One of my favorite things about living in Texas County is the abundance of wild animals.

I can never get too much of driving around a corner on a dirt road and seeing a deer or a turkey and I’m always on the lookout in hopes of being lucky enough to see a bald eagle take flight from the limb of a tree or the top of a rickety old barn.

I even get a kick out of seeing a buzzard up close or a skunk waddling into the brush.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

Critters are cool – large or small – and I’m glad there’s a bunch of them in and around the jillikins.

One of the most common entries in the local ground patrol is, of course, the possum. And before anyone starts up with that “it’s really opossum” stuff, I’d like to point out that the word “possum” is in the dictionary. I checked the 1986 Webster’s Second Collegiate Edition in our office and it’s definitely in there.

But mammalian grammar notwithstanding, possums are anything but on the endangered list in the Ozarks. Most folks around here have at least a time or two seen the glow of these furry, overgrown rats’ eyes in their car’s headlights. Many people have no doubt also had to shoo one out of an outbuilding or coax one out of a dog house.
At my family’s remote outpost, a couple of possums recently decided to take advantage of the availability of hard cat food at the feeding station in one of our four outbuildings. We think they’ve been coming and going fairly frequently based on how fast the crunchies have been disappearing from the bowl.

We hope they don’t start feeling too at home, but it may already be too late. One night I even saw our young white female named Lulu lying on a big pillow on a shelf in the cat area while the smaller of the property’s possum pair was only a few feet away making a futile attempt to hide from me behind a box.
Despite her slight build, cute face and even cuter “mew,” Lulu is a deadly hunter and a small bird or rodent’s worst nightmare. But she apparently either likes possums or has opted for a truce with them that likely stems from their similar size (and perhaps also their big, sharp teeth).

I’m not so sure there wasn’t even a bit of friendship going on there.

Anyway, all the possum presence has helped lead to my first-ever first-hand experience with a possum playing possum. And what an impressive thing it is to behold.
One warm autumn night in late October, our two dogs were barking their heads off at something in an area of cut grass not far from the west fence line. When I went to find out what the subject of the commotion was, it turned out to be a possum.

I got the dogs to shut up, told them what a good job they had done and then got them to go away so I could focus on what to do next.

The possum was just lying on the ground and I thought it was dead. It sure looked dead; its eyes were closed hard, its mouth was slightly open and curled back in a kind of a dead-looking way and its tongue was even hanging out to one side.

The animal appeared completely motionless; I tried to see a signs of breathing, but couldn’t. I poked at it with a long stick and got no response.

I almost expected to see plus signs in place of its eyes, like in a cartoon.

Since the dogs haven’t signed a truce with possums and to my knowledge have no interest in even beginning negotiations, I figured they had teamed up on the poor thing and eliminated its ability to live. I remember saying something to my wife along the lines of “I’ll go get a shovel and move it somewhere.”

Originally being from South Carolina, my wife has a good deal of possum experience and said something like “I don’t think that thing’s dead.”

“Sure it is,” said the big manly man who knows a dead animal when he sees it. “Just look at it.”

“I don’t think so,” the woman said, all but sure her goofball spouse was wrong. “Why don’t you leave it there for a while and see what happens.”

I agreed and walked away, even though I still thought I was going to be dealing with a former possum a short time later. But when I came back after a half hour or so – shovel in hand – to my surprise, the possum was gone.

Being sure no vulture had made quick work of it and no coyote had carried it off, I quickly realized I had been duped by a performance worthy of an Oscar.
Like many before me, I fell for the act. I took the bait hook, line and sinker. The possum was selling and I bought.

It was awesome. I was so amazed I just laughed out loud.

If I had been smarter, I would have photographed the animal in its fictitious demise. It was so convincing – complete with the open mouth and hanging tongue routine.

I can see why possums are known to often escape the jaws of death with this incredible, God-given talent. While they may be a familiar menu item to regular patrons of the Road Kill Café, they have definitely devised an effective means of being a main course even more often.

No self-respecting predator that wants to avoid crossing the line into scavenger territory would dare touch that stuff.

My wife was right.

So was that possum.

Doug Davison is a writer, copy editor and advertising representative for the Houston Herald. E-mail: ddavison@houstonherald.com.

Advertisements