When I was 19 years old, I did a full-time summer internship at a tiny wildlife rehabilitation center. I lived in a small back room on the property, right on the edge of a rural marsh, and spent my days looking after baby hawks, owls, falcons, possums, raccoons, and occasionally helping transport river otters and deer.
It was one of the most difficult periods in my life. I had gone to the wildlife center seeking adventure, but instead found myself unbearably isolated. Suisun is relatively rural, in the California Valley, and I was far away from most of my friends. My now-boyfriend and I were going through our first (and thankfully one of our only) rough patch, and we were not together. The few people my age that I met there had little in common with me and many were even already married, which I found inconceivable. Left alone with my thoughts, I spiraled and wallowed in despair and loneliness.
The only thing that got me through that summer was the raccoons, whom I had an immediate connection with. We had twenty-two on the property, due to severe fires that raged through Northern California in the hot months. Many other wildlife centers sent their raccoons to us during evacuations. As a result, I found myself the mother to many bandit-faced, squiggly, chirping, sometimes severely aggressive fur babies. While the adults are vicious and territorial, the young ones are almost kitten-like in their affections.
I learned a lot that summer, as you do when you’re on an adventure and when you go through an extreme depression. Watching those little furballs, I was struck by their utter resilience. Even when their mothers were killed and fires burned their homes, even when they were half starving to death and when hundreds of fleas were sucking them dry, they wouldn’t die. A few years later, I had their paw prints tattooed up the side of my leg where they had often climbed my body like a tree trunk. It’s a gentle reminder that even when things seem to be at their lowest, you can persevere.