We carried the cage across the large field, avoiding the occasional tree or two. Several bushes spotted the field, but with those exceptions, it was pretty much open and grassy. The sun was still low enough in the morning sky that flashes of bright rays through the trees caused us to loose our sight, but the unmistakable sound of water tumbling over rocks grew ever louder, telling us we were headed in the right direction.
The cage wasn’t that heavy but carrying it was awkward. After a distance of about half a football field the journey began to seem endless. Finally, Amy pointed to a spot where she wanted us to place the cage and we set it down very softly. I followed Uncle Steve back toward the car. As we stepped behind the only two trees that stood together in the field and turned to watch Amy, I realized that I was a little anxious, not certain what to expect. We watched as Amy slowly swung open the cage door and slowly backed away, giving Henry the opportunity to leave the cage and enter the woods.
Old Henry was all about release. It took him only a split second and he was out of there. He rumbled; raccoons rumble. They really don’t run, they just kind of rumble when they walk fast. So Henry rumbled to the safety of the creek and the surrounding brush. He paused when he got to the water’s edge and looked back at Amy for just a few seconds, almost as if to say goodbye, before vanishing into the underbrush. It was great.
Amy sighed, staring after Henry. She gave a sad little smile, like she was reminiscing. After a moment she spoke loud enough for us to hear. “One down, one to go.”
Uncle Steve and I carried the empty cage back to the car. Amy was right behind us.
“Henry will be just fine,” she said quietly, “but I will miss the old boy.”
I knew what she meant. After all, Amy really cared about these animals. She got to know them and they became…not exactly pets, but more like friends. How would I feel if I had to let Edison go away? She felt that she had just lost a friend; the same way I would feel.
“I noticed something on his ear. Was that a tag or something?” I asked.
“Yes, we keep track of our animal friends to identify their patterns. There is a lot to learn from these guys. There’s so much we don’t know.”
When we reached the car, Amy said, “OK, Sarah, it’s your turn.”
Uncle Steve and I picked up the cage and repeated the routine. We gently set the cage on the ground, almost in the exact spot where we had left Henry, and then, once again, walked back to the partial screening of the two trees. Amy knelt by the cage and looked at Sarah for the longest time.
The tumbling water drowned out whatever she was saying. But the way they looked at each other, it was as if they were each saying goodbye to a dear friend. Finally, Amy opened the cage door and backed away a few steps. And then it happened.
Sarah walked out of the cage, paused for a moment, turned, and looked in our direction. Then, instead of rumbling toward the creek as Henry had, she started walking toward Uncle Steve and me. She was walking right toward us!
Amy stared at her. She must have been as amazed we were; I suppose that’s why none of us said anything. As Sarah calmly walked toward us Amy followed, keeping pace with Sarah but staying about twenty feet behind her. Sarah slowly crossed the clearing and approached the trees where Uncle Steve and I were standing. She came right over to the two trees, stopped, lifted her head and looked directly at us. I had the unmistakable sense that she was there to see me, or maybe to tell me something. I don’t know. But it had something to do with me. I could feel it. So I did what seemed like the logical thing. I stepped out from behind the trees and began to move toward her.
Amy stopped and said in a cautious voice, “Austin, just be careful, OK?”
I nodded, but kept my gaze locked on Sarah as I continued to move slowly toward her.
As I cautiously approached her I held out my right arm, extending my open hand. I stopped just a few feet away and slowly knelt down with my hand still extended. Sarah came over to me, just as she had the day before at the Nature Museum. I started petting her, stroking her soft black and white coat. She moved against my hand, accepting my touch and making sure that I rubbed her in the spots she liked. She seemed to be fine. Nothing was wrong.
I stood up and slowly moved toward the woods off to my left, hoping that she would follow. It seemed like the closest route to the forest. Sarah followed me.
I didn’t know what to think, but I wasn’t scared. I sensed that she just needed some reassurance. So Sarah and I slowly walked to the edge of