A Purposeful Journey To Water

Last week I was busy tackling the last of the ironing pile, half listening to a silly movie on TV and occasionally taking a look out of the sliding glass doors to the back porch. The view is prime to observe birds visiting the heated water on the back porch or spotting wildlife in the canyon, especially when deer or a fox might show up. It is often through these doors that I notice Daisy and Spirit making a visit for corn or water.

Opossum

With my ironing complete, I put away the pressed clothes and folded the ironing board. While placing it against the wall near the windows, I saw a small but burly looking mammal coming from the opening in the fence to the neighbors bottom land. When Daisy deer had her twins, our neighbor allowed us to open a portion of the dividing fence so that Daisy and her little ones could easily get from one property to the other. Daisy did not seem to understand in the beginning that while she was expert at jumping over a fence, her little ones would not be able to do so for several months. It was no time before the twins learned how to follow the fence down to the bottom and come through the opening, to meet Daisy on the other side.

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It was nearly lunchtime when I noticed the ragged critter lumbering along slowly from the opening in the fence. I could not yet tell just what mammal it was – a large, old alley cat maybe, or possibly an opossum. I went to fetch the binoculars in order to solve this little mystery. Sure enough, it was the most scraggly opossum I had ever laid eyes on. I looked at the clock and noticed I still had about fifteen minutes before I was to meet friends at a restaurant uptown. Dominique, our art student friend, was painting in the living room, and I told her what I saw! I grabbed the camera and together we quietly snuck down the slope.

As I made my way closer, I could see our visitor was elderly or, at the very least, had lived a hard life. What had appeared to be scruffy hair turned out to be matted areas around wounds and scars. While I did not see the opossum get up on the water tub, I noticed it had difficulty maintaining its balance on the edge of the tub. A cinder block and safety grate I had placed in the tub insured any critter falling in would at least have a support to cling to or assist in climbing out. Our ragged, old friend seemed to be using this cinder block for a perch while his tail slunk deep into the water. A snaggle tooth protruded from the upper jaw, and a thick, floppy tongue lapped up water. He seemed to be in no hurry.

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When he finished having several good, long drinks, he clumsily turned around and hopped off the tub. I quickly maneuvered further down the slope for a new angle, hoping he would not see me, but he did. Peering out from behind the backside of the tub and realizing he had been busted, he seemed to think hiding out might be his best option at this point. He then moved under the hollowed area under the front of the tub, and proceeded to “play dead” as opossum’s are so well known for.

My old friend Mockingbird was not too happy about the opossum intruding in his territory. This mighty and territorial bird inflicted a few dive-bombs on the poor opossum!
My old friend Mockingbird was not too happy about the opossum intruding in his territory. This mighty and territorial bird inflicted a few dive-bombs on the poor opossum!

Realizing the time was getting away from me, I motioned for Dominique to take the camera. She did not have to leave for school just yet, but I needed to hurry to make it uptown to meet my friends. I really wanted to stay and wait for the opossum to venture back from whence he came. I wanted to see if I could quietly follow and perhaps see where he lived. But, for this day, it would remain a mystery. Dom managed just a few more photos of our new friend before she had to leave as well. 

Looking over the photos later, I was able to assess that the opossum had likely been in some kind of battle. A puncture wound marred his right hindquarters, and another injury appeared on his head. Fortunately, the wounds appeared to be healing over and did not look infected. On a few occasions, I had seen Daisy come home with open cuts and puncture wounds. Amazingly, she healed by licking and tending to them herself.  This opossum looked a bit unkempt to have been doing much grooming of himself, but then maybe that was due to the time of year. Who feels like wetting one’s fur in these brutally cold temperatures anyway? But what gave me the greatest hope for his healing was his bright, blue eyes. They were clear and healthy looking. His gaze was steadfast and his intent on getting to the water was purposeful. He had obviously been to visit the water tub before, and knew his way around.

