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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Day I Met a(n O)Possum

Yesterday, I saw an opossum. For most people, this would entail little more than the thought, "oh, there's a possum. Wonder why it's out during the day?" And then they'd return to their normal (probably significantly more productive than mine) day. But not for me. Seeing a possum is a world-view-altering experience. I'm still feeling high off the excitement of seeing the possum.

We have terrible dog owners for neighbors. Not only do they leave the dogs out all day and night (every day and night), but they are also impervious to the incessant barking of the dogs (a lab and two basset hounds). Even at 3:45am, while the dogs bark for 20 straight minutes, these people don't hear them. The rest of the neighborhood does, but not the only people who could stop the incessant barking. They sleep blissfully on.

For me, the barking of these dogs is comparable to being locked alone in a room made entirely of chalkboards with that guy from the Guinness Book of World Records with the longest fingernails ever. And he is a verbose hand-talker.

Anyway, the dogs went berserk yesterday as I was putting Boy down for his nap. My dogs started barking, too, so I knew something had to be happening, since my ubiquitous use of bark collars has terrified them into only barking when absolutely necessary. I came down to beat my dogs' spirits into submission once again with their red collars of imposed self-restraint. I assumed they were being taunted by the squirrels that run along our back fence - an occurrence that leads to at least one daily fit of barking. As I stormed outside, collars in hand, I saw her.

Sitting on the back fence, right at the corner of my yard and the yard with the bad dogs was the cutest possum I've ever seen. Granted, I haven't seen a lot of possums, so it wasn't a very tight competition. But she was cute.

I froze, torn between my inherent desire to run at her, flailing in excitement, grab her off the fence, put a tiny bonnet on her head, name her Posey Possum, and live with her happily ever after as the most adorable pet in the world while I parade her around in her lace-filled carriage and she waves graciously with her adorable possum hands at all our adoring fans, and the nagging of my sub-conscious, in the voice of my husband, telling me NOT to hug a wild animal. That's how you get rabies and die.

Eventually, the greatly deprived and much neglected logical part of my brain broke through the screaming battle of heart vs husband-voiced-subconscious. "GET THE CAMERA!" Of course! I ran frantically back to the house, grabbed the camera, and ran with an urgency I haven't felt since I was a child, running through the woods behind my house from the swamp monster that was surely coming to eat my soul. I got as close as I dared - about 10 feet away from her, with husband-subconscious screaming "RABIESRABIESRABIES" at my entire body. After a few tentative pictures, I paused to study her clearly rabid behavior.

From my mental archives of forestry fauna, I dug for any scrap of knowledge of possums (or is it opossums? Are they the same thing? Does this mean everything I think about about them is potentially wrong? Do I actually know anything about them?). Yes, no, probably, and probably not. But I did recall that they should be nocturnal (maybe?), so before I could build up my courage (and stifle husband's voice) enough to get closer, I dashed back in to the infinite knowledge of the interwebs.

As it turns out, (o)possums are, in fact, usually nocturnal. But they're also highly resistant to rabies, and mommy possums frequently come out during the day in spring and summer so as to forage more food for their babies. Considering in all this time since I'd discovered the possum she hadn't moved at all, I was beginning to suspect she might not be rabid, after all.

I made my way back to her (this time venturing within 5 feet, in spite of the incessant warnings of husband-subconscious) and studied her behavior for signs of rabies. Was she foaming at the mouth? No, but her adorable little pink nose was running. Was she aggressive? No, she hadn't moved since I'd seen her, even her head - she just stared at the bad dogs (who have been barking nonstop this entire time). Was she acting unusual for a possum? How the hell should I know what usual possum behavior is? Until two minutes ago, I didn't know if she was a possum or an opossum! Upon review, I decided she was most likely not rabid. I ventured closer to capture her on film.

Posey Possum - the Cutest Possum that Ever There Was

As I studied her adorable little possum hands and her precious little running pink possum nose, I was overcome with a desire to help her and save her from the bad dogs. I knew in my heart that she was a mother possum, and she was risking her life for her babies. We shared an understanding of new motherhood and mutual respect. Surely she would provide aid to me if our situations were reversed (flash to a world with gigantic possums living in our houses and me squatting on the top of a fence, shaking in fear with snot running down my face). Okay, maybe she wouldn't. Instead I opted for talking to her in a soothing voice and taking my dogs inside so as to grant her free and safe passage across my yard, if she so chose.

She sat on top of the fence for over an hour. Finally, for some reason, the bad dogs stopped barking at her (I suspect the neighbor called them inside to eat, because surely he wasn't bothered by the barking, as it had continued, literally without pause for longer than an hour - if it were going to bother him, it would have long before an hour), and she decided she could make her way safely along the fence once more.

As pleased as I was to see her go along her way, I rather regret it - she lacked a certain grace I assumed to be inherent to her as she stumbled awkwardly along the top of the fence, her creepy over-sized rat tail cocked crookedly and stiffly out behind her for balance. She lost a touch of her cuteness in that moment. But I can look past the fumbling - after all, I've been a new mom, and we share this universal and soul-penetrating commonality. We're in this together.

Husband-subconscious chimes in: "This is why animals in zoos always try to kill you. You think you have shared mutual understanding; they think you're an easy target."

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