15 Jul Love Letter to New York City: Israel the Raccoon Feeder
LOVE LETTER // NYC
Israel the Raccoon Feeder
For me, the body almost always arrives before the soul while traveling.
This has been a shift, something new that I’ve noticed as time marches on.
In my younger years, I was able to arrive at a place and immediately hit the ground running, feeling settled and excited all at once, and literally all at once; from touchdown. When I arrived, I arrived.
Well it is has been a while since I heard a pilot say “Welcome to New York, where the local time is…”
I didn’t know what to expect. I heard all the stories on the news, from a friend of a friend, or cousin of a colleague; “New York has changed, everyone left New York,” New York this, New York that.” But the whispers were clear.
To return to New York City, and write her love letters.
And I did.
2.5 years later, June 2022, i did.
First stop, sunset by the Hudson.
Next stop, Central Park.
For me, Central Park and sunset over the Hudson has always been the most constant source of joy, of peace, of a connection to the natural world in an otherwise, albeit infamous, concrete jungle.
So here I am, many years and life experiences later, with my same two feet in the green grass of the urban oasis. I walk along the paths, and then jump off them. I look at the trees, I see birds I didn’t recognize from years prior. The cellist plays under a bridge, the squirrels flirt with each tourist that passes their playful gaze. I walk in a little further, past the cyclist and runners, past the pedicabs and the abundant flow of its decadent fountains, frisbees as free as the dogs that wander off leash looking to leave their mark on this world.
All things that make the heart flutter in a familiar flurry.
All things that make me feel, home.
But then somewhere in the middle of the middle of the park, I saw something I’ve never seen before. Hundreds of visits to the park over the years, and there it was; something new.
A man sitting on a park bench with a grocery bag full of bread, and cherries, feeding,
hand-to-mouth, a raccoon;
Every night, for 13 years now, Israel comes to the park to feed three generations of these furry friends.
I stayed a while, investigating, observing.
I asked the man on the bench his name.
“Israel,” he told me.
And then one raccoon turned into 3, then 5, and at one point, 10.
I watched them walk up to the hand that fed them, with confidence and ease. I could tell they trusted him. I could tell they found comfort in his presence.
Tourists gathered around, taking pictures and videos of Israel and his furry friends, and then scurried on with their days. Some of the tourists even try to feed the raccoons, but with no avail. The raccoons fled the second one of us got too close.
I wanted to know more.
What was it about these animals that allowed them to put their trust in Israel, to eat from his hand, to approach so calmly?
I stayed a little longer.
“Shorty” he called out.
He knew their names.
He knew every single one of their names.
How do you know their names, I asked him?
“I’ve been coming here after work to feed these guys for 13 years. All year round, every day. I’ve watched 3 generations of this family come into the park, and I do what I can to keep them fed.”
Israel even mentioned that on July 4th of last year, there were 50 members of the coon family surrounding him.
Israel is a kind man, doesn’t speak much, and keeps a vigilant eye on his ever growing family. He shared about their personalities, sibling status and rank, and pointed out the parents of the tribe.
I stayed and talked to him for almost an hour, before continuing on with my walk. As I left, I smiled at yet another New York City moment.
I may have entered this park hundreds of times with the same two feet; but people like Israel, stewards of the land and protectors of non-human beings, ensure that I never leave it the same.
Today, I left with my soul as full as Shorty’s sweet little furry stomach, and Israel’s great big generous and dedicated heart.
Thanks For Reading!
This letter is a part of Brian Rashid’s “Love Letters to the World,” a global initiative bringing stories of hope, humanity, and travel/tourism to our world.
A huge thanks to Bradley Tusk, the sponsor of this series called, “Love Letters to New York City.” Bradley is owner of Tusk ventures and Founder of P&T Knitwear.
You can read their story, here.
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Thank you so much for being here on what is literally my dream coming true.
Oh so true!
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