Opossum Etiquette

What’s the proper protocol once you’ve trapped an opossum?

Is there a rural edict regarding relocation? If you release one, are you passing the nuisance to someone else? Is it liken to dumping your lawn clippings over a neighbor’s fence?

Earlier this week, we found ourselves in the company of another Oh Possum.

Periodically, we have trouble with nocturnal critters, who treat the barn cat food like a buffet bar.

“You stop feeding those cats, you wouldn’t have these problems,” an animal control guy once said, when a raccoon was loitering around the house.

It’s true, cat food temps the wildlife. But solving one problem would create another: without cats, there’d be a rodent revolution. They keep the mice to a minimum.

Back to the opossum conundrum. The last time we pulled a critter from the buffet line, we deported him.

To Virginia.

Remember this guy?

But Monday, we didn’t have time for a road trip. So I texted our local marsupial wrangler, Liz, for advice.

Last fall she caught one in her barn.

And picked it up.

By the tail.

Liz’s little friend

But as I learned, she set him down nearby since her barn is sealed tight at night.

Our structure, on the other hand, has nooks, crannies and crawl spaces. Critters can hide in the daytime, and emerge to party like rockstars at night.

Last Sunday, one particular rockstar refused to leave the feed room area. (He parked in plain sight, and played possum.)

So out came the trap, and we discovered him, contained the next morning. Then Martin and I pondered how far was far enough, to prevent his return.

Google wasn’t very helpful. I did stumble on a forum discussion entitled, “Dispatching with a captured opossum humanely.” Some person caught one, using a Havahart trap, then debated whether to shoot it with a .45 pistol, a .22 rifle, or a .17 bolt-action rimfire rifle. Which to use? And will the shot ricochet off the cage?

The answer was never revealed but suffice to say, that critter is in marsupial heaven.

Our opossum was transported to the river’s edge and set free. Apparently, he did not enjoy his Gator ride — imprisoned, and jouncing along at 20 mph, with 3 gleeful, raucous children.

When Martin released Oh Possum, he couldn’t flee the scene fast enough. That crazy ride might’ve put him off domestic living for good.

Wacky weather

“False spring.” That’s what botanists call mild weather in late-winter, when it lasts long enough to trick dormant vegetation into waking up.

We had that in February. Long stretches in the 70s, prompting trees to green and flowers to bloom. It got so warm, we broke out summer clothes. The kids wore shorts to school and came home telling stories of friends stung by bees during recess.

In February.

While swapping shorts for ski jackets is kinda fun, it’s weird. Horses get sick when temperatures bounce around, and blooming plants freeze when reality returns. That’s the thing: it’s bound to come crashing down. And it did, Saturday.

Saturday started like an ordinary February weekend: after fox hunting in the heat and humidity, I peeled off my sweaty gear, and changed into a T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops. Then I dragged our Christmas tree into the gator.

This year, I swore to take the tree down before Valentine’s Day — like a normal person. Before we were ankle deep in pine needles.

Last year, between Groundhog Day & Ash Wednesday

So a few weeks ago —  around February 12th — we plucked off the ornaments, and rolled our Christmas tree off the porch… into the front yard… with the stand still attached.

Classy.

But Saturday, I vowed to remove the eye sore. I loaded it into the gator and drove to a wooded area where Chet lets us dump twigs and branches.

I’m not sure that a 10-foot evergreen constitutes yard waste, but I hurled it javelin style, lodging it deep in the weeds. Well beyond the rotting remnants of Christmases past.

It was 72 degrees — sticky, hot — but a storm was bearing down, and I pondered covering Jazz. He’d sweat for sure, but stay dry.

Out of the woods, I cut the gator engine and snapped a picture of the coming storm (see above). And checked the temperature once more. Still 72.

But in a single minute — across a few hundred yards of hayfield — the temperature plummeted. It wasn’t cooler, it was cold. Chattering, I tossed a mid-weight blanket on Jazz and sprinted for the house. My phone recalculated the temperature, replacing 52 for 72.

I didn’t think much about the storm, or the massive boom of thunder, until my neighbor Liz sent a text message. Tree fire in the woods. Fire department on the way.

I ran to the window and spotted a smoky tendril rising from the woods.

Right where I dumped the Christmas tree.

It was coincidental, right?

When I left the tree, it wasn’t on fire.

I didn’t think it was. But what if the gator discharged a spark as I drove away? What if something flammable was attached to the branches? What if the tree spontaneously combusted? What if I started a forest fire with my combustable Christmas tree? 

How do I explain that to the neighbors?

