News, commentary, and fiction by Barb Hendee, co-author of the Noble Dead saga (; author of the Mist-Torn Witches series, the Vampire Memories series, and more.

Most of Us Have Been a Raccoon in Winter

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A few years back, near dusk in late January, I saw something moving on our back deck, outside of our sliding glass door, and I realized it was a raccoon. She was a very thin female, with teats that suggested she’d recently given birth and was nursing babies. I knelt on my side of the door, and she slowly came up to me. Her eyes were so desperate. She was so hungry.

We live in a town with suburbs, and in winter, there is nothing for the raccoons to eat. On my computer, I looked up, “What is there for raccoons to eat in winter in the Pacific Northwest?” Every article gave the same answer, “Nothing. They normally lose a third of their body weight.”

 I grew up on a farm, with all the rules and regs (made for good reasons) about never feeding wildlife, but she was desperate. I got a bowl and filled it full of dry cat food. I put it out, and then I got her a bowl of water. She ate all the food and drank all the water (the ground was frozen outside). After this, she came every night, and we fed her every night. J.C. and I named her “Little Mama” because she was small and because we knew she had babies somewhere.

This went on for a month, and then of course, the inevitable happened, and one evening when she came, I saw a tiny puffball pulling its small body up onto the deck: a baby raccoon. This was followed by another . . . and then another.  So, we had Little Mama and three babies on the back deck. I put out a low, wide bowl of food, and Mama showed them how to eat some of the cat food.

As winter faded, the babies began to grow, and by spring, a greater variety of food outside became available to them, and they didn’t need us anymore. They were foraging for themselves. But I never once regretted having helped Little Mama and those babies that winter. Our world is changing, and sometimes, we all need help.

At some point in our lives, most of us have all been Little Mama raccoon, desperate for some help, hoping for some of kind help, whether it’s food or money for a bill or even compassion.

I see this now around me more than ever.

Not long ago, I saw an older woman on the corner of our local Fred Meyer parking lot, with a sign that read, “Homeless. Please help.” She wasn’t wearing a mask, and none of the people driving past in cars were handing her any money. I parked my car. Then I took a new (still plastic-wrapped) paper mask from my glove compartment, and I hurried over to her. When she looked at me, I saw the same desperation I’d seen in Little Mama raccoon’s eyes.

I gave the woman a ten-dollar bill, and then I gave her the mask and said, “If you put this on, I think you’ll have better luck.”

She thanked me and put the mask on.

I teach college writing online, and last summer, I had a student vanish for over three weeks, turning in none of the assigned work and not contacting me. He missed three quizzes, three homework assignments, and he missed submitting a major term project. By the late policy laid out in syllabus, he could not make up this work—and would fail the course.

One afternoon, he called me. He’d been laid off from his job and had lost his apartment. His life had been interrupted. But he said that he’d moved back in with his parents and had a reliable internet connection there and asked if he could make up all the missing work. He was majoring in automotive technology. I couldn’t see his eyes, but I could hear his voice, and he was desperate, like Little Mama raccoon that cold winter.

I allowed him to make everything up, and he passed my course.

My philosophy of life is, “Always err on the side of kindness.”

And remember that at some point, most of us have been Little Mama raccoon.


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