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Character Studies: Bajo Blackring
Click here for shocking details behind this cheery trash panda.
Welcome back to another edition of what is is apparently the 15th-ranked Paid Fiction Substack! No kidding! We’re on that list with Chuck Palahniuk and Salman Rushdie and I just really am grateful to you for getting me on that list, folks!
I was training to be an AWA Writing Group facilitator all weekend so I was tired and didn’t want to write today. Instead, as thanks to you for getting me on any list whatsoever, here’s another character introduction!
This is Bajo Blackring. Bajo is a common raccoon (Procyon lotor), raised in southeast Bridge City. He is a warrior/bounty hunter/scout for hire who works with his partner Arrick, a Humboldt marten. They’ve traveled together for some time, and are dear friends with a strong rapport.
Bajo and Arrick are inspired by classic adventuring duos, with Arrick being more quiet and professional and Bajo the more playful and talkative one. I don’t remember where the name Bajo came from, only that these characters were inspired by Asterix and Obelix and I wanted similar names. Maybe this is particular to me, but I think a lot about the shape of names. So, Arrick and Asterix are sharp names to me, and Bajo and Obelix are round names.
Of the four companions, Bajo being a raccoon was the last species I figured out. I kept getting hints like seeing a line of raccoons in our yard after waking up one night, or neighbors who kept some and let Lana feed them grapes.
The tipping point happened one night in a Zoom meeting, after I’d been thinking about which animal to use, then saw a portrait of a raccoon on the wall behind my friend Gretchen’s desk. In retrospect, the choice seems obvious, since raccoons are both distinctly North American and because they’d be a foundational species in a post-human world. Outside of pets and small rodents, raccoons seem like the species most likely to move in and make a home once humans left.
One issue I have with Cascadia is determining how paws developed grasping ability. Disney and Redwall have primed us for animals carrying medieval weaponry, so that’s not a big leap, but this universe is also tied intrinsically with reality. So did some of the mammals evolve opposable thumbs? Should I make a joke to point out the obvious, then never mention it again? Should I never mention this at all?
One possible theory is that raccoons were instrumental in teaching other small mammals to transition their front paws, sort of like Lightning Ben was one of the catalysts in spreading cross-communication across the eastern Cascades.
In this story, Bajo also serves as a guide for Eola and the reader. He knows Bridge City and can explain stuff when Eola’s wondering. Bajo feels particularly close to my heart because he’s descended from Mt. Tabor raccoons and I think I understand him better than anyone except maybe Eola. He’s an everyman character, but also distinctly raccoon-like in his cleverness and curiosity.
A few other notes about nature’s masked bandits:
Besides the common raccoon—which is by far the most dominant—there are two other sub-species: the crab-eating raccoon of Central and South America, which are more slender, have shorter fur, and feast upon shellfish; and the Cozumel raccoon, a pygmy subspecies with a gold tail which lives on Cozumel, an island off the Yucatan coast.
When I lived in Northeast Portland with a bunch of guys we set up a pond in the backyard with koi and goldfish and the fish only ever lasted a night or two because the raccoons would redirect the pump so the pond both drained and lifted the fish up toward them. So crafty!
When people say their cats got eaten by coyotes, I’d bet it was raccoons.
The term “trash panda” bothers me because raccoons are way too cool to be named after trash. I used the phrase in my subtitle as a pathetic attempt at catching your eye. Though, of course, it’s true raccoons do love eating trash and vaguely resemble red pandas.
While the species originated in the Americas, Central Europe is now overrun with invasive raccoons after they were established near the town of Kassel by the German forestry department in 1934 for furs and sport hunting. Rumored to be released when Allied bombs struck a fur farm, the raccoons soon proliferated, and so, yes, Europe is still currently under invasion by Nazi raccoons. I doubt this storyline will factor into the Cascadia Chronicles, though I feel certain Bajo would not fall in line with his presumably fascist European relatives.