Dear Mama Opossum

FD and I had just settled in to watch a little TV last evening when the phone rang. A number came up on the caller ID that I was not familiar with, so I just let it ring. My thinking is that a person will leave a message if it is an important call. Soon a woman’s voice announced she was looking for someone who did wildlife rescue. I picked up the phone hoping it was not a dire circumstance.

Fortunately, it was no emergency, but it was a sad situation. This woman, Rachel, was coming home from town with her young children when they happened upon a gruesome scene. A mother opossum had been ravaged by a predator and was laying in the middle of the narrow dirt road leading to their home.   Rachel, being a lover of animals and respectful of them, decided she could not just leave it laying there and got out to move the body to the side of the road. As she began to remove the remains, she saw movement near what was left of the lower extremities. Investigating further, she discovered three babies in the mother opossum’s pouch.

My photos did not turn out very clear. This little trio was fairly mobile so I had to be quick!  We figured they were about 9 weeks old.

My photos did not turn out very clear. This little trio was fairly mobile so I had to be quick! We figured they were about 9 weeks old.

Rachel could not deliver the trio to our home because her husband was working and not home yet, and she did not want to get her children out. It was nearly dark by the time FD and I reached their backwoods home. I was glad I had asked FD to drive. I had never been to this area of the countryside and the woods, cloaked in dark shadows, seemed extra eerie. Rachel came out immediately, but ahead of her a small, yapping dog greeted us. I heard children crying from inside the door of the house. I knew this woman had done the best that she could at the time. She had managed to warm the cold babies with a heating pad. But oh the noise in the house and the stress it must have caused these wee critters. Wild babies are easily stressed with too much noise and handling.

As we got back in the truck I heard a strange noise. Some kind of a hissing or spitting sound! FD did not hear it, but I sure did. As we pulled into Walmart and FD shut off the truck’s diesel engine, the hissing ensued.  I opened the towel and, even though they had no teeth and did not appear to be making the noise, I was sure that it was coming from the little opossums! The hissing was sort of intimidating to me, but FD assured me they were harmless. We left our little charges in the truck while we dashed inside to purchase puppy replacement milk and some whipping cream. This was a “just in case” measure. First we had to get them warm. Hydration would follow.

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When we arrived back home, I rounded up an old shoe box and one of the old style heating pads that stay on continually. The new heating pads shut off after an hour or two, which does not work well for keeping orphans warm throughout the day and night. My busy schedule would certainly get in the way of having to restart a heating pad every two hours – plus, I do enjoy sleeping all through the night. FD took a closer look at each opossum baby to make sure they were in good condition. One had a small flesh wound, but it did not appear to be anything more than superficial. Still, this little one would require an antibiotic which I did not have access to, nor did I have a local vet I could rely on for help. FD and I made an attempt to try to hydrate the little wigglers with an ear dropper and a syringe, but none of them would take more than a drop or two of liquid. Finally, we tucked them into an old tea towel and let them settle into a corner of the now gently heated box to keep warm. FD and I then spent the rest of the evening  perusing online information on raising baby opossum’s.

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It was apparent in a short time, but especially after finding the wound on one baby, that the best option for both me and the opossum babies was for me to take the hour-long drive to WildCare of Oklahoma in the morning. There, the injured opossum could get needed antibiotics, and all of the babies would get expert care that we were not skilled at.

Up early and on the road as the sun came up, my mind wandered. I had not slept well all night for worry and wonder. I felt compassion and sadness for this little family, now without a mother. I thought about the weeks the mother opossum had taken care of her many babies. There were probably more than these three, but likely the predator got most of them. I wondered if she could ever know what it took for these three to survive as they did. How they waited, hungry, cold and scared, not knowing what would happen to them. I wished I could assure Mama Opossum that a kind lady had stopped to give her babies warmth and shelter, and that she managed to tap into the network of wildlife rescue – people dedicated to compassion and support of orphaned and injured wildlife. I wanted Mama Opossum to know that there was kindness in the world, and that her babies would live. I hoped she knew that – somehow.

