The Ranch Hand’s Diary:
Hello, My Name is George
We've sat down to dinner but Karen and Greg haven’t come in yet. Jesse, Laura, and I exchange glances that ask, "Can we start without them?" We wait for several long, food-cooling minutes and then I serve myself and they follow suit. Some movement catches my eye and I turn and see Greg and Karen coming across the lawn. Greg is carrying a large box. Once inside, he sets it on the table.
"Did you bring us gifts?" Laura asks.
"Go and see for yourself," Greg says with a twinkle in his eye.
|(Photo Credit: Laura Traverso)|
The three of us crowd around the box. Look inside. A tiny face looks back at us. Eyes dark-ringed by a bandit mask. It's a baby raccoon. He's fallen out of his tree and his family is nowhere around. Over dinner, Laura and Greg talk names. Karen says she's staying out of it. Jesse picks the little guy up. I watch and photograph.
Laura is the first mother. She texts me late that night to say she had had to put the little guy in the covered patio in his dog kennel home because he was freaking out, making too much noise.
He’s still going strong the next day, feeding off Norma's milk and riding on shoulders and hanging out by feet. He's so young he can barely walk a straight line. He falls over in his enthusiasm to be close to something, someone.
When Morgan returns from her weekend trip, she becomes the second mother. She carries the little guy around in her arms and up on her shoulders. From that height, he buries himself under her hair. He follows her around when she sets him down on the floor.
"This is George," she says on Instagram. "His hobbies include sitting on my shoulder, sleeping in laundry baskets and peeing on my homework."
The night that Morgan, Greg, and Karen go to the farmers market, Laura babysits. George wakes up from a long nap frantic with hunger. Jesse gets out the milk and George laps it up from the floor, suckles it off the ends of Jesse's fingers. He trails lines of milk across the kitchen. He complains when he can't get enough milk fast enough. I go over to find the bottle I think Morgan has been feeding George with. Then I give it over to Jesse. That's as close as I want to get. Not that I don't like George. It's complicated.
Another day, at lunch, with George running around and being adorable, Karen says Greg had come to get her when he first found George. "I don't think I can dispatch him," Greg had said. Dispatch is a gentler word for kill.
"I can see why," Karen had replied. But she had also washed her hands of George's raising and care. "Maybe Jesse and Amanda will want him," she'd said. She tells us this at lunch. Jesse and I exchange a look. Smile. Shrug. Glance down at the floor at the roaming George. "But you didn't seem to want him," she continues. "And then the cat was already out of the bag."
"I remember you said Jesse should take Lil Bit when she leaves," I say. Lil Bit is a chicken, a rooster, who mistakenly was included with the first batch of broilers. While they grew big around him at an accelerated speed, he stayed small, growing at his own pace. He survived the bear attack and the processing of all those broilers. When the new broilers, the fluffies, came along, Lil Bit became the king. Now he was the biggest one, the chicken who knew things. All those little fluffies sidled up next to him on roosts and learned to crow and graze grass and be chickens from him.
Since Karen had suggested Jesse take him along, I have often imagined us traveling through Europe with Lil Bit. Now that imagining also includes George and Little Dude, Norma’s calf. In my mind’s eye, I see Jesse with a rooster under one arm and the raccoon hanging onto her shoulder. Little Dude gallops alongside. It would certainly be a very crowded and entertaining trip. Probably very hard to book train tickets and museum visits.
Morgan leaves again on another trip and Greg becomes the third mother. He loves George. He takes him along in the truck with him when he goes to fill the water tanks. He lets George ride up on his shoulder, stick his wet nose under his shirt collar. He feeds him every couple hours and is trying to train him to do all his business outside. "Come on George," Greg says, walking across the room with George trotting behind. "He already walked from the house to the tool shed and back. If I keep walking him maybe he'll sleep for a long time."
"You don't seem to like George much," Laura says to me, later.
"It's not that I don't like him," I say. I try to think of how to explain it. How sometimes it's hard enough taking care of myself. How I'll be leaving in a few weeks. How my life is a movement from place to place, a leaving behind of people and places and things and furry friends. How so often I’d simply rather observe than be involved.