The R.O.U.S.

The temperatures have risen into the mid-40s. It’s so warm that I’m tempted to wear a jacket instead of a coat. The snow is melting rapidly and I can see patches of bare ground in places–mostly where we’ve snowblowed or walked paths in the snow. When I was a child, we called this warmup “The January Thaw” because it usually happened every mid-January. The snow would melt, forming large puddles and small ponds. Our large side yard always flooded. When the weather turned cold again and froze the water, we had a nice little ice rink. I don’t remember having actual skates, but we’d go “skating” on the ice by sliding in our boots. It was fun.

Slippery Slush

On our hilltop house in Northern Michigan, I view the thaw with a bit more dread. It’s better if the weather remains cold and snowy until Spring because when the melted snow re-freezes, our steep, winding driveway becomes treacherously slippery–as do the roads. In fact, even though it’s in the upper 40s and the snow is melting, I had to walk carefully to get the mail because the slush was slippery. The US National Weather Service says that we will get rain today and then temperatures will drop significantly tonight and dangerously cold wind chills will be back for Saturday morning. EJ is at work and JJ is spending the day with his girlfriend. I’ve reminded both of them that they might want to park at the bottom of the driveway when they get home this evening.

Late yesterday afternoon–I think at about 5 p.m., more or less–I happened to glance out the living room window and saw a large possum eating the vegetable peelings I had thrown out there for the deer. It probably wasn’t a good idea to throw the veggies out there since it could attract critters like possums, raccoons, and skunks, but I thought the deer would eat them. They didn’t. Oh, well, live and learn. Besides, it was also eating the seeds that had fallen from the birdfeeder. The possum went under the deck but we saw it periodically throughout the evening.

I called to JJ to come and look and he said that the possum could be a threat to the poultry. EJ said the same thing when he got home, adding that it might hurt the cats as well. EJ began to make plans to get rid of the possum.

I follow a blog called “The Backyard Birdlady.” Amazingly, I found an email in my inbox last night notifying me that she had written a new post. That’s not amazing part. What is amazing is that her post was called Fall in Love with a Possum | Nature’s Clean Up Crew. Within her post was a link to the Opossum Society of the United States. I don’t know much about possums, so I ready the Backyard Birdlady’s post and the Opossum Society’s website to learn about them.

JJ called the possum a “huge rat.” I laughed that, no, it’s not a rat, it’s actually a R.O.U.S.–or Rodent of Unusual Size–which is a reference to the huge rats in the fire swamp in the movie The Princess Bride. Actually, the possum is neither a rat nor a R.O.U.S. The Birdlady wrote that “They are North Americas only marsupial, meaning they have a pouch to carry their babies in after they are born. When baby possums are born, they are only about the size of a bee; they crawl up into their mother’s pouch, live and nurse in her warmth for about two months. Kangaroos and Wallabies, Koala Bears, Wombats and Tasmanian Devils are also marsupials, however, these guys live mostly in Austrailia and the surrounding islands. Once they are about two months old, they ride on Mom’s back as she travels around in search of food.” The Birdlady also wrote that “They eat both plants and animals.  Their diet consists of mice, lizards, earthworms, snails, spiders, snakes, fruit, nuts, seeds, and carrion (dead animals or roadkill). They are considered a ‘gardeners friend’ as they eat the fallen, rotting fruit from the trees in your yard and the unwanted pests in our yard. Just one possum can eat up to 5000 ticks a year, helping to protect humans from Lyme disease. They are quite literally Nature’s Little Clean-up Crew!”

At the Opossum Society of the United States website, I read:

By nature opossums are non-aggressive, non-destructive and do not pose a threat to humans. However, when threatened they will attempt to defend themselves. Our best advice is to enjoy watching the opossums, but leave them alone.

LEAVE THE OPOSSUMS ALONE

Opossums should be allowed to live in their natural habitat. They are opportunistic animals and will often move into an area that has been damaged and then vacated by another animal. Unfortunately, the opossum is usually blamed for the damage.

DO NOT TRAP

Opossums are transient animals, staying only 2-3 days in an area before moving on. Removal is neither necessary nor desirable. Wildlife experts agree that if opossums were eliminated from an area, the population of roof rats and other pests would proliferate.

OTHER OPTIONS

If you find an opossum continues to return to your area, try eliminating the things that are attracting it. Clear away bushes, woodpiles and other hiding places, pick up fallen fruit from trees, and do not leave pet food out over night. Try leaving an outdoor light on at night.

I also learned that while possums might go after eggs or young chickens, they seem to not be as much of a threat to poultry as coyotes, raccoons, and other predators. They seem to co-exist peacefully with cats. I like the fact that they go after spiders, rats, and ticks, none of which I like.

After I read this information, my concerns dissipated and I was able to enjoy observing the possum when it returned later in the evening. When I shared the information with EJ, he also changed his mind about the possum being a threat. However, JJ was unconvinced and even after I told him what I had learned, he said we should kill “the huge rat.” I said “Absolutely not. Look at it. It’s interesting and rather cute.” Then I exclaimed, “Hey! You stopped me when I wanted to smash the huge, utterly scary-looking wolf spiders, telling me that they were outside in their territory and deserved to live. Yet you want to kill the possum, which is very beneficial and far cuter than a wolf spider?? You, my dear, are a hypocrite!”

Thanks to the Backyard Birdlady and the Opossum Society of the United States, the possum will live and we get to enjoy another fascinating creature at our bird feeders.

Hannah Joy makes me laugh. She is so different from Danny was. But that’s ok. I mean, one of the reasons I was able to get a new dog so soon after losing my beloved Danny is that I don’t expect a new dog to be the same as the old one. I miss Danny terribly–my heart squeezes every time I think of him or see a photo of him–and yet I enjoy Hannah at the same time. I appreciate that when Hannah goes outside to “do her business,” she’s quick and we are back in the house within minutes. I used to have to wait for a long time in freezing cold for Danny. It wasn’t his fault. When he was younger, he escaped his fence and got hit by a van. The van actually ran over his tail, but it stretched out his spine so he had trouble going poop. Sometimes it got messy back there and I’d have to wash his behind–something we both hated, but which I did because I loved Danny. Danny used to wait very, very patiently for me and only asked to go outside when he saw I wasn’t busy. I thought that was extremely considerate of him. When Hannah wants something, she wants it NOW, and she lets me know it quite clearly and insistently. In this video, she has been trying for several minutes to get my attention. I’ve ignored her so she’s getting a little bit more impatient.

 

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