Having grown up on the Pogo comic in the newspapers, I assumed that possums were cute little critters. I even felt a tinge of sadness when I drove past a DOR (dead on the road) possum, it having been nailed by an auto as it (the possum) was contentedly feeding on a prior DOR. They are not speedy animals, like a squirrel, or canny like crow. Wouldn'êt it be nice to exit this world the way a possum DOR does? Here you are eating your dinner when WHAM! It'ês over. So when you pass by a DOR, save your sympathy: It was a quick exit.
Possums rarely announce their presence, being nocturnal creatures that creep into your back yard at night while you are, say, watching a DVD movie. This is just what I was doing the other night as I was immersed in Sophie'ês Choice. There was a gentle but insistent knock on the back door. It was Maria, my tenant, and her friend, Michelle. Both were clutching their bathrobes tightly maybe wishing these articles delivered more coverage or protection. If I'êd handed them a medieval coat of mail I think they would have donned it. The cottage is cute but has no water, so to get to her kitchen and bath Maria needs to traverse the back yard and descend the half-dozen concrete steps down to the basement door in my house. At night a motion-activated light above the basement door illuminates the steps.
Neither of the women said a word. They just pointed to the possum about hallway down the stairs. It was about the size of a house cat. It didn'êt flee up or down. It just stayed there, giving the appearance of something that has taken a position and was not inclined to give it up. Standing at my back door Maria and Michelle are looking like supplicants, both with their hands clasped together at their chests. The three of us peer into the stair well and contemplate the possum. Maria then asks, 'êWhat are you going to DO about It?'ê
Good question. As a landlord I had had to deal with some very weird situations. (Like the time a rat had swum up from the sewer into the tenant'ês toilet. The tenant had squirted lighter fluid into the bowl but was unsure about igniting it. I said 'êDon'êt!" It was 3 am but I dashed over there as fast as possible.) Time present. Now I was looking at a possum halfway down my basement steps, caught in the light'ês glare, apparently not happy with all the attention it was receiving. But clearly it was not running away. Maria expected a speedy solution from me. I must have spent 30 seconds just truing to comprehend the problem.
The possum not showing any inclination at all to climb the last few steps and disappear into the night, the best I could come up with was to get a prod of sorts and encourage it to climb the stairs and go away. I went to the garage and found a long handled, flat bottomed shovel. Thus armed I went back into the house, descended the basement stairs and cautiously opened the door to the outside. I know nothing about these creatures. Would it attack if cornered? Then I studied the possum. Nothing had changed. The possum held its ground; the girls clutched their robes.
It was a nasty looking piece of work, one of those creatures that makes you seriously wonder what evolution is thinking about to have come up with such a thing. It looked like a rat on steroids. Only worse. Unlike a rat, which has a fairly benign face and unassuming eyes, this thing had a long jaw, holding 50 (so I read later) teeth that look as if they were meant for serious business. The creature has no instinct to flee. It just opens its jaw and shows you all those teeth, in profile. With its scraggly grey fur, long ratty tail, and jaw full of teeth it holds potential enemies at bay with just the way it looks. Then it emits a sound that combines both hiss and growl. You really do not want to get near it.
But I had to do something. To call 911 seemed excessive. I never even thought of calling Animal Control. This was neither dog nor cat. I gently slid the shovel under the possum. It hissed and growled louder but did not move. I thought, 'êThese guys are supposed to lie down and feign death: play possum, right?'ê Wrong!
So with the shovel I lifted it up a step (hiss! growl!). Then another. (More hiss! Growl!) Then to the top. It made as if to crawl under the deck nearby but I steered it away with the shovel. And here commenced one of those moments in life in which you are doing just the right thing but it really looks ridiculous. Holding the shovel in both hands like some kind of little kids push toy, I steered the creature down the brick walkway, around a corner, kept it from ducking under Maria'ês cottage, and nudged it up to the gate, which I opened. Much to my relief (and Maria'ês and Michelle'ês and, I am sure, the possum'ês) it proceeded out to the sidewalk and down the alley. Crises solved. I later learned that these guys kill rats.
Now, living as I do near a wooded ravine, I have seen raccoons in the area. And the newspapers occasionally tell of cougar that have come down from the hills to the suburbs to nip off a toy poodle. Well, they better watch out. I have my flat-bottomed shovel routine figured out and I'êll be ready.