Commentary

Swan Song for a Raccoon on York Boulevard

My run through the city, a scared rodent, and a four-lane highway procured a story and (perhaps) an opportunity for reflection.

By Ryan Janssen
Published December 31, 2014

I went for a run along York Boulevard. In one of the four lanes running alongside the open stretch of road, I noticed a stopped car and many more behind it. As I slowed my run beside this column of cars, I also noticed a raccoon in the middle of the lane.

The car which had stopped was adamantly still, refusing to hit the small creature - even despite the honks of horns and shouts from the passengers of the cars behind it.

Scared by the bright lights and sharp noises, and corralled in on either side by the cars circumventing the obstruction, the raccoon briefly crawled underneath this stopped car. Fortunately, when it was safe for him to do so, this driver managed to pull away without harming the raccoon, and the next car remained frozen to assume the now-vacant role of protector.

At the first break in traffic from the opposing direction, I ran out onto York intending to scare the animal away from the vehicles. But, perhaps at the sound of my voice, or maybe at my unmistakeable concern for its wellbeing, instead of running away the animal slowly followed me across the long stretch of asphalt.

It moved slowly. We crossed from the third lane over the middle line to the second lane, allowing the drivers - who shouted happily from rolled-down windows that the raccoon could continue safely on - to proceed along the boulevard again.

But I saw that there were cars approaching in the oncoming lanes. We continued, me guiding the raccoon from only two or three metres away, over the second lane and into the first. I stepped onto the running path, watching this lost raccoon trundle toward safety, toward my voice, now closer to the grass and trees.

The first several oncoming cars, who could see far ahead, merged over to the middle lane. They watched me as I continued to wave my arms in the hopes that the creature would pick up speed. The raccoon was within a metre of the curb and continued to plod forward.

The cars that didn't have a chance to merge could only swerve at the last minute to avoid a collision. The raccoon, now within a half-metre, kept a slow and steady pace.

Perhaps the car that finally connected with the raccoon was not paying attention, or perhaps they just couldn't react fast enough. There were no brake lights as they drove off into the distance.

The entire episode, now finished, had lasted maybe five minutes. I remained for a few minutes longer. Some cars avoided the heap near the curb, some did not. Traffic whizzed by, oblivious to anything that had happened, and before long things were back to normal.

I'm not sure what the racoon signified, whether a mundane event or an indication of the incompatibility between our development and the natural world, or neither, or both.

But I felt that the vantage point from which I watched the episode unfold was an unfamiliar one, quite different from that of the bucket seat of one of the cars on York Boulevard.

Ryan Janssen was born and raised here in Hamilton - living first in Dundas, then in Westdale, and now in the downtown core. He is currently finishing a Masters degree in Toronto, working in Mississauga, and living in Hamilton.

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By bill n (anonymous) | Posted December 31, 2014 at 11:33:54

Given your description of its behavior, it was probably suffering from raccoon distemper, a fatal infectious condition which is rampant in the raccoon population right now.

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By Microcosms (anonymous) | Posted December 31, 2014 at 14:02:02

Ryan, don't sit on the fence. This incident has meaning like everything has meaning. Only the selfish, those who advocate for destruction, would argue things are meaningless. Among the meanings of your story, most definitely, modern human development is incompatible with the natural world, and is killing it, quite literally. Only a matter of time before we kill ourselves completely.

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By NortheastWind (registered) | Posted December 31, 2014 at 22:00:56

A raccoon is not a rodent, by the way.

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By Steve (registered) | Posted January 01, 2015 at 17:24:51

Poor raccoon, but be careful for what you stop to protect, ctvnews.ca/canada/woman-who-stopped-for-ducks-caused-fatal-crash-gets-90-days-behind-bars-1.2153205

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