POSSUMS, PERSSIMON TREES AND PUPPY DOGS

I found myself walking at five thirty in the morning with my Easter sunrise service still two hours away. Crazy I know, but I also know me well enough to realize I won’t get my exercise done if I wait until the evening. There was a time, in another life, the life before my retirement, when I got up well before the crack of dawn to do my running or walking. Up at four thirty and on the pavement by five thirty was the norm with the light of my head lamp bobbing up and down with the motion of my head. People always asked, “Aren’t you afraid of lions and tigers and bears?” “Oh my, …no.” As I walked or ran on the paved service paralleling the creek, dense trees forming a canopy overhead and a fog rising, I was much more afraid of vampires, werewolves or Pennywise the Dancing Clown.

We do have bears, coyotes, wild cats and “painters,” as the locals call panthers, but they don’t really bother me. I am much more afraid of the local dogs than our wildlife. Well there was one early morning when I saw eight sets of reddish hued eyes blocking my path. Eight “Mothmen?” Probably not. More likely coyotes judging from their height above the pavement. They turned away but I decided it was a bad day to run. Another morning I had a cardiac “check-up” when a deer resting between the road and stream decided I was a danger and took off crashing through the thicket…as I crashed through the thicket on the other side.

This Easter morning, as I walked back toward my house, I noticed a little white, heart shaped flower next to my path. I thought it was a bit odd. It’s still March and I know of no heart shaped flowers blooming. Still, there it was glowing in the light of my headlamp. As I got closer I noticed that this “flower” had glowing eyes. A baby possum with a white “heart shaped” face, no more than six inches long, looked up at me. “Gee aren’t you the cutest thing…DAMN YOU TRIED TO BITE MEEEEEEE YOU LITTLE…!” Moments later I heard a rustle in the underbrush and saw two larger glowing eyes peering back at me. Mother or predator? I decided I needed to get back to the house.

We have a pair of gnarled old persimmon trees in our back yard and in the fall their fruit ripens offering a sweet treat to all of the possums in the area. I don’t like persimmons. It seems they are either one day away from ripeness or one day past rotten. What is that fuzzy film it leaves on my tongue? YUK! Unlike me, possums love persimmons and will show up in the fall to eat their fill. Having unwanted guests in the yard drives my blue heeler puppies crazy. Many mornings I have returned from my run to find a gift left for me on the steps leading into my home. Both puppies would stand guard duty under the trees, lying in wait, for a possum to finish eating its sweet treat before making its way down to its fate. Some mornings I would let them out for their bathroom call and later find myself tripping over a dead possum laying in the dining room. They have probably left me a dozen dead possums… or more likely, one possum “playing dead” twelve different times. It’s no fun chasing a “suddenly resurrected” possum as it attempts to escape its captors.

One morning I found a very large possum laying in the floor with both puppies standing guard and awaiting their doggy treat. She was not leaking blood which is always a good thing but when I picked her up by her tail I found myself looking at six very small heads peeking out of out of “momma” possum’s “carry-all” pouch. Oh man! What am I going to do? As I cradled her I noticed one eye was open following my every move and proving where the saying “playing possum” comes from. “GOT ME!” I cannot tell you the relief I felt when I saw her waddling off in the possum equivalent of a sprint after I had released her on the wilderness side of my fence.

Maddie and Tilly no longer bring me possums and I am only slightly happy about it. Maddie has a bad hip and even a possum can out run her…despite her attempts otherwise. Tilly is blind but, like her sister, it doesn’t stop Tilly from trying either. She amazes me how she can still find that old persimmon tree in the fall. I guess there is nothing wrong with her sense of smell. Every night as the persimmons ripen she sits herself down underneath the tree, ears at attention, and waits. I love the fact she still waits. I just hope no possum happens to bump into her.

More nonfiction by Don Miller is available at http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

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