Better With Age!
The raccoon thrust her paws into the algae filled water trough, snatched a frog from the depths and gleefully bit its head off. Within seconds, she devoured every slimy bit. If this raccoon could express ecstasy, she was in that moment.
The year was around 1971. I was in 7th or 8th grade and my mother, recently divorced, wanted to live in the country. She found an old ranch house on Santa Rosa Creek road about five miles east of the town of Cambria on the central coast of California. It was a stunning place… the land, not the house. It was an old cattle ranch with bands carved into the rolling hills; scars left from generations of steer and heifers following the path of least resistance. The namesake creek was a wondrous place for a young boy to spend weekends, attempting to catch the elusive steelhead trout, throwing rocks and getting wet.
Friends my age were in short supply. I found solace in the animals, dogs, cats, cows and the pet raccoon that lived with us for about two years and played like any other domestic animal… with just a hint of danger. Mandy, we called her, was given to my sister by a cowboy who had shot her mother after she had attacked his dog. It was only after he killed the mother that he found out she was just protecting her newborns. We raised Mandy from before her eyes were open until she wandered off to have a litter of her own.
The old man up the road noticed that I was spending a lot of time alone on the ranch so he would ride his Honda 90 down to our place after school and on the weekends. He saw that I had an old Honda 50 and he invited me to join him for rides up the trails and fire roads back into the hills where he would share his knowledge of the history and geology of the place while we explored the long abandoned mercury mines littered with rusty tools, mine cars, Model A trucks and horse-drawn wagons.
Mr. Curti was the old man’s name. I don’t know if I ever knew his first name but I think it was Henry. He didn’t ask for anything from me. He seemed happy just to have someone to listen to his stories and to be able to pass on his common sense wisdom acquired from decades of living on the ranch, observing nature… and I drank it up.