I was curious about the female opossum's pouch and found this photo online. The pouch contains around 11 nipples that the tiny babies attach to, where they spend many weeks growing. Photo courtesy of http://summerbioresearch.blogspot.com//2010_08_01_archive.html

I was curious about the female opossum’s pouch and found this photo online. The pouch contains around 11 nipples that the tiny babies attach to, where they spend many weeks growing. Photo courtesy of http://summerbioresearch.blogspot.com//2010_08_01_archive.html

I arrived at WildCare and checked in, noticing on the sign-in log that just an hour before I got there someone else had delivered baby opossums to the facility! The young woman who assessed the condition of the babies assured me they were well developed and mature enough that they would be easy to care for. She indicated that the wounded baby would require some antibiotic but that the tear in its flesh would heal quickly. I asked about the hissing noise, which I was hearing again. “Oh, that is just their angry noise. They do not like humans very much.” she said.

Opossum Ears - aren't they cute?

Opossum Ears – aren’t they cute?

On the drive back home, I felt relieved. I thought about the positive vibes I was feeling. Mama Opossum had done a marvelous job raising strong, healthy babies. It was sad what happened yesterday. But because of kind and caring people, three of Mama’s babies will live and roam free. I felt a little bit more hope about the human race today. Complete strangers, pulling together out of compassion and caring for three little opossums, showed just what we are capable of in helping one another.

© 2014 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…

 

 

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The Crabby Old Fellow Next Door

I first noticed this new neighbor the day FD put fence up around our expanded garden plot. Until then, I actually had no idea we even had a neighbor living so close to the garden. Normally, I just try to mind my own business while working outdoors but, this morning, there was some kind of ruckus going on and the muttering and loud chattering indicated a protest of sort.  So finally, I decided to go over and see just what the fuss was all about.

The Crabby Old Fellow from his lookout station.

The Crabby Old Fellow from his lookout station.

I have often found it wise to observe a situation before stepping in. In this instance, I could see what the problem was right away – the neighborhood kids were giving this old fella a hard time. I estimated there were about six of these rowdy youngsters sneaking around my mom-in-law’s childhood playhouse, intent on terrorizing the old guy. As I observed, they came at him from all directions. One was on the roof, another around the corner, two of them snuck up along the playhouse foundation, and yet a couple more were hanging about in a nearby tree. But the old codger was standing his ground, and making a royal fuss about it.

Here are a few of the ruffians I caught tormenting the old fella.

Here are a few of the ruffians I caught tormenting the old fella.

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The old playhouse has seen better days, and is now quite weathered and dilapidated. Given its present condition, I was not a bit surprised to see the squirrels had taken it over. As I stepped further into Mom’s iris beds, I spotted the old guy peeping out from weathered gaps in the clapboard siding. He did not seem as bothered by my presence as he was about the youngsters who were attempting to invade his home. The intruding kids, however, did not share the old resident’s tolerance of me. As I attempted some quick photos of them, they hurriedly scampered off to the nearby trees, seeking shelter higher up.

With the annoying neighborhood brats now out of the area, the crabby senior citizen turned his attention to me. Out of the siding he came, pouncing mightily towards me with his forelegs. He stared me down. He grumbled and chattered as his beady eyes bored holes into me! When I bravely ventured a little closer, he emerged fully from the safety and confines of his shelter. This crusty character did not fear me at all! In fact, I was the one who ended up retreating back a few paces. The old guy clearly made it known he was not giving up his house to anyone!

You have to be a real scrapper to defend your territory!

You have to be a real scrapper to defend your territory!

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Back at my own house, I looked over the photos I had taken of the crabby old fellow. I am not sure how long squirrels live in the wild, but this specimen looked like he had quite a few years under his belt. His hair had a gray cast to it. His mature appearance was enhanced by a face that was craggy with age. His ears were scarred with jagged tears, and a small hole in one indicated he had fought a few battles in his lifetime. I also noticed a scar along his left rear flank. Perhaps it was some old battle scar as well. He seemed only slightly irritated about the fleas he occasionally stopped to scratch, and his virile body language told me he was not so old that he could not still defend his territory. This fella may be an old codger, I thought, but his look and actions told me he was entirely prepared to go to battle if necessary!

When I went back out an hour later or so to visit with FD, who was still working on fence, the younger squirrels were back, and the racket had ensued. The old fellow had completely emerged from the playhouse, while attempting to chase off the young varmints. I watched in admiration. This old guy had certainly earned the rights to his clapboard palace. I imagined there would come a day when he would no longer be able to defend his territory. After all, life in the wild is ultimately about survival of the fittest. For now though, I was happy to note that my new-found neighbor was managing just fine.

