This is the second of a two-part journal entry. For the backstory leading to this, read the previous post “The birds, the bees, the cat, the possum and the people”. I realize both posts are quite lengthy, and apologize for that. I could have broken it into four posts, but wanted to maintain a good continuity.
Okay, so here’s this possum caught in a live-catch trap and it’s ten o’clock in the morning so the sun is beating down on the black plastic trash bag which covers the back half of the trap to camouflage and conceal it. I seriously doubt this possum is what the Market Manager was intent on catching. I think it wandered over here in the night, probably from the wild areas between here and the Hudson River. He had said they thought there were raccoons roosting in the Black Horse farm building.
Now, there are two more qualifiers that influence or explain my following actions. One is another part of my personal philosophy, made almost respectable by being a quote from Charles Dickens. In his story “A Christmas Carol”, the main character Ebenezer Scrooge has survived a night with the spirits compelling him to change his selfish ways and to open his heart to the world, particularly those less fortunate. When he awakens to find he has been granted the opportunity to live and pursue good works, he is overwhelmed with joy. And humility. Realizing the error of his ways, he breaks into a brief song to the tune of “All Around The Mulberry Bush”;
I don’t know anything.
I never did know anything.
But now I KNOW that I don’t know.
All on Christmas morning.
So that’s item one, where I admit I have no idea what it is that I don’t know. I bear this in mind always, along with a teaching from Richard Bach’s book “Illusions”: Everything you know could be wrong. I’m just doing the best I can with what I have.
The other qualifier may be difficult for me to describe. I know that seems odd coming from a wordy poet, but it’s a feeling deep in my soul that I must try to relate. I have this relationship with the Universe. The Great Cosmos I call it. If you’ve read anything of substance at ACZ, you’ll know I feel as insignificant as one could possibly be in a giant universe. Just a speck. Less than that. Not even a grain of sand on a beach, but a chip off a grain of sand in a limitless expanse of space. At the same time, I feel part of it all, like the grain of sand. Every grain of sand matters, and is needed to make a beach. No one grain of sand could be proved to be more important, more significant, more worthy than the next. Herein lies my value in my relationship with the Universe. I am equal. Equal to every grain of sand and every tree. Every human on the planet and every other animal from the blue whale to the black gnat. Equal to every planet and satellite, every comet and meteor. To every last bit of every last inch of an immeasurable Universe, I am part of it all. My solemn agreements, my silent prayers, if you will, are directly between me and the Universe. We have a close and inexorable bond. Therefore, I answer only to the Cosmos. As I describe what follows, there are a hundred optional actions and endings. Some people may vehemently espouse their versions of what is right, what is not. What is fair to wildlife, what is duty to humankind. What is callous and cruel, what is kindness and caring. Sorry folks, this is between me and my Cosmos.
My first step is to open the trap. Show the possum the door. Touch the ground as if she’s a trained dog. I speak softly in a sort of baby talk. “Come on. You can come out now.” In my best effort at Disneyesque fantasy, I anticipate the possum will walk out. Perhaps wink at me over its shoulder as it makes its escape. Well, that didn’t happen. I suppose possum has never seen “Bambi” or “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. In her cornered, trapped, fearful defensive place, possum sees a giant animal, twenty times her size, trying to dig her out to kill and eat her. Reality knocks on my brain’s door and says “As long as you hang around the trap, she’ll stay frozen in the rear corner under the trash bag. GO AWAY!” Liberation of the possum the primary goal, I heed this advice and disappear, foregoing the opportunity to bask in the glory of watching the culmination of my efforts, the gleeful trotting off of the former captive.
I give it a while but I’m fascinated with the possum and curious and impatient as the rings deep within my spirit that remain a ten-year-old boy. I check the trap, and she’s still huddled in the corner, waiting for darkness, probably. I tried tipping the trap up and dumping her out. Unceremonious but effective if it worked. It did not. She hung onto the trap as if it was her home. Okay, I go away again for a while. Half an hour later, she still hasn’t moved. Okay, I grab a short stick and have the stick prod her from the back part of the trap so she’ll move toward the door. No dice. She’s not afraid of a stick, and the corner under the trash bag feels like the safest safety available to her. If I was at home I’d carry the whole trap out into the woods, put the open door up against some dense cover, and walk away confidently, content the animal would eventually walk out of the trap. Here at the Market, I don’t want to get caught undoing the trapping, so I’m trying to be a little stealthy.
