At 7:15 p.m. my dog dashes from the living room to the back porch barking. I follow, egging her on. “Is the marsupial coming in for the night?” My dog woofs back.
I grab the flashlight I keep handy and shine it outside. The creature waddles for the safety of our deck. Female, I guess. Seeing her pink pointy nose and ratlike tail makes me shudder.
I need to stop putting treats out on the top of the woodpile. I’m only encouraging her to stay. The fact that her ancestors lived during the age of dinosaurs should make seeing the opossum extra special, but she’s just so, well, creepy. Those sharp teeth and beady eyes. A shiver runs down my back.
My intolerance might stem from a bad experience a few years ago. While cleaning out the water garden, my husband grabbed what he thought was a rock. It was a dead opossum. I mean really dead, not fake dead. The memory of its lifeless eyes and open mouth revealing sharp teeth still gives me the willies.
I want to keep an open mind though, so I head to the computer to learn more about North America’s only marsupial. According to the National Opossum Society—yes, there is one—opossums are quite intelligent. They rank above dogs and just below pigs on learning and discrimination tests. They have thumbs on their hind feet which allow them extra dexterity and they can instinctively defend themselves by playing dead. This adaptation includes their tongue hanging out and an offensive odor— sure to dissuade predators. If all of these unique opossum characteristics don’t convince me, I ought to appreciate the fact that they’re the Earth’s oldest surviving mammal.
I also learned that opossums will give birth twice a year. If this one is pregnant now, she could have a second litter later this year. Her mate impregnates her and takes off, so she’ll have to raise her young all alone. Her babies, the size of honeybees when first born, will stay in her pouch and grow. Opossum young have a high fatality rate and less than half will survive their first year.
I check my weather app. It’s supposed to be unseasonably cold for the next few days. Opossum fur isn’t the best insulator to ward off the cold. I feel a tug. Should I haul some leaves close to the deck so she can drag them underneath and make Polly a warmer nest? Hmm, when had I named her?
My dog barks again, and I quiet her. Polly doesn’t need more stress in her life. She probably chose our deck because of our aerated water garden. Now if only she’s careful when she bends over to get a drink. I’m not sure what happened to cause the other opossum to end up floating in the water.
I wonder what Polly’s been eating. Scattered bird seed? Or does she prefer the bread, crackers, and peelings I set out on top of the woodpile. Yesterday I saw a squirrel scampering off with a whole slice of bread. Maybe I should wait until evening when squirrels aren’t so active to put out treats. Does Polly prefer fruits, vegetables or bread?
I blink. Am I really encouraging her to stay? I admit it would be fun to see her climbing the woodpile or better yet, hanging from a tree branch with her awesome prehensile tail. I’d also love to catch a glimpse of her babies clinging onto her back.
I wait until it’s dark then bring out her special treats. “There you go, Polly. Have a good night.”
Later that evening the dog dashes to the back porch and barks. I grab the flashlight. It’s Polly! Oh, look at that cute waddly walk and pink pointy nose.