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The Opossum and the Writer
“Animals are not only beholders of great beauty, but they are also beholders of ancient wisdom.” ― Molly Friedenfeld
I have wanted to tell you about Heloise for a while now, but have been so busy that I haven’t really had time to think/feel about what her visits mean. But since I just released the Song Flight album, “Singing for the Kids of Ukraine,” along with a line of Song Flight tees, hoodies, and mugs, I am done doing business and want to treat myself and you to a visit with Heloise.
The visits began back in mid-November when a rather small opossum with pink-tipped ears appeared on my patio in the middle of the night. I only knew she was there because the cats were going nuts - hissing and growling beside the sliding glass door that leads to the porch. When I turned on the porch light, there she was in all her gray-and-white scruffy glory scarfing down the kibble left by my cat, Axle.
Opossums are not the most attractive creatures. Their rough, gray-and-white hair sticks out in every direction, their backs are hunched, their faces are long, narrow, and pointed, and their eyes are set so close together they look cross-eyed. And of course, there is that long, rat-like tail.
But as we all know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Heloise (the name I’d given her) thinks I am both unattractive and smelly to boot. Plus, as it turns out opossums are pretty remarkable critters. They are 99% rabies free because of their low body temperature. They are scavengers who will eat just about anything, including ticks and other pesky insects that would otherwise be feasting on you. They’re largely immune to venom from snakes like cottonmouths and rattlesnakes, and they really do have the ability to play possum - meaning pass out and appear so convincingly dead that predators often stop chasing them. This is a defense mechanism. They are literally fainting from fear!
But none of the above was what captivated me about Heloise. What endeared her to me was her persistence. She kept coming back even when there was no kibble to eat and would often stay for hours, pacing up and down beside the sliding glass door like a scholar deep in thought. Her visits became so regular (usually one or two days apart) that the cats were no longer impressed. They would sit by the door looking bored and washing their faces while Heloise slowly waddled back and forth.
As someone who has studied Native American traditions and believes that each life has meaning and purpose, I was curious to see what the psychics, mystics, and animal whisperers of the internet would have to say about opossums. Here is a sampling:
“When Possum shows up, ask yourself if you’re taking the right road for your goals or if you’ve wandered off track.” - whatismyspiritanimal.com
How would an opossum know if I was on or off track? Do opossums have tracks to wander off of? I am confused.
“Possums are creatures of the night, and can be symbols of darkness. But possums can also represent light and hope. Possums are also sly and cunning animals.” - a-z-animals.com
Say what? Make up your mind for heaven’s sake.
“Having a possum as your totem animal will motivate you to work hard.” - guideyourpet.com
Um…okay, and what is motivating about a scruffy, slow-moving marsupial that pees and poops on porches?
“Possums teach you how to find quick fixes for complicated problems or do things by yourself!” - whatdreammean.com
Really? I have never seen an opossum fix or do anything quickly.
“The possum spirit guide can also help you tap into your own nocturnal abilities.” - psychnewsdaily.com
I have nocturnal abilities? What exactly is a nocturnal ability?
Okay, I’ll stop but you can see why I stopped consulting the spirit realm and decided to just wait and see how things unfolded between Heloise and I. For a few weeks nothing interesting happened at all. Heloise continued to show up periodically - pacing, peeing, and pooping on my porch when the spirit moved her. If I dared to open the door to say hello she would put a few feet between us but only hissed if I actually stepped outside.
Then one night there was a great kerfuffle on the porch. The cats raced to see what was going on. There was hissing, growling, a loud thump, and the sound of nails screeching on glass. Clearly some kind of struggle was going on, but by the time I got myself up and out of bed and turned on the porch light, the altercation was over. Heloise was on the porch, but instead of sitting close to the glass door she was huddled in the corner farthest from it, curled into a ball. She didn’t look happy, but what could I do? There was no blood, no signs of the struggle I’d heard, and when I slid the door open to get a closer look she hissed and backed further into the corner. I took this to mean, “Fuck off. Can’t you see I want some privacy here?” So I filled a small cat dish with water, set it outside, and went back to bed. I fully expected Heloise to be gone by morning. Opossums are nocturnal and I was fairly certain she had a comfy den where she spent the daylight hours sleeping off her night time adventures.
Much to my surprise, however, sunrise found Heloise still curled in her corner surrounded on three sides by piles of diarrhea. This, I thought, was not a good sign. In addition, she barely bothered to hiss at me when I slid the door open to check on her water. Concerned, I called a friend who is a former animal control officer. He advised me to leave Heloise alone. If I called animal control to come remove her, they would charge me and probably euthanize her. “Just let her be and see what she does.”
And so I waited, though I didn’t exactly leave her alone. Several times during the day I slid the porch door open and whispered that I hope she was feeling better. I told her she was safe and to stay as long as she liked. I’d realized, you see, that just having her there - trusting that I wouldn’t hurt her - was a lesson and a gift.
Heloise was still in her corner when I headed off to bed a little before midnight. By the next morning, however, she was gone leaving only the piles of excrement for me to clean up. As I scrubbed and bleached the porch, I worried that she might have been seriously injured and gone off (as animals often do) - to die on her own.
I needn’t have worried, however. Heloise reappeared a few days later looking fit and sassy. After expressing her displeasure that there was nothing to eat by peeing on the porch, she sauntered up to the glass door, bared all her teeth and dared the cats to a hissing duel. I was given a similar greeting but I didn’t take it personally. Though I haven’t decided why she is in my life, I am grateful. Her appearances delight a young part of myself who has always felt feral. That part of me is not in the least bit interested in humanity, seems to know how to communicate with wild things, and longs to spend time with them.
So what do you think about Heloise? Is she my spirit guide, totem, or just a long lost relative who’s come back to pester me? Maybe I missed my calling and should start a Psychic Possum reading service online.
P.S. Want a little challenge? See if you can figure out the difference between a Possum and an Opossum. Hint, yes there is one :-)
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