“Alright. If Guy from Market comes around now you’re as good as dead, so it’s time to go, like it or not.” I thought-transfer this to the possum to apologize in advance for the somewhat rough and rude action to follow. I grabbed a piece of threaded metal rod from the shop at work. In hindsight, I should have used the broom handle. I pushed the rod through the trash bag at the back of the trap to nudge her. This just made her redouble her defensive stance. So I broke down and pushed harder. “Come on.” I’m speaking out loud in my talking-to-animals-and-babies voice, “You gotta get out of there!” I pushed on her more. Re-positioned the rod. Prodded her again. Assertively, I pushed against her to literally shove her out of the trap and she finally moved. She needed another prod and then, yes, success! She saw the opening or decided it was less risk or discomfort, and she trotted out of the trap and across the gravelly ground, disappearing beneath a stack of pallets behind the buildings. I hurriedly reset the trap to appear nothing had sprung it.
I felt pretty good about my liberation of the trapped animal for about a minute or so. That’s when I saw the baby. Yep, baby possum. Almost naked, it was probably a week or so old. It looks like a newborn kitten in that first week when they can’t even walk but try to move in stumbling fashion. It was lying in the open in the direct sun, about a foot away from the closest part of the pallet pile. At first my brain thought it had crawled out of its nest, looking for mother while she was incarcerated. I looked beneath the pallets and metal carts for signs of traffic or a nest. Wait a minute. Brain catching up. Hey, opossums are marsupials. The baby would have been carried in Mother’s pouch. Oh no. She had dropped this one as she ran away in self defense. This thing was tiny. As small as any kitten I’ve seen born, and yet baby possums complete their development in the pouch. This one barely had half a coat of thin, fine fur, and was probably just about blind.
Then it made the tiniest noise. You might imagine a newborn kitten trying to meow for its mother. Sometimes their mouths open and no sound comes out. Sometimes a breathy squeak. Eventually, they learn to “mew”. Possums don’t meow. I don’t know what repertoire they have, but the only sound I’ve ever heard come from a possum is a hiss, like an angry cat. I guess that’s what baby possum was trying, but it came out as just the shortest burst. As if you were trying to demonstrate the sound a “K” makes without using your breathing, you know? Well I figured baby is calling Mom, so after placing baby out of the sun and beneath a cart, I too make K noises, hoping to attract mother’s attention to return for the foundling. After a minute, I go away to give her the opportunity to do so. The ten-year-old needs to check the situation every two minutes. The wildlife liberator knows you should give it twenty. It’s now midday, and the time of the hour at which I’d break for lunch. One last check on the orphan. Still there. Still bobbing its tiny head, moving its tiny feet almost ineffectively. Still barking for Mother. “Let the Cosmos handle it.” I say, probably aloud, and I brush the sparrows off the Funbus and head out for lunch. Possum has a quiet spell to come back for her kid, and I can keep ten-year-old Me from obsessing over the orphan.
Lunch does not go so well. I can’t stop thinking of the orphan. I know I can’t save and raise a newborn possum, but I could probably make it feel warm and safe until its passing. I bail on lunch. I buy a pint of whole milk at the convenience store, and head for Rite-Aid to buy an eye dropper for feeding. Rite-Aid does not sell eye droppers, by the way. Maybe no one does any more. Everything like it is a graduated syringe so you can measure your baby’s liquid Tylenol and squirt it into their mouth. I search long and hard. I ask Jim The Employee to help. No eye dropper. Now I am looking for ear drops or Mercurochrome. Bottles with eye droppers. I’ll buy that and wash the dropper out. Nope. Nothing has a dropper any more. Finally, I purchase a syringe bulb, a nasal aspirator, thinking it’s at least soft-ish. So armed, I return to work. I’m ready to warm the milk and offer it to the orphan. I’m thinking I will put it in my shirt pocket. It’ll be warm and in a “pouch” and might even be fooled into a sense of normalcy, comfort, security for the matter of mere hours I expect the thing to live without its own mother.
At the spot where I’d last seen the naked, wriggling baby, there was nothing. I spent quite some time on hands and knees, looking everywhere the wobbling, toddling tiny thing could have moved to. I made a few K noises, listened intently for the tiny whisper of a bark. Nothing.
And so my tale anticlimactically draws to a close. What happened to Baby Possum will forever remain a mystery. I’d like to think Mother retraced her steps, looking for the “missing one”. Or perhaps she heard the tiny thing’s tiny bark. Mothers are in-tuned to such things.
Down at the Hudson River, less than a quarter-mile from here, I’ll often see Bald Eagles. Majestic birds we almost lost with our penchant for killing things, in this case via DDT in pesticides. Eagles are scavengers. Here in my parking lot, crows abound. Grackles and Jays, too. Perhaps one of these had found a healthy meal.
That afternoon I stood on the back dock. As I looked out, I saw Cat sitting under a car. Cat looked me in the eye, and I looked back. “Hi kitty.” I said, which hitherto had the immediate effect of making her run. She sat and looked at me. She looked away, then back again. She seemed relaxed. Now that winter is over, I can no longer fill the dish.
You see, we need to be vigilant about vermin here.