At 6:30 this morning, a small family of raccoons crawled from the shrubs in Central Park. Mom flattened herself under a green wire fence while two little ones scrambled over. They had just collected themselves for the journey across East Drive when they looked up to see a giant! Their mouths almost formed into little cartoon gasps.
The giant was me, of course, a giant in running shoes with an annoyed expression. I was annoyed not with raccoons, but people. Too many of them were in Central Park for this hour. I’d come for a meditative farewell run among the trees, but the road was already crowded with joggers and pedalers. Then I bumped snouts with the Striped Family Robinson.
Eyes shone in little brigand masks as they melted back into the shrubs. I retreated a few steps and stood still (except for the iPhone camera in my hand) and waited to see what would happen.
Across the road lay a chunk of Central Park that reminded me a lot of Washington D.C., where I’ll move after I leave New York. Venerable trees, a statue, and the kind of giant broad lawn you almost never find in Manhattan. No wonder the raccoons wanted to get there.
Mom led the little ‘uns out into the street, but a seventyish runner in a black tank top spooked them; back into the bushes. They sallied out again but heard the whisper of gears just in time, as a peloton of triathletes cut through like a bullet train.
I felt for the furry beasts: marooned on an island, cut off from everything their instincts knew, surrounded by vast forces they could barely understand. How many times have I looked up at the Citigroup building, or waded through the herds on 42nd Street, and felt like a puzzled Westerner in a coonskin cap?
The road was crowded, too crowded, and Mama Raccoon seemed to realize she’d never get a clear shot. The trio made a desperate break, cutting off a sleek marathonista in midstride. They made the curb and their bushy tails trundled off into the trees. We’re outta here, the tails seemed to say. I whispered, I’m right behind ya.