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I have heard many people scoff at the mention of the opossum. They say it is an ugly creature. Opossums can be ferocious – growling and snarling, and such – but I did not see those characteristics in this fellow. I just saw a crusty, old guy who looked like he needed a little comfort for the moment. And maybe it was best that Dom and I were not able to track him that afternoon. After all, some things are best left to mystery, or perhaps as an adventure for another day!

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© 2014 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…


58 thoughts on “A Purposeful Journey To Water

  1. Hi Lori, This is an interesting post about the opossum which is very different in appearance and perhaps habits to the possums here in Australia. The possums I am most familiar with are brush tailed and ring tailed which have adapted to urban environments. They are tree dwelling and use electricity wires, fences and roofs to get around so they don’t need to spend much time on the ground. Some people regard them as pests as they like to raid rose bushes and fruit trees at night. And it might not be much fun if they take up residence in the roof.

    To reach old age, the opossum you observed has learnt to weather the ups and downs of its life and has some useful survival skills to draw on.

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    1. Oh my goodness Margaret! Your Australian opossums are very different. Rarely would you see one here up high like that. They are land mammals. I do believe the opossums here love fruit and vegetables. I have found them tenacious garden raiders, but I do not mind sharing! Thank you for sharing so much about your native opossum species. I always find it interesting how animals and birds vary so much from region to region. I suppose much of it is due to adapting to change and learning new survival skills, as you said.

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    1. I think so too! What a sweet little mug of a face I think! I am not sure why people think they are ugly. They only snarl if provoked and usually it is an ignorant or uninformed human who does that. Thank you for appreciating this wonderful critter!

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      1. They’re really adorable. I’ve seen a few opossum in trees around my house growing up and they never acted aggressively. I agree I think human provocation, protecting their young or possibly rabies(dreadful!) would be the problem. I have seen skunks and raccoon act aggressively and go after people but I like all animals and I would be freaked if I were them too. We have to share our space with them=) Thanks for replying to me.

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        1. Actually, I have read a few different articles and opossums are rarely known to carry rabies. YAY!! I agree with you, we need to share space with them and educate ourselves about various species. That way, we can better understand how to co-exist!

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          1. I remember when I was little there were warnings for nearly every animal outside in the area “Be careful! it could have rabies” and that’s damaging advice looking back. It starts to muck up the way kids see wild animals. I’ve never personally encountered an actual rabid animal, that I’m aware of. I know bats carry rabies but people are quite cruel and needlessly fearful of them.

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          2. Good point!! We have been on this place for 7 years and I have only seen one rabid skunk. Poor thing was in bad shape and FD put it out of its misery. I agree wholeheartedly that most small mammals are feared by humans and most people do not attempt to educate themselves about wildlife at all. Most years we encounter poisoned skunks from a nearby neighborhood. Instead of calling animal control to remove them from people’s property, and relocate them, they poison them and the skunks die a horrific death. I wonder at the ignorance of humans much of the time.

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          3. Oh my gosh that’s terrible!=(
            And I bet those people think they’re doing a service too but that’s really cruel.

            I was reading something once about how cowboys poison coyote pups and really, sincerely think they’re doing the animals a favor b/c they’ll inevitably be shot to death and suffer later when they show up near farms. The other side of the story was about how coyotes do sometimes kill livestock but far less often than people realize(I know I know tell that to the poor farmer) but anyway and either way it’s not up to cowboys to decide what animals need population control, and how to go about it. The conclusion was that they are needlessly killing these babies. Yikes!

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          4. I think most states have “seasons” on coyotes. Here in Oklahoma it is an open season all year long. Coyotes are a threat, unfortunately, and their only predator is the mountain lion. Mountain lions are not prevalent in the state of Oklahoma. Therefore, coyotes populations are high in relation to their normal prey, which causes them to more frequently seek out livestock as prey. As a result, in our state, they can be shot any time of the year, as can wild hogs, to keep populations under control. This also assists in keeping disease and starvation down in over-populated areas.

