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Pensive lullaby

Hey there, little raccoon, . . . As you lie here in my arms, your petal-soft paws clutching a nursing bottle; your chinny-chin soggied with warm milk; your licorice-black eyes foggied with the drowsies - I wonder why I'm raising you. True, all life is sacred. But it seems Old Mother Nature goofed aplenty when she plopped you in her plan of things. Although you're adorable and entertaining, with a face that would melt an igloo, you'll probably steal garden corn as easily and casually as you steal a human heart.

Your shrill chatters and churrs will spook the novice camper; you'll flush the owl and the hawk from their nests; you'll lunch on the eggs of birds; and your adept paws will invade the recesses of the red squirrel's shelter. You'll overturn trash cans and carelessly scatter garbage over back stoops and yards. Your persistence, cleverness - and taste for chicken - will frustrate the poultry farmer.

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Hey there, little raccoon, . . .

As you drowse here in my arms, your furry rump soggied like dew, I wonder what's in store for you.

There will be happy, lazy hours when you'll nap in the uppermost boughs of the evergreens; fish the ponds for frogs and freshwater clams; explore the meadows for rodents and the tree stumps for fat grubs and beetles. Your whiskers will be stained with the juices of sweet, wild berries and the sticky husks of the hazelnuts. You'll frolic in the coolness of woodland streams and roam the fragrant forests under the protective darkness of the night.

Since there will be no mother raccoon, no brothers or sisters, to share their body heat in your first winter den, you may choose to wait for spring within the cozy confines of our wildlife shelter. There, come blizzard or below-zero weather, you'll be provided with fresh water, food and clean bedding. And with love from me, your human ''mudder.''

Then, one day in March, I'll reach out to you and you'll draw away. Instead of soft churrs and affectionate nuzzlings, you'll greet me with growls and grumbles of discontent. I'll know you've heard those distant drums and are impatient to tread to their wild beat.

Hey there, little raccoon, . . .

As you lie here, safe in the shelter of my arms, warm and well fed; relaxed and content; your petal-soft paws absent-mindedly playing feelies on my hands; unaware of what your tomorrows will bring - I fear for you. There are so many yet-to-be-answered questions. Will you ever be cold or hungry? Will you miss me? Will you be treed by hounds and shot by their master? Will you challenge traffic on a busy highway . . . and lose?

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But let's make the most of the present. While you're snuggled in my arms, we'll forget about those tomorrows. Warm and filled with milk, you've loosed your hold on the nursing bottle. Your eyelids are drooping with sleep and your paws lie quietly on my hand.

After you waddle off to answer the call of those distant drums, I'll always be wondering how you are, where you are. . . .

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