I’ve been living in rural Missouri for about a year and a half now, after having lived most of my life in Southern California. If you’ve ever been to SoCal, you will know that it’s really just one big metropolis, and the only way you know you’re in a new city is the little sign they post to let you know you’ve crossed that imaginary line that divides one from the next.
Talk about culture shock. Here I have to drive 30 minutes to get to a town of any significant size, and by that I mean one big enough to have a Walmart. Woo hoo. If I want a Target – heaven forbid – it’s an hour, minimum. And that’s only if I disregard the speed limits. In SoCal, driving an hour to get somewhere is taking a trip. Here it’s just going to the store.
But I’ve gotten used to that. There’s something to be said for miles and miles of pastoral countryside, especially this time of year, after a bleak winter. Everything is getting green, and it really is one of the most peacefully beautiful places. Even the cows I often make fun of are cute, dotting the hillsides. And driving all that distance to get somewhere isn’t such a big deal when you only run into one or two other cars the whole way. There and back. (Of course, it can be a little irritating when you get behind Farmer Joe on his John Deere, because it’s hard to find a good passing spot on these winding, hilly roads, but then again, around here the motto is, what’s yer hurry?)
The thing I haven’t quite grown accustomed to is the wildlife. And by that I don’t mean majestic wildlife, either. I love the bald eagles and herons and cranes that fly by my house on the river every day. I like the beaver that has a home directly across from us. The deer that bound and leap on the hillside when I go out my front door are just gorgeous. Even the wild turkeys are pretty amazing to see.
I mean the possums.
We have got the biggest, ugliest possums in the whole wide world. Honest to pete, I’ve never seen an uglier critter in my life, and they are bold. They come right up on the back deck as soon as the sun even thinks about setting and start snooping around for any errant bits of cat food that our outdoor cats might have neglected to consume during the day.
They look like rats on mega steroids. Hunchbacked, with big old mouths and wicked sharp teeth. And their tails. Oh my goodness, you think a rat’s tail is nasty looking. If one of these possums hit you with its tail it’d knock you into next week. And the tails are that icky pink color that’s just, you know, gross.
So every night it’s a battle, me against the possums. As far as I can tell, there are two who live somewhere close, a big one (I call him Big Daddy) and a little one (the Runt). They come up on the deck and snoop around and I go chase them off. Time and again. My husband shoot them, but he doesn’t want to put a hole in the deck and once they’re off it, they’re gone into the shrubs and hidden.
Finally I borrowed a trap from a friend and baited it. The first night we caught one of our outdoor cats, which I expected. We let him out and didn’t see him again for a week (he’s pretty skittish, so I figured it would only take once to make a true believer out of him).
The next night, though … bingo! We got Big Daddy. I planned on letting him cool his heels in the cage all day, and hubby could take care of him when he got home from work. A little target practice.
Throughout the day I’d go out on the deck for one reason or another and there would be Big Daddy, pacing and hissing at me from that cage. Nasty critter. After a couple of times I moved the cage farther down the deck so I didn’t have to look at him. He was so ugly.
In the middle of the afternoon I noticed Big Daddy was hunched down in the cage, not pacing. It occurred to me that he was probably hot, out in the sun. They’re nocturnal, after all. It was kind of cruel putting him out in the light like that. I moved the cage into a dark, shady spot. As I moved it, I noticed Big Daddy’s head. The hair was missing on one spot, and he had a big scar. He must be a fighter, I thought. A tough guy.
A little later I went back out and walked over to the cage. Big Daddy didn’t hiss at me. He just looked at me. Ugly or not, there’s something heart wrenching about a caged animal looking up at you.
He looked so sad. I wondered if he knew his fate. Poor ugly little guy. After all, he was just being what he was created to be, right? Ugly and annoying. But God created him. And there he was, caged up on my deck waiting for the firing squad. I wondered then, if it were a cuter little animal, say a raccoon or a fox, would I be so ready to see it dead? Is one animal’s life worth more because it’s cuter than another animal?
Is one creature – any creature – more valuable than another just because it’s prettier? Or smarter? Or more talented? Or “normal” by man’s definition of the word?
I texted my husband. I told him we got Big Daddy. He texted back that he wouldn’t be home till late. Well, I said, maybe I should just take Big Daddy far away and let him go. You know, since it would be dark and hard to shoot and all by the time he got home.
My husband laughed. Well, smiley-faced laughed. He knows me so well. He knows I have no heart for killing animals, no matter how ugly and annoying they are. Truth be told, he doesn’t either. He could shoot something that was menacing us, but he’s just not someone who enjoys it. And I love that about him.
So with a little help from my daughter-in-law, I packed up Big Daddy, took him off far, far away, and let him go. I’m hoping to catch the Runt and do the same with him. We have some raccoons I’d like to get rid of as well but I found out they’re a little too wily for the trap. For now, I’ll settle for being possum free.
What’s the point of this post? There isn’t one, really. It’s just a story about an ugly possum and how he helped me remember who I was.