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          5. Interesting. Do you ever see them around your property? I know they’re shy and hard to catch on camera but just curious since you have so many beautiful wildlife photos. I haven’t seen one in years and no photos. I am considering a dawn walk on a nature trail when I’m more likely to see coyote but it also freaks me out! A friend and I might in the spring, it’s a few minutes from my house. I saw fresh mountain lion tracks once in Colorado and I almost died(of fear of course).

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  2. Great photos, Lori. I’m so glad that you have provided water for the wildlife. That water just might have save the possums life for awhile longer. If only we knew the age of Mr Possum. It would prove interesting to know about how long the average liffe span is for one in the wild. Now I’m curious and will go to Google. 🙂

    I have a possum that has been living under the house. I had opened the door that goes under the house and forgot to close it for several days. Now I know a possum dwells there so must leave the door ajar with a brick. It eats from the bird feeder near my bedroom window. I have watched it eat beginning near sundown. I’ve yet to try to get its pic.

    PS: my husband nicknamed our son possum and that name has stuck. But I’ve never called our son by that name. Some of his friends do though. 🙂

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    1. Ha ha ha!! I think possum is a cool nickname, Yvonne! I think many opossum’s live in or close to cities, and they can manage with very little for shelter. I read they have a very short life span. One would be lucky to make it 3 years in the wild. I found this link very helpful!! It is opossum friendly! http://www.opossum.org/

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    1. I would say a fox or coyote maybe. I have seen Daisy and Spirit check out armadillos and opossums, but never hoof them. Daisy does not like cats though. I’ve seen her go after domestic and feral cats with her hooves flyin!

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        1. I have a wonderful group of people who comment on most of my posts. I always find it interesting to note how different a species might be in other parts of the world, or to hear about other’s experiences with the same species. I’m so glad you enjoy hearing about my experiences with nature.

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  3. Sundog said “Opossums can be ferocious – growling and snarling, and such – but I did not see those characteristics in this fellow.”

    I observed those characteristics from a female possum that was in my barn. At the time, I didn’t notice that she had a nest of babies but that was the reason for her rage. The barn had doors on each end and they were open. I chased the possum out the back door with a long-handled garden tool of some kind (still hadn’t seen the babies) but she ran around and came back in the front of the barn. After several attempts of going ’round and ’round, I then saw the nest and left them alone. She did not “play possum” but did a lot of growling, snarling, and hissing as well as showing me her sizeable sharp-pointed teeth (and I was afeeeeeerd and intimidated). The moral of the story – DO NOT mess with momma possum!

    Hmm, spell-check does not approve of “afeeeeeerd.” It’s going to have to learn “Southern colloquial.”

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    1. Hi Monica! We see all sorts of wildlife during the day that I understand are nocturnal critters. Maybe it is the woodlands with the canopy of trees that make them feel safe about venturing out during daylight hours. I think he’s a cute fellow too… and you have to love a guy who doesn’t snarl and bare his teeth when approached by a predator with teeth (a smile actually) and a big scary camera and lens in tow!

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  4. Poor old guy. I didnt realize they had such a short lifespan. We have one that visits us to scavenge on the ground below the bird feeder. Their tails are so funny-looking, aren’t they?

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    1. Yes, Kim! They look like a giant rat’s tail! They are a gentle creature, and I have great respect for them, just like the rabbits. They are low on the totem pole, so to speak. They are an easy kill for predators, and any that manage to make it to adulthood, must surely be tough and learn to utilize clever skills to survive.

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  5. I love that nature feels free to visit your property. We are dealing with our feral cats at the moment. I don’t like having to cull things but these guys were out of control (almost 20 of them!) so we had to bite the bullet and get someone in to help us. We haven’t seen wrens on the property this season and I think they must have been hunted out. Where the cats hang out has been free of possum damage this year so I guess everything has it’s plus side ;). Nature is wonderful and clever. That old guy knew that he was safe in your property. 🙂

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    1. You are right Fran, nature is clever and resilient. I am not a cat person, and generally we don’t have much trouble here with them – probably because Daisy stalks them out and sends swift hooves after them! YAY for Daisy! I believe animals and all of life, read our energy. We have managed to get fairly close to many species, simply by being respectful and appreciative of them.

