Quite a climber

This opossum was hanging around our yard recently.

The first sign of our visitor was when I heard rustling in a garbage bag that had been placed on our back porch.

I was going to fill the outside wood-burning stove before going to bed. When I turned on the light and stepped out, I saw the white face, pink nose and black eyes. The critter saw me and then dove back inside the bag for cover.

I rattled the bag and out scurried a Didelphis virginiana, better known as the Virginia opossum or as most folks call them “possums.” The animal disappeared into the night and I dutifully carried the bag of garbage to the secure can.

Encounters with critters is a part of living in the country. While many of these encounters are welcome, some — like mink in the chicken coop — are not. I’ve seen bobcats, bears, coyotes, deer, turkey, owls, hawks, squirrels, foxes, rabbits, skunks, eagles — the list is long. None are as strange as the much-maligned opossum, the only marsupial in North America.

Many years ago when we lived in the country an opossum showed up in our driveway during the day and was hanging out in our yard. Knowing they were primarily a nocturnal creature, I figured something was wrong with it. I thought it might be rabid so I shot the animal since we had young children who played outside.

I was probably mistaken with the rabies diagnosis. Apparently opossums are more immune to rabies than other mammals because of their lower blood temperature.

There are benefits of having opossums around because they eat bugs, ticks, cockroaches, slugs, mice and rats. They are an equal-opportunity trash and pest controller.

Opossums have been around for 70 million years, dating back to the days of the dinosaurs and the first election of several long-term congressmen. When threatened by another party, they “play possum” and run, growl, belch, urinate, defecate, roll over, stare off into space and secrete foul-smelling fluid from their glands. This catatonic state can last up to four hours.

Yes, opossums can do that too.

The snarl of an opossum is quite impressive when they display most of their 50 teeth, similar to the smile of Nancy Pelosi.

Our opossum hung around for at least another day. My wife, Sherry, saw it in the crab apple tree, where it was eating the last of the fall fruits. Opossums are great climbers because of their opposable thumbs on their hind feet and their long prehensile tails that can wrap around tree limbs.

Opossums give birth to up to two litters of four to eight young — called joeys — per year. They remain inside the mother’s pouch latched on to a nipple for about 50 days before they begin to exit and spend time clinging to their mother’s back like a pack of lobbyists fighting a bill. After about 100 days or until after the bill is defeated, the young opossums are sent packing.

A male opossum is called a jack and female opossum is called a jill. When a group of opossums are gathered it’s called a passel — even though some animal groups are called a congress. And a passel of chauvinist jacks serving in Congress can still behave like a bunch of … you know.

With apologies to Mother Goose, here’s a bit of marsupial and politically inspired poetry:

Jack and Jill went up Capitol Hill

To fetch a bucket of cash

There they stayed with their prehensile tails

Clinging to their share of the stash.

Actually, I wish the Congress did act more like opossums. Both suffer from poor images. Hanging around and doing something useful would be a good for the country.

A chicken rescue

Speaking of animals, our younger flock of chickens seems to have turned away from its murderous intentions and is focusing on laying eggs. We’re getting about 15 eggs a day.

The other day while collecting eggs I gently reached under a chicken and noticed that she wasn’t moving. I tried to pull her from the nest box but she was stuck. Somehow the hen had managed to get her head jammed in the box above her.

I was able to free her, but the hen was limp and collapsed when I placed her on the floor. Her eyes were closed. I thought we had lost another bird.

I picked her up and took her to the water trough. I gently dipped her beak into the water a few times. Soon her beak started to move. I repeated the process a few more times and her eyes started fluttering.

After a couple of minutes her eyes opened and I put her on the floor. She started walking around. The next day, she seemed no worse for wear.

I guess it’s a feather in my cap that I saved the chicken, but I think it had to do with timing more than my restorative water actions. I had to try something.

But there are limits. I like our chickens, but mouth-to-beak resuscitation is out of the question.

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