My neighbor achieves victory, having run off the neighborhood hooligans!

My neighbor achieves victory, having run off the neighborhood hooligans!

© 2014 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…

 

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Scratching the Itch

The past two days, I have taken advantage of the sunshine and warm weather that has graced our little ten-acre ranch. I planted my collection of lettuce seeds, gave the deer plots and onions a shot of water, dug up weeds in the flower beds around the house, and worked at trimming trees and picking up dead timber in the woods. I awoke this morning feeling quite sore and achy. Apparently, lack of physical activity outdoors most of this bitter winter, has left me a tad on the soft side!

This morning, I had a 7:00 appointment with the barber. In a hurry to get there, I quickly downed a cup of coffee, inhaled a banana, and dashed out the door, only to find I had chosen the wrong jacket. The temperature was much chillier than it had been the previous days. No matter, I thought, the barber shop was just a quick jaunt across town.

I was delighted to see Daisy and Spirit when I returned from town. Not wanting to disturb them I just parked the car.

I was delighted to see Daisy and Spirit when I returned from town. Not wanting to disturb them I just parked the car in the driveway.

An hour later and sporting a new “do”, I pulled in our lane at home, but had to stop the car in the middle of the driveway because Daisy and Spirit were grazing in the yard, ears alert and looking as if they were about to bound off with the intrusion of my red beast coming towards them. I immediately cut the engine and stepped out to call Daisy’s name. Relaxed at seeing me and hearing my voice, she walked towards me for some attention. Spirit, who isn’t as fond of her Granny, kept her distance but went back to grazing on weeds. I decided to run into the house to fetch the camera. Once back outside, I turned my attention to Daisy again, giving her more scratches and massaging. She licked my free hand and arm in appreciation.

I did not know deer like nibbling Redbud tree blossoms. (Sigh)

I did not know deer like nibbling Redbud tree blossoms. (Sigh)

We have been seeing Daisy and Spirit in the early morning hours several days in a row now. They are both beginning to shed their winter coats and are beginning to get quite rough looking, with the old hair coming out and their new, pretty red coats of summer coming in.  I have also noticed a few ticks on Daisy already. Apparently, it has been warm enough for the dreaded ticks to make their appearance in the woodlands. So, for now, there is much grooming to be done – both self grooming and mutual grooming – to rid themselves of loose hair and parasites.

Spirit looks innocent enough but she suddenly bounded down the slope taking off on her own!

Spirit looks innocent enough but she suddenly bounded down the slope taking off on her own!

Daisy stood for a long time, relishing in the overall scratching I was giving her. She especially enjoyed the attention I was giving her forehead and ears, pushing into my fingers and sometimes closing her eyes. Finally, Spirit took off on a run down the slope, and Daisy followed suit. I kept alongside Daisy. I wished I had taken time to grab a different jacket! I was getting cold!

Both self grooming and mutual grooming help to shed the winter coat and to remove parasites. It seems to soothe the itching as well.

Both self grooming and mutual grooming help to shed the winter coat and to remove parasites. It seems to soothe the itching as well.

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Down in the canyon, the two spent time grooming each other, and then proceeded to graze on greens. New leaf shoots on trees seemed to be the favorite snack. Wild honeysuckle followed as a close second choice, with various weeds being nibbled at random up to the top of a knoll. Spirit finally ambled down the other side and headed into an area way back in the woods. Daisy looked back at me as if to ask, “Aren’t you coming too?” I told her, “No, baby, Mama is cold and I need to fix myself a little breakfast. I’ll catch you later.” I stepped forward and gave her a few more scratches before she followed her fawn down the knoll.

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Isn’t it lovely to finally shed our winter coats and be itching to get outside and enjoy the blossoms of spring?

© 2014 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…

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Gardening With A Certain Deer In Mind

FD and I had to rethink our garden plot this year. I thought this would be the year I would kick back, put my energy into writing the Daisy deer book, and let the biggest part of the gardening go fallow for a year. Ah, the visions I had of having that morning cup of coffee on the back porch, watching the woodlands below the slope come to life, and then strolling into the house to begin writing. I even got silly thinking about FD cooking the meals, and doing the housework while I pecked away at the keyboard. I guess I got a little crazy with that thought.

