Civilization is not natural, of course, and depends on great cities which in turn depend on a steady supply of corn-fed persons from the countryside drifting into town as latter-day urbanites. They invigorate even Boston.

The city itself, once it has got civilized, goes to hell in a handbasket. Hence the importance of country folk arriving in town every generation.

If you run out of farmers, and therefore run out of youngsters who feed calves, chop cotton and catch snapping turtles in sump holes, the city has to depend on its own people. And no city, of course, can maintain civilization with the people it produces itself.

Which brings us to the great question whether cockroaches, rats or house sparrows will be the new lords of creation. I speak of the remote future, 50 years hence.

Those remarkable animals are the best urbanites, and you never hear of a roach, a sparrow or a rat trying to move out to Montgomery County. So one or the other of them seem likely inheritors of our domes and towers.

It is because everybody has sensed this that I am so delighted to have discovered, late in life, the possibilities (future-wise of the raccoon. And I do not mean anything as trite as complaining that the coons eat up everything in city gardens or establish dynasties in city attics. Instead, the grand possibility is that they may sire a new race, as far advanced past current raccoons as we are advanced beyond our remote ancestors.

Unlike the roach, the sparrow or the rat, the coon is superbly gifted with its hands and its relatively very large brain. Its descendants, after a bit of evolving, should be every bit as intelligent as we are and much better at getting the tops off jars of olives.

A book about wildlife in the city ("The Animals Among Us" by John McLoughlin, Viking) gives scant attention to the coons, though I did note this:

"The raccoon had all the potential, it would seem, for the evolution of a technilogical descendant in the manner of man. . . ."

It is related, of course, to bears and dogs, rather than monkeys, and on the whole it might make a nice change.

Before ceding the future to raccoons, as most of us have now done, there was some hope that the great Wild West with its tremendous horizons and noble pioneer types would infuse life into our cities for the foreseeable future, but it is now clear that agribusiness and the canny refusal of coal, etc., to the East is more on their minds out there than the development of city-fodder. I am told they do not care much about supporting New York and Washington and therefore do not train their children to winnow grain, break quarter horses and get to bed by 10 o'clock. The wholesome vigorous generation is not being raised, in other words, to infuse new life into our capitals.

Still, I did check with a Washington friend, an actress, who has just returned from the Dakotas where she made a movie for an Italian film corporation.

Especially since I heard she had spent some time among the Yankton Sioux Indians.

"Yes, it was wonderful," she said. "though the Sioux feast did not go all that well." Her name is Lynette Johnson and she lives in Chevy Chase, and for some time she has been going to acting classes in New York and once did some acting work when she lived in Paris, but really she is a Texan. So I thought between Texas and the Dakotas I might find encouragement and therefore phoned her.

"The big suicide scene went well," she said. This Italian movie is called "Station Wagon," and my friend shoots her lover, then kills herself, and did it all so well she got a bonus. Her male friends have been a bit uneasy at this testimonial to her aim. But to get on:

"After a day of shooting (film) I was invited to a sort of ceremonial feast of the Yankton Sioux.

"They were sun worshippers, you recall, and the men are pierced in the chest - that was their ancient tribal ritual and I imagine it was quite painful.

"Anyway they had this peace pipe of which I partook. Little bitty children did, too, and all the other women. They are quite liberated and democratic in that way. They had a lot of venison and I don't know what all, very splendid, but I was tense from my role and didn't eat much.

"They had wild berry pie and another kind but I didn't get either. It was because I didn't eat all my venison. Of course I didn't say anything when I didn't get any pie.

"After supper the man who had served us brought a bowl of water and gave it to me, and I assumed it was a finger bowl - there had been venison ribs - so of course I dipped right in."

Needless to say, it was not a finger bowl. In this effete capital, alone among American cities, finger bowls are still used to some extent, so my friend's mistake was quite understandable.

But it was holy water. Not to split hairs, it was holy water, in a communal bowl from which every person present was expected to drink. My friend, learning her error, suggested a new bowl of water. But no. You do not pitch out ceremonial libations merely because ignorant paws have been dipped in it. So everybody had to drink from Lynett's finger bowl and it was rather embarrassing.

"It had been a chalice, I would have known it was something special," she said. "But it was a green plastic bowl. Well, next time I will know."

That did it. If even the Sioux drink their sacraments from green platic, we need not count on the West infusing our Eastern cities with new vigor. On balance, raccoons still seem the best bet.