By Earl Smith II

As it happened Raccoon was foraging along the eastern bank of Brook That Wanders Through the Western Woods. The air was crisp this late fall day and the trees along both banks had already dropped some of their leaves, many of them onto the surface of Brook, only to be dutifully carried away. He sat and thought on this for some time.

“As you know friend Brook, I am fastidious with my food, your water has often helped me with that, and I am ever grateful. But I now see that you are just as fastidious with your appearance, sweeping clear the leaves that fall on your face, seeing that they do not hide your beauty. Both of us have certain compulsions and that makes us brothers in a sense. I have always thought that such compulsions should either be celebrated or deplored, but now, how is it with you,” asked Raccoon?

“I know little of compulsions and even less of fastidiousness,” replied Brook. “I don’t give such things much thought at all. It is in my nature. There is no need to know further.”

“I envy you,” replied Raccoon. “My days and comfort are constantly beset with thoughts of such things. It seems as if my life was made to wonder about what it means to be Raccoon.”

“Such compulsions should either be celebrated or deplored,” offered Brook.

Raccoon stopped and stared at Brook for a long while. It seemed to him that his words, his very same words, were somehow changed when returned. He sat on a rock along the bank to think about this.

“They are the very same words but somehow different,” he thought to himself? But what was different about them? He knew that they were different yet the same, yes, the same, but how and why were they different?

His reverie was interrupted by the arrival of Porcupine on the western bank of Brook. She wandered down from the tree line and over the rocks, carefully, slowly, and down to the water’s edge where she proceeded to have a bath in the shallow pool that Brook had so thoughtfully provided. Afterwards she lay down on a flat rock close to the bank to grant Late Afternoon Sun the pleasure of drying her quills. All this Raccoon watched carefully and wondered about compulsions.

“I have enjoyed watching you at your bath,” said Raccoon. “I also occasionally accept Brook’s kindness in the same way. Just watching you has brought back very pleasant memories of past ablutions.”

“I don’t know about such things as ablutions,” replied Porcupine “but I did enjoy my bath. I honor Brook for her kindness as I do Late Afternoon Sun for the warming. My quills are feeling positively renewed as the past seems to have been washed away.”

“Such things as baths I do understand. But I am wondering about something else, something that I said, and then Brook said. Perhaps you can help me out of this thicket,” said Raccoon.

“I will as I can,” offered Porcupine. “What is your question?”

“I was wondering about your quills. How does it feel to be surrounded by such things,” asked Raccoon?

Porcupine paused in thought for a long time and then said, “It feels like being Porcupine.”

Brook offered, “Such compulsions should either be celebrated or deplored. Which is it friend Raccoon?”

At that Raccoon smiled, a heavy weight seemed lifted from his life, and he understood the true meaning of his words. “Thanks to both of you friend Brook and Porcupine, it has been a glorious day.”

What does Raccoon now understand?

Earl Smith lives in Southwest Washington, DC. He has been a student of Buddhism since time out of mind. He combines native mythologies with Buddhist thinking: a synergy of worldviews that creates new insights. Earl is the author of several paranormal, action-adventure novels and a series of Zen parables. He also writes short stories and poetry drawn from his life experience.

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