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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Feeling of Freedom

Tonight I released ten sub-adult raccoons that had been raised at the wildlife rehabilitation center where I am employed.  When they are making their transition from captivity to freedom, young raccoons always make me think of kids set free in a candy store.  But it's not sweets that the racoons are getting worked up about (although I'm sure they wouldn't turn them down if offered).  For a young raccoon, the "candy" in a world without walls is the infinite number of textures waiting to be investigated at length with their sensitive forepaws.

Even before the raccoons leave their transport carrier their paws stretch out through the open door to grab every twig, leaf, rock and fern frond within reach.  Each object the paws encounter is thoroughly rolled, rubbed, crumpled and pressed between those two dark, five-fingered information gathering devices.  When they exit the carrier it often appears as if their senses are all working independently of one another.  The paws continue to grab nearby objects and feel them while the eyes, ears and nose gather information from a greater distance than the paws can manage.  Occasionally what the paws are feeling warrants further inspection by one of the other senses, and the nose and/or eyes are momentarily brought into play before the object is either discarded or popped into the raccoon's mouth.

Eventually the urge to explore takes hold on the raccoons and they set off in whichever direction they have decided is most inviting.  Usually this means heading towards the water's edge where they will find even more tactile sensations to experience, but they take their time getting there.  The slow progress of the raccoons can easily be followed even after the animals themselves have disappeared into thick cover.  They cannot resist touching everything they pass, and their movement in a given direction can be tracked by the spasmodic movements of the tops of plants, the textured stems of which are being enthusiastically experienced by the unseen raccoons below.  

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