Forrest had to put in a lot of work to keep the wildlife feeders and water tub filled during the recent winter storm. Normally, we hand-carried five-gallon buckets of deer feed down the slope to the feeders, but more than ten inches of snow cover made walking to the bottom much too treacherous. So Forrest fired up the Kawasaki mule every other day and loaded it with buckets of feed to fill the feeders. While on such an excursion one evening, he found a young opossum perched on a fallen tree limb. After filling the feeders, he wondered if maybe this lone opossum needed help, so he came up from the canyon bottom to fetch me. Together we looked the youngster over and, not seeing any wounds or signs of distress, we decided to leave it be.
It was a bit odd for a opossum to be out in broad daylight, perching on a limb on the ground. It simply opened its mouth to bare its teeth as we neared. Otherwise, it was motionless, even when I gently poked at its hindquarters with a stick. I wondered if it was simply “playing ‘possum”, hoping we would leave. So we did leave and, sure enough, just twenty minutes later found him eating deer feed from the pan feeder with another opossum who had joined in the feast. Apparently, he had been waiting for us to leave. My only regret was not getting pictures that evening. In my younger days, the cold would not have bothered me much and I would have made time for photographs. But on that cold, snowy evening, I sought the comfort of the warm indoors, and was content to know the opossums were getting the food they needed during the difficult conditions.
Two evenings later, Forrest went down to the canyon with a little bucket to fill the pan feeder, as the deer had arrived for their evening feed of deer pellets before venturing off to the woods. It was their evening habit to stop at the feeders before moving on to graze on woodland eats, or whatever it is that deer do in the nighttime hours. While Scout, Gracie, and Ruthie deer are big enough to reach the upright feeders, little Penelope cannot, and has to eat pellets from the ground that are dropped by her bigger sisters. So each evening, Forrest brings a small bucket of feed to the pan feeder so that Penelope and other critters can easily get nourishment.
Knowing I had been kicking myself for not getting photographs of the opossum two days prior, Forrest let me know he’d just spotted another opossum near the feeders. I grabbed a coat and my camera, and slowly ambled down the slope. The snow had melted, thankfully, and traversing downhill was squishy and a bit muddy, but not treacherous. At the bottom, I quickly spotted the opossum, hanging on a Virginia creeper vine while doing his best to look nonchalant. There, it hung perfectly still. Just as the previous opossum remained motionless on the tree limb on the ground, this fella did the same, only clinging quietly to the vine. I took several photographs before thanking him for being so cooperative, and then climbed the slope back to the house. Sure enough, just ten minutes later, I observed him at the pan feeder eating alongside another opossum, while an armadillo rooted around for eats nearby. It was a quiet gathering, with everyone minding their own business.
I completely understand the nature of playing ‘possum and even feel a bit of kinship with these sweet mammals. The opossum wisely shows us to use all of our instinctual skills in order to survive. Stillness, watching and listening, and even feigning death are utilized by many species to survive in the wild. Sometimes, barring of teeth is enough to send a would-be foe off in another direction. For a few months, I have felt uneasy and distressed by a feeling of underlying evil in our country, and perhaps even around the world. It’s difficult to know where we can be safe or who we can trust – things are not entirely what they appear to be at this time. Opossum shows us the path of gentle and passive means to skirt and fool predators. His message for us in these uncertain times, may be to simply keep still, play a little ‘possum, and wait for danger to pass.
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