FD manhandling the Honda beast!

FD manhandling the Honda beast!

Here is the reality of this year. In December FD got this bright idea to try the Paleo diet. You know, the Paleolithic period during the Stone Age – where cavemen hunted and foraged for food.  Modern day Paleo man eats clean and preferably grass-fed meats, wild caught fish, and fresh, organic vegetables, fruits and nuts.  I will admit the thought of foraging appeals to me. FD and I hunt for wild mushrooms in the spring, and we gather pecan nuts in the fall. We pick wild berries and fruits in the summer months. FD is a hunter, and keeps our freezer stocked with what we consume throughout the year.

Looking over the Paleo diet information, I realized it was not actually going to be a drastic change for us. After all, we had been eating clean meats and fresh vegetables, fruits and nuts for years. The biggest difference was dropping the grains and dairy from our diet. I wondered how I would survive without bread and pasta! And my beloved cheese – who in their right mind would choose to give up cheese? Unthinkable! Thinking of this, I almost hoped his plan to go Paleo would fail.  And of course to do it up right and show him this was a ridiculous idea, I decided to take it a notch further and look for organic and non-GMO products. I had been researching that a lot lately. Now seemed to be the time to go gung-ho and get dedicated! Surely the cost and difficulty finding products would show him this diet was just too much trouble.

Then something very unexpected happened. Not three days into the diet, I was feeling amazing. FD and I both noticed we were sleeping better at night and had more energy throughout the day. There was no gas and bloating after meals, and no acid and stomach gnawing in the night. My allergies even seemed better. After three months as Paleo people, we realized this was not a diet – it was a lifestyle and we were not even tempted to veer off of it. We had energy, dropped weight, and agreed we had not felt this good in a very long time.

FD expanding the garden with the new tractor tiller!

FD expanding the garden with the new tractor tiller!

Before long, I located several online sources to shop for non-perishable Paleo ingredients. I began baking with nut flours and various root powders. I  discovered lots of new cooking oils and spices. There were many certified organic and non-GMO products, but they often came at a cost. I was pleased to find that shipping was free with most orders of fifty dollars or more.

Another  problem was, in our little town, there were not many Paleo-friendly grocery options. The local Walmart does carry a few organic vegetables, but choices are scant and not dependable from week to week. Again, organic products are generally more expensive. I knew if we wanted to keep costs down and not have to do our shopping in larger cities which were an hour away, we were going to have to increase the size of our garden.

FD looks like he's enjoying this much better than wrangling the old Honda beast!

FD looks like he’s enjoying this much better than wrangling the old Honda beast!

I normally plant herbs, some specialty tomatoes, and a few bell pepper and hot pepper plants around the house. They look nice interspersed with flowers and shrubs. The problem with that is, all sorts of wildlife like to sample the vegetables when we are not looking - like at night when we are sleeping. Still, most critters eat a little and move on. They do not wipe out the whole crop… unless we are talking about birds and grasshoppers. Last year, the birds consumed most of our blackberries, and the grasshoppers devastated my tomato crop!

The regular garden plot has had a fence around it ever since we released Daisy deer. Daisy has a penchant for eating just about anything we grow here on the ten-acre ranch. Over the course of the first year we raised our little orphan, we discovered she liked tomatoes (especially cherry and pear tomatoes), dill, wax beans, snap peas, broccoli florets, yellow squash, and her favorite vegetable of all, cucumbers. We are not talking just the vegetables – the fruit of the crop. No, she ate the entire cucumber plant! She also loved to rip at lettuce and kale, and any other delightful greens she could locate. She nibbled at our corn crop. She hoofed up carrots, white potatoes and sweet potatoes. So, the following year, we invested in expensive horse fence to protect our small garden.

FD hangs the new gates with wheels.

FD hangs the new gates with wheels.

This year, however, we knew the garden plot would have to triple in size to provide enough room to plant the variety of vegetables when had in mind for our new diet. Increasing the fenced garden meant, of course, purchasing more horse fence panels to keep the deer and other small mammals out. And cutting-in a much bigger garden on established Bermuda grass, would take a lot of tilling with our self-propelled Honda. I watched FD wrangle that monster tiller the past three years. We are in our 50′s now, and this is no time to be tearing up shoulders and arms. So, I squeaked all of the way to the implement dealer and cringed as I watched the salesman swipe our credit card. But I had to admit, watching FD on our tractor that afternoon, cutting through the sod with our new tiller attachment, made me feel a whole lot better.

