January 6. Polly O’Possum moved into the garden in late fall to glean apples. Every evening, there she’d be, nosing around under the trees. Chaco the dog started by barking and trying to chase, but opossums don’t exactly sprint away, and soon he switched to making friends, always his true agenda with any creature other than bear (run away), raccoon (give the appearance of being willing to fight viciously forever), or mouse (swallow it).
Even in the beginning Polly understood that Chaco was no real threat and never resorted to the defense of “playing possum”, an involuntary loss of consciousness like fainting that includes lips drawn back in a frozen snarl, foam around the mouth, and for a final touch, the release of an extraordinarily rank fluid from the anus. Polly just shares a nose-sniffing moment with the dog and goes back to foraging.
Now that the fallen apples are cleaned up, the opossum has shifted from her normally nocturnal schedule in order to eat chicken feed. At night the feeders are locked up along with the chickens (still accessible to mice, but that’s another story). We often find Polly chowing down at midday, or sometimes catching a nap in the rice hull bedding. (Opossums eat chicken eggs, but ours are safe in tall barrels she can’t reach.) She doesn’t “shoo”, and a push with the broom on her behind only makes her dig in, bracing her feet against the floor (all four feet have opposable thumbs, making this a surprisingly effective maneuver).
I’ve taken to just picking her up and carrying her out the back door. From there it’s a long opossum trek back to the chicken feed – she won’t show up inside again until the next day. Meanwhile she’s combing through the garden for over-wintering insect larvae and filling our opossum niche with her gentleness. For an animal its size, opossums have very short lifespans, only 2-4 years, which makes me appreciate her odd presence even more.