Emily Parnell — Encountering Mother Nature, it’s best to roll with the punches

05/28/2013 10:44 AM

05/28/2013 10:44 AM

A few days ago, our dogs were in the back yard barking. We try to be good neighbors and not let the dogs bark incessantly, and they’re not the barkiest dogs, but something really had them going that morning. Seeing they weren’t going to come when I called, I went to the back yard to investigate.

On top of our wooden fence was a small, very frightened, baby opossum. They barked at it from below, and it clung to the fence slat.

I know not everyone, OK, make that

hardly anyone

loves opossums. With alligator-y mouths full of sharp teeth, rat-like tails and rotten carrion breath, they’re not the most appealing creatures.

Fact: Opossums clean themselves meticulously, even stopping to tidy up during their meals.

But I’ll admit it. I have a soft spot for the scroungy little scavengers. I find them interesting, and I appreciate that they just waddle around and don’t seem overly worried about me.

So, I put the dogs in the house, then grabbed my kids, my camera and a pillow case, and we went out to check on the little guy. He clung to the fence with his finger-y little claws, and hissed, revealing mouthful of tiny, sharp teeth — many of which were just tiny baby tooth nubs.

Fact: Opossums have 50 teeth.

The poor fellow trembled, and it didn’t seem inclined to get down from the fence. I held the pillow case open for it, hoping it might crawl in. It just hissed and drooled and tried to hide its face, so I draped the pillow case across the fence and went inside.

I returned later to find him gone. Until I picked up the pillow case and found him hiding beneath it. Having performed a little research, I inspected the opossum to determine if it was old enough to be on its own. It had long fur and was about six inches, which seemed about the right age to get off his momma’s back.

Fact: Momma possums carry their babies on their back for a few weeks, then the possums drop off when they’re old enough to make it on their own.

But I wasn’t sure. So I called around, and a nature center asked me to catch it and bring it in — they’d figure out if it needed care, or if it could just be returned to the same place I found it. But outside the fence, away from the barking beagles.

I called my husband. “I found this possum and I’m going to catch it.”

My husband, in his

girl, you’re crazy

tone said, “No, no, no, those things are dangerous. Have you seen their teeth?”

I responded, “It’s not like I’ve never caught a possum before. But I’m going to have to pick this one up. It won’t just run in my pillow case like the last one did.” I could hear his eyes rolling at me.

Fact: Opossums are rarely aggressive, and are resistant to rabies. Around humans, they’re most likely to just play possum (flop over and pretend they’re dead.) But they do carry fleas.

So I put on gloves and long sleeves then used the pillow case to catch it. By which I mean, I picked it up and put it in one of those old, plastic egg crates. I peeked in at it, and it hissed some more, its face in a heinous snarl. Then it fell over on its side, its face still frozen. And I stopped to wonder,

In what way does making a mean face then playing dead provide this species protection?

I wanted the kids to come with me to the nature center when they got home from school, so I put a board over the top of the crate and left the possum in the garage. An hour or so later, I went back to check on it. It was gone, escaped through the hole of the egg crate’s handle. As unimpressed as my husband was with my plans to catch the opossum, I suspected he’d be even less impressed with me catching it, then proceeding to let it go in our garage. I kept the garage doors cracked, hoping it would find its way out.

When my husband arrived home, he asked, “So, what happened with the opossum?”

Yeah… about that.

Fact: My husband knows how to roll with the punches.

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