…Out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,
Gave a lustre of midday to objects below.
When what to my wondering eyes did appear
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer…
Well, there was no snow, but Clement Clark Moore’s poem made me think of the phrase ‘what to my wondering eyes did appear’ but a very large bird on my lawn. And nearby there seemed to be a ball of…tumbleweed?
Looking more closely, I discovered a black vulture no more than 30 or 35 feet away. The vulture didn’t stay long, but the ball of whatever was still on the lawn. My sister, who was visiting, went to have a closer look. It was an opossum, which she carefully prodded with a stick. He was alive but playing ”dead.” The vulture had clearly figured out the dinner he looked forward to eating wasn’t dead yet. We left the opossum alone and he later disappeared.
My sister told me that once she found a dead opossum while hiking. She was sure it was dead so she went to get a shovel to bury it. When she returned, the opossum had left the scene!
‘Possums don’t have great eyesight as you might have discovered when encountering one on the road at night. They are often hit by cars because they don’t move out of the way. In fact, people as well as dogs and cats are their most common predators. Pretending to be dead is their response to danger.
You may have an opossum living under your porch or shed. They adapt well to urban areas and provide pest control for the neighborhood. Their usual diet includes insects, mice and rats as well as spilled bird seed, pet food left outdoors and ripe fruit that falls from trees.
As a marsupial, the only mammal with a pouch in which to raise young in North America, it is unique. It also has opposable thumbs and a prehensile tail which is not used for hanging from a branch. Rather it helps them, among other things, to build nests. My father once when milking a goat in the barn heard a rustle and saw an opossum with its tail wrapped around a bunch of dried leaves backing up to a corner where it was building a nest.
These extraordinary animals, whose ancestors lived during the dinosaur age, have a lifespan of only one or two years, but their value to our environment is immense.