The stream runs in a soft trickle over the sandstone. It doesn’t babble like any old New England brook. This is an Appalachian creek, best pronounced “crick” for the little crickety sound that it makes as it journeys down the hollow.
The minnows and crayfish dart among the stones. No bass or crappie or walleye or sauger can make its way this far up in the hills. The shallow water is a refuge from the predatory fish, and thus the little fish and “crawlcrabs” are safe from those predatory lips.
But when night falls in the hollow, the shallow water’s security features become a pretty bad liability.
In the veil of darkness, the old boar ‘coon that dens in the old white oak that has grown thick and strong on a little rise on the creek bank is leaves his day rest and saunters down to the water.
He has done this maneuver many times, and he knows which holes hold the most minnows and crayfish. So he doesn’t go splashing the water like a maniac. He goes deliberately, wetting his feet only when he knows he is likely to put his hand-like paws into the water and catch a little midnight snack.
He finds his first hole and wades into the trickle of water. He reaches his forepaws into the creek, feeling and feeling with his fingers for the quarry.
Five minutes of feeling around and a big crayfish falls into his hands. The raccoon savors his nice little meal and then thrusts his paws back into the water. He catches a minnow. He devours it.
The old boar comes to hand fish in the creek every night, except for those days of frigid winter, when the ice clogs up the creek and all wise raccoons stay up in their tree dens.
In late winter, the scent of estrus from the sow raccoons draws him to wander and occasionally wage war on the other boars that come calling, and in the autumn, he mixes up his seafood dinners with a few corn patch raids and sorties through the oak lots for acorns.
And in summer, when the wild raspberries grow black on the thorn bushes, he goes slinking along the berry patches, filling his jaws with a little sweet fruit of the land.
But he is a crick coon by trade. He knows the crayfish and the minnows, and when the rains fill the creek bed and allow the odd sucker or redhorse to come swimming up his way, he tries his hand at catching a few of those, too.
Maybe he’ll get caught raiding a corn patch someday. Or maybe the baying hounds will tree him. Or maybe an upstart young boar will fill the creek bank with enough upper cuts and growling churrs to topple the old man.
But for now, the old boar will hold his own along the trickling crick. The snow will fall, and the summer heat will swelter.
But his night will be spent on the quest for minnows and crayfish. His kind is named Procyon, perhaps for the star that shines brightly above him on those clear nights when the barred owl’s calls are clear and piercing and the moon casts silver beams upon the skeleton trees.
He never looks up though. The stars and their courses mean little to a beast that goes nose down sniffing the creek banks. Feeling hands and quivering nose are how he makes his way in the world.
And he does it well.