A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to The Dump...
Have you ever wondered who you really are? Whether or not you're a good person? What kind of Stuff you are made of? If you are old enough to have experienced one great love and one great loss, chances are you already know. Life is full of little moments that define and reveal our character. The trick is knowing how to pay attention to them.
The older I get, the more I trend toward Type-A: relentless, focused, over-analytical, constantly in motion, able to take charge as well as delegate. I am a human shark in that if I stopped moving it's possible I'd die. I am a full-time music major on the Dean's List, I run a farm, and I manage a coffee shop that I co-own. There is never a dull moment and rarely any downtime. I'm proud of my abilities in multi-tasking, critical and abstract thought, time management, and salesmanship. And rightly so! Not everyone can do what I do, and do it well!
This weekend is Shearapalooza. I tell people that hosting Shearing Day is like having a wedding every year. It requries THAT MUCH forethought, planning, co-ordination, delegation, set-up, co-operation, and clean up. It's totally worth it; I love sharing what I do with people, whether they're interested in fiber or not! Having farm guests (and listening to them) makes me appreciate what I do, even though it's hard work. I've shut down a lot of my normal activities this week to make room for the demands of Shearapalooza. Today we took a load of old wire, metal, wood, and trash to the dump. I was intensely focused on the time, the schedule, and the ever-changing Almighty List I expected to accomplish. Driving down the hill we saw three vultures standing across the road.
"Road block," I joked. Nick slowed down. The vultures flew a little way off.
"Looks like a dead possum," he said.
I opened the truck door and hopped out with a glove, prepared to chuck the poor critter into the verge. As I bent down, something moved. A single, fuzzy possum baby stared at me while tugging on its mother's fur.
"It's a baby," I called to the truck. "Should we take it back to the house?" (As if there's a question. Nothing has ever been turned away from this inn.) Much to my surprise, mother possum rallied when I threatened to take her child! She heaved herself up, baby clinging to her back, and stumbled two or three steps. I waited to see if she'd make it across the road. She paused a moment, then staggered in circles.
"She's too far gone," I yelled. It crossed my mind that the kindest thing to do would be to take the baby and have Nick run the mother over quickly. But then, as often happens, she turned her watery black eyes on me. The Almighty List and agenda disappeared. I thought of the little mother moving her babies during the early morning storm. I pictured her hissing and snapping at the vultures as they stole her offspring and pecked at her, hoping she'd be dead. She was making her last stand, and she needed help.
I circled her once, expecting to find the usual broken jaw, bleeding throat, or spilled intestines that so often accompany vehicular trauma. However, the majority of her wounds appeared to have been inflicted by the vultures.
I remembered a story my dad told when I was little, about a woman who found a dead possum with a pouch full of babies. She raised them as pets. Some people raise possums as fiber animals. With equal parts resignation, determination, and enthusiasm, I grabbed a box and sheet from behind my seat (left over from the fiber festival). Nick jumped out and we scooped both possums into the box.
"We can put them in the kennel," I said, cradling the box on my lap. Mother possum groaned.
Near the end of the road, farther down the hill, we passed the body of a baby possum. The vultures were nowhere to be seen. By the time we got home from the dump, the possum's breathing was slow and even. Baby nursed underneath her, safe in a nest of fresh hay. Incidentally, it appears the baby is a male.
Possums have an average lifespan of 2 years in the wild, double in captivity. That's less than a gerbil, hamster, or rat. Once considered as a trial animal for human drugs, possums are not particularly prone to disease. In fact, outdoor cats are more than three times as likely to spread typhus than wild possums. In the past 30+ years only a handful of people have contracted rabies, of which maybe 3 were related to possum bites. In other words, I have more chance of being hit by a bus or catching typhus from Widget than I do getting sick from these marsupials.
I have always claimed - and continue to preach - that animals will display gratitude to the fullest extent of their natures. For example, we saved and released a 6ft cottonmouth last year. Would I have trusted it? Absolutely not. Did it know that I was trying to save it from strangling, and did it curtail its instinct for aggression accordingly? Absolutely. That snake never moved as I cut the bird netting off nor attempted to strike, even after we put it down. Ask anyone who has given a dog or cat a second chance. Shelter animals are the most loving and expressive pets because they appreciate how bad things can be. Likewise, neither of these possums hissed, grinned, or bit us, and I don't believe they will.
As I type this, little possum is keeping vigil atop his mother's side. She is snoring softly, displaying a mouthful of worn teeth, too exhausted to attend the complaint of the kennel's rusty latch. I left her two boiled eggs.
Our characters are defined by the myriad daily choices we make without hesitation or forethought: letting someone merge in front of us, tipping for service, saying thank you, smiling, holding a door, saying yes, pausing for turtles/possums/frogs/raccoons/ducks...or not. You are your knee jerk reactions, your first thoughts, your gut feelings, a ripple in the vast ocean of life on Earth. Today I was a farmer, an ecologist, a businesswoman, a musician, a mother, and to two little possums, a hero. Who was your hero today? How will you be a hero tomorrow? Make good choices.