It was my first winter in Asheville. I moved there that autumn with my partner in a moment of ‘divine guidance’ (some might call it fool-heartedness) to open a yoga studio. After living in Chicago for eight years the cold was nothing to us. It was the snow combined with icy mountain roads that really changed our pace. We learned that southerners fear driving in the snow the way cats fear cucumbers: with an all encompassing shock and mistrust which renders them unable to think properly. They stay inside and make hot chocolate and build forts and call out of work, or they see it as a perfect opportunity for outdoor winter sports of which I know nothing because I find it unholy to exercise in freezing temperatures. Ashevillians will find any excuse to spend time in nature, which was an endearing trait yet simultaneously frustrating when our most loyal students would suddenly not show up as soon as the weather was perfect for their chosen outdoor obsession.
My partner Kit and I had a slow week at the studio. Our classes had anywhere from five to zero people, with the average somewhere closer to zero. We would exchange vivid fantasies of winters past when we could go to Whole Foods, get a glass of wine while we shopped, coo over exotic organic bries and pecorinos and even buy fancy shampoos and essential oils without worrying about whether we would make rent that month. Remember that scene in Hook when the lost boys are all eating imaginary food? That was us. We would eat our dinner of crackers and cheese, pretending it was something else, then we would numb out to some Netflix, and go to sleep grinding our teeth.
One particularly wintery day we had a big fight. I was all for keeping the studio open, trudging along and sticking to my guns no matter how crazy we felt. Kit wanted to give up and lose all the investment of time, money and energy we had put into this place. It was our heart and soul, we couldn't give it up that easy. We fought and cried and went to bed facing opposite directions, hopeless and despondent. After much tossing and turning, I finally fell asleep. Sometime during the darkest hours of the night, our dog Chicken was frantically pawing at our bedroom window. The roof to the front porch was level with our window, so you could slide right out and sit on the roof if you wanted to. I woke up with a start and fumbled for my phone, turning on the flashlight.
Outside our window was a raccoon, pawing at Chicken and playing a game with her. She loved it and was going crazy trying to get the to raccoon. It was really cute for about a minute until we wanted to go back to bed. So I turned my light off, tried to calm the pup, and went back to sleep. I eventually heard a little skitter of paws across the roof of the porch, and all was quiet. About ten minutes later, I hear that skitter again, louder. Chicken went crazy again. Again, I turned on my flashlight and looked out the window where two raccoons now stood taunting my dog. This was a little weirder. Two raccoons? Cute! They danced their little human-like paws across the screens of our windows and played with Chicken like they were best friends. I don't think Chicken saw it that way. I woke Kit up and we watched for a little while, then we went back to sleep, and all was quiet.
Ten minutes later, we hear the skitter of tiny black-gloved hands across the roof and once again Chicken was at the window, whining and shaking with suppressed primal instincts. I MUST KILL THESE ANIMALS, MOM! I knew she was losing her mind. I turned on the flashlight one more time and this time there were four raccoons outside the window. An entire family had decided to come visit us that night and play hide and seek through the window with our dog and us. This was a big message from spirit to wake up! Pay attention to the signs you're receiving. We watched in wonder as we put our own hands up to the window, and the raccoons mirrored us. We played with them for a little while and finally went back to sleep a final time.
In the morning we looked up the meaning of raccoon medicine. Every time we have a significant encounter with an animal, we have learned to take it as a sign. We have this deck of cards we kept at the studio that have different North American animals on them. Each card has a corresponding story based off different Native American tribal stories. When we looked up the meaning of raccoon, it told us this:
“Raccoon carries the medicine of the protector of the underdog and provider for the young, infirm, and elderly. Often called “little bandit” by southern tribes, This Robin Hood of the animal kingdom teaches us about generosity and caring for others. When Raccoon comes your way, you are being asked to contact your inner warrior, to become a protector and generous provider for those in need. Raccoon medicine people have the uncanny ability to assist others without allowing them to become victims or dependent.”
Jamie Sams & David Carson | Medicine Cards
Another interpretation behind raccoon medicine is “don’t worry, all your needs are provided for, you are in the right place at the right time.”
We saw this as a clear sign that we we are doing matters to people, and to keep going. After this we received a very strange phone call from a psychic in Georgia who told us the very same things we figured out from the raccoons, and if that's isn't yoga teacher logic for you, I don't know what is. Our studio lasted for another 14 months until we decided to travel the world and teach in as many countries as possible. We are on the adventure of our lives right now and couldn't be happier or more excited. Our work continues to challenge us every day to evolve, sometimes with a not so subtle nudge. Learning how to take notice of these nudges is the best way to cultivate your intuition.
Over the years we have each connected with different animals at different times, drawing on their various stories to get us through difficult or trying moments. Next time you see an eagle on the horizon, a lizard on your porch, or a deer cross the road, start taking note. Get curious about the wisdom they hold for you, and delight in the magic that can bring into your life.