Rural Life

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.

Santa Vulture

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Some kids don’t believe in Santa Claus.

Well, they better get with the program, because Santa Vulture’s coming to town.

We spotted him last Friday morning. I had all three kids with me as we drove Hadley to the orthodontist to have her braces cranked. We arrived around 8:30 and couldn’t ignore the solitary vulture, standing like a watchman in the grass by the office door. He eye-balled us but didn’t move when we approached. From the waiting room, we observed him through the window.

Perhaps he was sunning himself, but he’d parked right beside the holiday display, and he appeared to be watching ortho arrivals, and the flow of kids shuttling into the elementary school across the street.

That’s when I announced, with an authorative tone: “That — is Santa Vulture.”

The kids looked skeptical.

“Well, why else would he be here? He doesn’t need braces.”

“That is Santa Vulture,” the orthodontist confirmed, as he fetched Hadley. “He was wearing his red hat, but it fell off.”

While we waited for Had, I explained the details. “All those Santa-doubters, those non-believers at your school? On Christmas Eve, Santa Vulture poops on their houses.” 

“And the really bad kids? Really, really bad kids?” I paused to let them imagine any offenders. “Well, Santa Vulture pecks their eyes out.”

To be honest, the vulture sounded more plausible than the whole Santa Claus scenario: Flying, wingless, reindeer, lugging an obese man around the world, with a ton of toys?

At least the bird’s designed to fly. And as we observed, Santa Vulture was occupied watching the elementary school kids…. obviously noting the doubters. And we’d seen his buddies perched atop Tractor Supply or feasting on roadkill.

“That’s his posse,” I explained. “They help on the big night. And they celebrate Thanksgiving dinner on December 23rd, in preparation for their ‘deliveries.'”

By the time Hadley emerged from her tooth tightening, the story was set in stone and we were working on new refrains to old holiday hits.

he sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good…or Santa Vulture’s gonna peck your eyes out….

It didn’t rhyme, but that didn’t stop us from singing, “Santa Vulture’s coming to town.”

It’s only a matter of time before I get a call from school — a report that the kids are terrorizing their classmates with Alfred Hitchcock-like stories of birds pecking out their eyes on Christmas Eve.

It’s so nice to share holiday traditions with others in the community…

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Santa Vulture, plotting for Christmas Eve