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      1. This reminds me, and I don’t think I’ve told you this before, that our neighborhood deer often play with our cat Dexter at the window. Our bird feeders hang in front of a floor-to-ceiling window in the dining room, and the deer come to raid the feeders and browse on the ground below. Dexter enjoys sneaking up and pouncing up against the window at them. They usually jump back a couple of yards but then come closer again. Sometimes there’s a bit of foot stomping, but some of the deer appear to enjoy the repeated back-and-forth dance between the cat and themselves. I’ve noticed that the younger deer are usually the ones who tend to interact with him this way, often putting their noses up against the glass right in front of him. It’s priceless.

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        1. Oh, Kim! You need to try to get photos of that activity! How wonderful, and yes, the fawns and yearlings would be more likely to engage in interaction. I just love hearing stories like that. Wildlife can be so much fun to observe.

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          1. Oh I’ve tried many times. But the deer always see me and the game is over. And to make it harder, it usually happens near dusk, when the lighting is poor. Actually, I’ll take a look through my old photos and videos to see if I ever caught anything worth sharing.

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      2. I have found quite often that folks who say “I’m not a cat person” have not spent quality time with a cat. Yes, cats are stand-offish and we have to do things on their terms. That sounds like humans, doesn’t it?

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        1. Well, personally, I have had cats and even though I was fond of a couple of them growing up, I’m just not a cat lover. I can honestly say I will probably never be fond of them… but I’m happy others love cats. As a rehabilitation person, the number one reason I get injured birds is from cat attacks. And then there was the bobcat attack on Daisy deer, and poor Rowdy went missing that same day. I’m just never going to love cats.

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          1. I do understand your position, Sundog. It is similar to my distaste for Dobermans caused by a neighbor dog that first killed my elderly hound dog because he was there, then badly injured one of my goats, and finally laid in waiting for my cat and attacked her as well. Fortunately, the Doberman had grabbed her by the scruff of the neck and she turned around and clawed his face and put him in the hospital (I sure was proud of her). One of her kittens was too stupid about the ways of nature and was killed by a bobcat. Yes, I understand the controversy about outside cats and their killing of birds but I just cannot keep my inside/outside cat cooped up. My geriatric cat is a house cat and only goes out with human supervision because there are a lot of hawks and eagles that could snatch her right off the ground. Oh, the Doberman finally attacked another goat up the road and that goat owner also owned a shotgun – good bye Doberman.

            I admire the human-like qualities of cats like independence. As much as I loved my old hound dog, I did not like the groveling that seems to be part of every dog. He was too DAMN happy to see me, lol.

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    1. Oh how wonderful, Susanna!! I have not raised any opossums yet, but I think they are cute and I would have no problem taking one or several in. All of nature plays a part in the eco-system. Opossum’s have their place too!

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  6. Love the grizzled old fella, Lori! Thank you, and Dominique, for sharing him with us. I’m also glad you shared the cinderblock and paint roller grid that you are using for animals to get out of the water trough. What a great idea!

    PS: I’m delighted to see someone else out there who correctly uses the past tense of sneak which is snuck, and bonus points for knowing that the American opossum is spelled with that beginning silent -o-! 😉 So many people just don’t do this anymore.

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    1. Oh my goodness Lynda – that made me feel good!! I say “possum” but I try to write it correctly! I believe I’ve slipped into the southern slang since I’ve moved here. It is a shame really, with acronyms used so much in email and texting, and regional slang being used verbally, that our English, grammar and punctuation has gone down the tubes. I know I’m guilty of making errors or typos in my prose – but I have a couple of editors to help with that.

