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The saga of Sprout and Snout. September 27, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, pets.
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No, our friend Ben is not alluding to last night’s presidential debate. However, this post does have something to do with last night: the appearance at our outdoor cats’ food bowl after dark of two youthful opossums, christened Sprout and Snout after their predecessors of a couple of years ago. 

I should mention that our small, venerable round oak dining table—a stunning silver color from having been consigned to the patio for years by our friend Ben’s parents, who considered Colonial-era furniture to be antique and spurned Arts and Crafts items like the table as latter-day trash, but I digress—sits under a chandelier, also Arts and Crafts vintage, in front of the sliding glass door to our deck. (The previous owners of what would become Hawk’s Haven also had a small, round oak table under the chandelier, a flea-market find. Clearly we had found our future home!) Our friend Ben would like to go off on a rant about how perfect a small round table is for two people, and how impossible it is for more than two, but I think I’m already off-topic enough.

Point being, when Silence Dogood and I sit down for a meal, we have a wonderful view out onto the plant-laden deck, illuminated with chile lights along the deck railing and, often, with a fire blazing in the firepit farther back in the yard. While the light remains, we see a panoramic view of our backyard and, when the neighboring farmers’ corn is not too tall, of the beautiful ring of mountains that encircles our valley home. We see the delightful little stream, Hawk Run, that burbles under the bridge that connects our deck to our backyard. And we see our five outdoor cats (plus two regular visitors) disporting themselves on the deck, sleeping, or staring back at us with that “stop-eating-and-get-out-here” look.

So last night, as our friend Ben was enjoying another of Silence’s superb repasts, I glanced out the deck door and saw, gleaming disturbingly in the darkness… a long, pink, hairless rat tail. Yuck! Fortunately, I know from long experience that rat tails are not pink. It had to be a ‘possum. Heading over to the sliding door, I saw a very small ‘possum enthusiastically enjoying the cats’ food.

Then I saw that our black cat, Aloysius, was lying on the doormat facing the ‘possum and watching it with his eyes starting out of his head. What the—?!! I flipped on the deck light, which has never in my experience phased any ‘possum. And then I saw… a second small ‘possum. Like its sibling, it was enjoying the cats’ food, but had positioned itself at the far end of the bowl. Snout and Sprout, redux. No wonder Wishus was dumbfounded.

This reminds our friend Ben of a question I’d like to ask any and all of you, if you have any acquaintance with ‘possums yourselves. Growing up, our friend Ben was constantly hearing the phrase “playing ‘possum,” i.e., rolling over and pretending to be dead until danger had passed. Well, our friend Ben has now seen plenty of ‘possums, and except for those flattened on the highway, which could hardly be said to be playing, I have never seen the slightest vestige of this behavior.

The ‘possums around here are quite bold. Even when all five cats are present on the deck, they maintain a repectful distance from the long-snouted, sharp-toothed marsupials, whose toothy mouths look more like an alligator’s than anything else our friend Ben can think of. Brrrrr! Adult ‘possums are big, too—way heftier than a football. Those cats aren’t stupid. Abandoning their typical mighty hunter stance, they’re the ones who are likely to “play dead” when a ‘possum appears on the scene.

Oh, yes, the question: Have you ever seen a ‘possum “play dead”? If so, our friend Ben would like to hear about it. Meanwhile, Silence and I will see if Snout and Sprout remain with us for the winter, becoming larger and larger as the months go by. I guess we could take the cats’ dish in once it gets dark to discourage them. But it wouldn’t feel right, eating our supper every night while five pathetic, hungry feline faces stare in at us like the orphans in Oliver Twist. “Please, sir, could I have some more?!” Oh, all right.

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Comments»

1. Cinj - September 27, 2008

Boy, the catcuisine must be excellent to gain the approval of two possums!

Nah, actually, we feel guilty about our outdoor cats’ cuisine, Cinj! They get the el cheapo catfood from the feed store, while the indoor cats feast on IAMS and Eukanuba! But the outdoor crew does get an occasional boost from whey when I’m making homemade yogurt cheese, not to mention a hefty dollop of past-prime yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, milk, or etc.

2. Becca - September 27, 2008

The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame, came whiffling through the tulgy wood–and burbled as it came…

I see you are a Carroll fan? Your table sounds just like something we would love. Alas, we have yet to find a perfect, reasonably priced chandelier that would remotely fit into our Pennsylvania Dutch dining area!

As for the chickens…we’re already playing phone tag with the county commissioners. What an idiotic thing to do–no chickens??!!??

No chickens! Grrrrrr!!!!! I hope you can prevail upon them, especially if you keep stressing that there will be no roosters! And yes, “Jabberwocky” was one of my mother’s favorites, so we heard it often when we were growing up…

3. Shibaguyz - September 27, 2008

This is not a first hand story but my grandfather’s. One summer on the farm there was a mother bear that swam across the Ohio River to have her cubs in the hollow of our farm. We observed her often ripping apart dead tree trunks to get at the juicy morsels (raccoons, opossums, etc.) inside. That said, my grandfather says on one such occasion he saw mama bear surprise out an opossum. He always told us that opossum had a gland they could use to let loose a horrid smell as if they were rotten meat. He watched the mother bear paw around at the large opossum, sniff it, then turn her nose up and walk away after which the opossum rose like Lazarus and scampered off. Again, not something I have personally seen but have heard that one directly from my grandfather and other similar stories from other men just like my grandfather. Real… or urban myth… you decide…

Hmmmm. Fascinating! I for one wouldn’t have thought a bear would turn its nose up at carrion, but I guess I was wrong! All I can say is, I hope no ‘possum is ever inspired to unleash a stench like that around here!!!

4. linda - September 27, 2008

A few days ago a baby possum sauntered across our patio as I was watching the sun come up. The babies are kind of cute. I didn’t see a mother anywhere in sight.

Once our dog George surprised a possum in the back yard. The encounter scared the you-know-what out of me – the possum got into an agressive posture, started growling, hissing, and showing its teeth. I was afraid they were going to get into an altercation.

Thankfully George got scared and backed off. That possum looked mean, and I was grateful that was the end of it. George is about 80 lbs., so I think the possum would have come out on the worse end of that fight. I’m glad I didn’t have to find out. Nope, I’ve never seen a possum play dead. I have seen them get agressive and act mean though. They scare me.

Well, the babies look cuter than the adults, I’ll give them that much, Linda! But they still have rat tails and too many teeth. ‘Possum ears are cute, though—the backs are black-and-white and wavy. I guess everybody has at least one good feature!

5. Barbee' - September 27, 2008

Yep, but only once, on my grandparents’ farm long ago and far away. I don’t remember the details (did I forget to mention I was a very young child at the time); I only remember my father showing me what ‘possums do. There were other experiences with ‘possums in those days, but they are not fit to share. Anyone out there old enough to remember Pogo?!

Ha! Don’t tell me you ate them (though, mercy knows, the adults are fat enough to make good eating)! And yes, I saw a Pogo bumper sticker (the famous “We have seen the enemy and he is us!”) at a fair just last weekend…

6. deb - September 27, 2008

It must be possum season. Hugh at Rock Paper Lizard posted a hilarious discription of his house cat staring down a possum.

Yes, I’ve been wondering why they have their babies so late, since they still seem small and vulnerable come winter. But of course, being marsupials, perhaps they have them earlier than I think (I know they’re thumb-sized when they’re born)…


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