Two weekends later, after a snow and some more bitter temperatures, the sun finally popped out and gave us a couple of warm days. FD drove the T-posts in the ground and put the fence panels up at the garden plot, while I worked at clearing debris from the flowerbeds around the house. We decided to wait and invest in gates for the west side of the garden until next year. Opening two large gates would allow FD to back in with the tractor to till the soil each spring. This year, I would just pull back a fence panel a couple of feet to get in and out. I wasn’t about to spend even more money, when we had already spent a small fortune on a tiller for the tractor, and on additional horse panels and T-posts.

Tender sprouts emerging in one of four deep plots we planted this year for Daisy and her friends.

Tender sprouts emerging in one of four deep plots we planted this year for Daisy and her friends.

The weather the following week stayed warm, and I was excited about getting my onions in. However, working that first row I knew I would have to ask FD to till the soil deeper on the new ground (beyond the existing plot). It was my fault. I thought it was plenty deep the day he worked the new ground, but after the snow, the powdery soil had settled.  I had not thought about the roots of tender new plants having trouble penetrating the dense dirt beneath. So, off came the two west fence panels and out came the T-posts. It was obvious that now was the time to bite the bullet. Again, I squeaked all the way to the farm and ranch store to purchase two new gates and wheels. Cha-ching! I thought about the coronary I would have when the credit card bill came in for that month’s expenses!

That weekend FD managed to till back over the new ground and get the depth just right. I got my onions in and started work getting the wretched Bermuda sprigs pulled out – which I will have to continue to attempt to eradicate for the next two or three years. Bermuda is a horrible grass to get rid of! After getting the soil just right this time, FD put in corner posts and got the new gates with wheels mounted. He wired horse panels to the backs of the gates to keep small mammals from walking through, or certain deer from jumping over. The panels are only 5 feet tall, so a deer could still jump the fence, but I don’t think they will. Even Miss Daisy, who is a sucker for the tomatoes on the other side, did not attempt to jump the fence last year. I guess we will see in the weeks to come.

Meanwhile, FD decided to till up four additional patches of land, both up top and down in the woodland bottom, to put deer plots in for Daisy and Spirit and their woodland friends. Perhaps if they have their own gardens, they will not be so likely to raid ours!

This is the smaller of two deer plots FD has planted down in the canyon. We can observe this site from our back porch!

This is the smaller of two deer plots FD has planted down in the canyon. We can observe this site from our back porch!

Half of Daisy's deer pen will be a deer plot in case the game warden brings deer this year. If not, Daisy and Spirit will enjoy their own private garden!

Half of Daisy’s deer pen will be a deer plot in case the game warden brings deer this year. If not, Daisy and Spirit will enjoy their own private garden!

One of the deer plots we planted just above the slope. Hopefully, it will yield lots of lush clover for Daisy and Spirit... and a few woodland rabbits!

One of the deer plots we planted just above the slope. Hopefully, it will yield lots of lush clover for Daisy and Spirit… and a few woodland rabbits!

Maybe because I had prepared myself for the worst (as I usually expect) I did not have a coronary when I opened the credit card billing yesterday. I had just come in from watching Daisy and Spirit graze in the pasture after they ran off Scarlet deer’s twins. I observed Spirit mimicking her mother, ears back and eyes squinting, hooves a flyin’, while giving chase to the twins as Daisy looked on. Soon, another generation of fawns will grace the woodlands and the cycle will begin anew. I thought about the way Daisy deer had changed my life, and how FD and I had enjoyed what she brought to this place. Somehow, thinking about the cost of accommodating her and her friends was not anything to dwell on. It was the same with the Paleo diet. I balked and grimaced at the initial expense and change I had to implement in shopping, cooking, and baking. Yet, here we were – bodies flourishing and being healthier than we had felt in years. Somehow, being a tightwad was not so important. I think this change just might be a good thing for me!

I know there's a cucumber in here somewhere... I can SMELL it!

A young Miss Daisy searches her cucumber patch. “I know there’s a cucumber in here somewhere… I can SMELL it!”

 

© 2014 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…

 

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