      I cannot remember if it was you or what blogger friend shared the idea about the paint roller grid for safety in a water tub or tank. It works perfectly! I have noticed birds and squirrels using it the most. I was very glad to see the opossum use it last week. I noticed some strange scat on the back porch railing the other morning, alongside the heated bird bath. Apparently, water is hard to come by in this drought and also, with freezing temperatures, any water that might be available takes some chopping to get to. I keep our wildlife water heated in the winter. We see a lot of varied wildlife frequenting the bathtub for water – especially the deer!

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  7. Opossums are known to be the most-unloved creatures – and ugly. But that does not take away from them the desire to be loved and cuddled. These photographs show presisely that – the fellow, perhaps, needs care. Nature should take its course. Brilliant, spontaneous pictures.

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    1. Oh, thank you so much for a wonderful comment! I agree with you – many of us see the beauty in wildlife (and nature), and have a desire to care for them however we can. I’m happy to provide some creature comforts for the wildlife that frequents our place. Nature takes care of the rest!

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  8. I think he’s adorable 🙂 Hope he heals and can make it through the winter. We feed the stray cats that hang around our house, and for a while there was a big, fat possum that hung out with one of the cats. They would sit next to each other and eat out of the same food bowl.

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    1. Ha ha!! I would love to watch that… isn’t it great when odd species tolerate each other and even do well together sometimes? My brother had a St. Bernard dog that kept friendship with a lone skunk during the winter months. Riley provided warmth and shared food, while the skunk was a wonderful companion. In the spring, the skunk got hit by a vehicle on a nearby road. Poor Riley mourned his friend never returning. Animals are quite amazing.

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      1. A dog and skunk, that’s a cute pairing, too! Animals really are amazing, and they have so much to teach people. If two animals of completely different species can get along, why can’t everyone else? 🙂

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  9. Does your possum has fur on its tail? It looks like he does. The possums round here have no fur on their tails at all though I seldom see them alive. Our possums at home in NZ are a terrible pest to the native bush but i did have a pet one once. My Dad a photographer of flora and fauna in NZ was horrified. But it would come running up to me and climb straight up my clothing to get to the top of my head. I had a lot of wooly hair as a young woman and he would sit up there – on my head – and ride about for as long as i could bear it, hanging out washing and going for walks. He name was little joe and he was darker than yours, with a long busy tail. I am glad your old fella knows where the water is and your set up makes me think i should put a heated water trough on the sunny side of the barn (out of the fireds) for whoever passes by. Mostly cats and dogs though i have to say , but with a cement brick and bits and bobs on it there would be lots of birds I am sure.. What an excellent idea.. thank you.. c

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    1. Hi Celi. I think there were just odd hairs here and there on his tail, but for the most part it is a fleshy tail just like a rat or mouse would have, only larger. An Aussie friend told me the same thing about their native opossums being a terrible rodent. They can be a problem in towns where people leave dog or cat food outside, but here in the woodlands they are not feared. How wonderful to have a pet possum! Someday I hope to see some of these interesting photos of you as a young girl/woman. My, what a fascinating life you’ve lived!

      I used to have a half rain barrel down in the canyon for wildlife water, but it had no drain.And, because it was so hard to clean weekly after the raccoon’s dropped corn and whatnot in it, and the crows used it for a cleaning station (lizards, toads and such), I decided it was causing me too much trouble. This bathtub I used now, first started out as a horse water trough. When we quit keeping horses, it became a horseradish planter – which did not do well. Finally, I was about to have FD haul it off when I thought of a water trough for wildlife. All of the local deer use it, along with birds, raccoons, and fox. I’m sure now that I’ve seen the opossum manages to climb up, that armadillos might too. No telling what all woodland critters find it to quench their thirst and manage a bit of cool (or warm in winter) respite! Any time I have water available I try to put a foothold somewhere in the water so that we don’t have drownings.

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