Martin and the kids gatored off to check things out. A tree was definitely aflame, but not my tree. Lightning struck one nearby and the hollow trunk gave the fire a good draw. Fire fighters arrived and told everyone to move back (poison ivy was burning too) and they extinguished the flames.

And that was that. The storm passed and things cooled down.

But then temperatures bobbed right back up again. Until another storm ripped through yesterday.

This one was more bark than bite. Still, it left a mark.

Another goner, not far from last weekend’s charred victim.

What does all this mean?

Nothing really. Other than the fact that the weather’s been wacky… and that I’ve got a guilty conscience.

Then again, both trees kicked the bucket near Liz — so maybe she’s to blame. Maybe she’s got bad karma. Not me.

Or maybe hollow, rotten trees come down in storms.

Something to ponder… and mention to Liz, the next time that I raid her barn stash of horse treats and booze.

Cat People

I’ve always considered myself a horse and dog person.

Not a cat person. Or a kid person, either.

Yet we have 3 kids and 5 cats.

Better than 5 kids and 3 cats, I guess.

Still, Maisie ranks above the cat population. So do the horses. (Please, don’t ask me to rank the kids.)

I could have lived a cat-free existence, were it not for the farm. With a barn and grain and sloppy horses, they are a necessity.

But I didn’t feel much affection or affinity for them until Mel and Frog came around. They changed my views.

Many years ago, after Old Kitty — an ancient, skeletal feline conveyance — finally keeled over, Martin and I realized that our supply was running low. With only Drippy, a lazy, drooling cat, we contacted a crazy cat lady and agreed to take two kittens.

We selected Tippy, a tiger-tabby with a tail dipped generously in White-Out. For color contrast, we chose his scrawny littermate named “Cool,” a Creamsicle orange-and-vanilla kitten with runny eyes.

Frog was an afterthought — a spare heir — scooped up last minute.

It was fall 2004. I’ll never forget, because my father had just been diagnosed with dementia. And I was emotionally wrung out…. hence my willingness to deposit a third kitten into our cardboard box.

Frog, Tippy and Mel (formerly “Cool”), two years later

Fast forward a few years. Tippy, unfortunately, disappeared around 2007; I believe he fell victim to local wildlife. (All three cats display a visceral aversion to cars, but roam to hunt.)

For more than a decade, Frog lived a relatively normal existence, even as our cat colony grew. She proved a top mouser and all was harmonious until a young upstart — Toulouse — rose in the ranks, and toppled the monarchy.

Mel (formerly Cool) gave Toulouse little thought. But the black panther intimidated Frog and last year, she was driven into exile. Her condition declined and she might’ve perished had she not snuck back into the kingdom.

The solution? Frog lives underground, in 5-foot-deep hole in the paddock: all that remains of the old outhouse. It sounds undignified but the dwelling suits her. It’s heavily-fortified by horse fencing, wire mesh and hot-wire. Coyote proof. And the broken wood cover allows her entry and protection from the weather. She is quite content and is the only feline who dispatches with mice on command.

As for Mel? Most of the time, he lives up to his “mellow” moniker, but he also reminds me of our old dog, Corrie.

While Maisie is the typical hardwired, workaholic Border Collie, she isn’t as nutty about walks as her predecessor. When Martin and I bought our first house — an old Victorian in Rockville with floor-to-ceiling windows — Corrie would stare us down after work. We’d collapse on the couch to veg out and Corrie would gaze fixedly through the wavy glass, her eyes boring into us, saying, “Hey! You’re not going to sit there, are you? After being gone all day? Hey! Get up, get up, get up, get up, get up, get up, get up, get up, get up….

It was impossible to ignore.

Mel has inherited Corrie’s commitment to the daily perambulation. He’s always enjoyed walking and will abandon food for a stroll, but as he’s matured, he has become more insistent about the daily routine. There are evenings when Maisie is snoozing in bed, while Mel sits at attention by the mudroom door…. staring. Waiting to walk.

In a calendar year, I’d wager that he misses 15 walks, tops. He more consistent than the postal service.

On these winter evenings, as we walk up the drive bathed in moonlight, or stumble along in the dark, Maisie jogs ahead, bouncing and barking. Meanwhile, Mel trots reliably behind us, pausing to purr and hurl himself into the grass for a roll. We are so accustomed to him, it’s odd when he’s missing.

Maisie is now 11 years old and Mel and Frog are 13. I hate to say that they are slowing down, but the signs are there. Nowadays, as we head home in the dark, I pause to call Mel to catch up. He’s not a cellar-dweller like his sister, the spare heir. And I don’t want him to become coyote bait.

I wait for him to catch up.

I guess that makes me a cat person.

With Drippy, Mel and Corrie, 2005

 

A cat and kid person.

Hadley and Drippy, 2009