Oddly, I am feeling a little protective of my opossum. She is pictured here fast asleep inside the ceramic pumpkin I keep in the corner of my balcony. It was a warm day and both her tail and the bottoms of her back feet could be seen sticking out to keep her cool. It seems that she had decided that her den for the day (opossums are nocturnal) was my pumpkin. This did not go unnoticed by the cats who were glued to the sliding glass door that leads to the porch. Every once in awhile they would come over to me to ask to go outside. They were like small kids hoping that if they pester their parents enough they’ll give in to their demands. When that didn’t work, they went back to window patrol - periodically chittering, twitching their tails, and crying plaintively.
I am sure the opossum could hear and smell them but showed no sign of moving. She snoozed away until well past sunset when she emerged, took a drink from the cats’ water dish and sauntered off to find dinner.
Having a wild creature trust me in this way has evoked all kinds of unexpected feelings. I have always loved animals but it’s rare to be able to see and observe them this closely. When I used to swim with a pod of Spinner dolphins in Hawaii, I felt I was stepping out of one reality and into another - almost as if all the rules that separate species were being temporarily suspended. The time I spent in the water with them was pure joy.
I feel a little bit of that joy when my opossum visits. I find that I don’t want to touch or disturb her routine in any way. It’s enough to watch and wonder about what’s going on behind those bright eyes, what enticing aromas her pink twitchy nose is gathering (opossums have around 1500 olfactory receptors compared to a human’s 400), and what she makes of the big, hairless creature who sits beside the screen door watching her every move.
The other thing that I find myself worrying about is how to make sure she is safe. I am less concerned about wild predators than I am about human beings. Humans are dangerous, cruel, and often oblivious to how other living things help sustain their existence. I worry that she might be seen coming and going from my porch and the complex’s maintenance crew will try to kill her.
Then three days ago I was notified that I had to remove everything from my porch (including my ceramic pumpkin) so an outside cleaning crew can “power wash” and paint my porch. Naturally I wonder how this will affect my little friend’s routine and where she will sleep without my pumpkin to curl up inside.
Reason tells me that opossums are perfectly capable of looking after themselves and that she has been doing so long before she decided to scarf the last of the kibble left in my cat’s bowl. But reason has little to do with love, and love is what I feel. Love for a scruffy little creature with a rat-like tail who has reminded me that a greater force is at work in the world. I am grateful.
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I sit outside frequently and am often visited by wild beasties. Currently there are a couple of racoons, a red fox, and a barred owl living behind my place. The big racoon is the most bold, and has no fear about coming right up to me when I'm sitting on the porch. He has been within reach on several occasions, not that I would ever try to touch him. The hardest thing in the world with these animals is having to let nature take it's course. It is an element of human nature that we have an urge to care for and help our fellow creatures, especially when they're fuzzy and cute. But it's a mistake. For one thing, I don't want them to lose their fear of humans. The moral dilemma presented resonates so strongly with me, that it inspired a poem that attempts to address my ambivalence on the matter. Several years after that, my internal dilemma is strong as ever.