand that much.” And she went away.
I assumed it was a guy thing. You know, talking with mothers about their kids. What did I know? We’ve talked a great deal since then.
She passed, you know, things change, then I talked with her daughters, and so on over the years. As I said, I won’t bore you. You have to be there. And you can’t be there.
A big PS: Long time and we’re still working on that “grace” thing. There are no short-cuts. Plus, there are 63 other hexagrams. It’s a long, long journey.
Find your own fucking raccoons.
But, in the end, because of our youth, or the fact that we do not grow out of it soon enough, or at all, we go on…
…stuffing our bellies, killing each other, not understanding why we do it, destroying the planet, not understanding why we do, and saying stupid things like, “acuna matada,” and “let nature take its course,” and “survival of the fittest.” All sorts of crap like that.
And hoping for the best while doing nothing about it. Trying to have a good time. Or pretending to.
Chin-chin. I certainly take my glass of wine after raccoon talk. Say grace.
And say hello to Grace when you do. I miss her.
Alan Asnen copyright 2019 all photos by author unless otherwise attributed
*However, of course, these days the matter of what we let our pet cats do in regard to their natural behaviors is very much in dispute re: allowing them outdoors…