Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Possum Holler

I love urban wildlife. I don't mean spouse swapping. I mean critters who have adapted to human invasion of wild territory. Some critters adjust better than others, like squirrels and the birds at the bird feeder.
Art Postcard Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

Some of the species are "introduced" although I don't think it was what Miss Manners had in mind. Our friend Karen in Fort Lauderdale took us for a little walk around her neighborhood when we visited a few years back. Part of the tour included show and tell about their current problem with iguanas who roam the neighborhoods. We saw them. They run in gangs and look like thugs in green leather jackets and little iguana-Mohawk topknots. The grouping (what DO you call a collective of iguanas?) we saw near the houses next to the canal looked like they were waiting for a friend outside a tattoo parlor, chain-smoking.

Aside from being startling, and I mean who, like the Spanish Inquisition, expects an iguana at your front door, I was curious about the harm these escapees cause. Apparently, they eat things like your landscaping. The most curious problem happens about this time of year, Karen said, when they sleep in trees in the winter. Being cold-blooded, they don't move much after a cold night and tend to fall out of the tree. OK, an iguana at the gates is one thing but one falling on your head is a bit much.

Most of my encounters with urban wildlife have been with the natives, like raccoons and deer. Deer love roses and so do people who live in California. One of my favorite garden tips came from the Marin I-J. A disgruntled gardener wrote in to the garden columnist, "Can you name a variety of rose deer won't eat?"

"Yes," came the expert reply. "Plastic."

The deer in California are different from the deer in the midwest. California deer are about the size of a good-sized dog. Deer in the midwest are about the size of a small horse. Well, they are when they are crashing through your backyard during a pleasant Sunday afternoon when you're trying to read a trashy novel in the sunshine. But, with the price of landscaping, rose-eating deer cause a lot of consternation. My friend Ronda has deer roaming her neighborhood and wild turkeys too. That's the bird, not the bottle.

Another thing that I wasn't used to when I moved to California is the occasional wild pig alert in the Mt. Diablo area. The pigs are descendants of domestic pigs brought in to keep the cows from eating acorns and losing their calves. A lot of little pigs later and occasionally wild pigs completely destroy people's yards, etc looking for goodies.

Lucky for me, my encounters with wildlife at home have been more benign and less costly to the property. A small rattlesnake was quickly relocated to the designated open space by a neighbor. Just part of the gold in them thar' hills here.

One of my favorite encounters was with the vain red-tailed hawk who hung out near our house for a while. He perched on the windshield wipers of the van across the street and admired his reflection in the glass, turning his head one way, then the other, as if to make sure his sideburns were even. He's moved on at least, hunting for songbirds and other small creatures in easier locations with fewer powerlines and dogs to interrupt the process.

Last night, however, the visitor was something of a more mundane variety.

First, I should tell you that Martha and Miguel next door have the cutest little chihuahuas, Chocolate and, um, Mrs. Chocolate. I've never quite gotten her name. Along with Mr. and Mrs. C also lives Moche who is, to the best of my understanding, a papillon. Moche makes a pretty good guard dog. You make the wrong move, you could lose an ankle. And he barks. In fact all of them bark and howl. When the ambulances screech down the next street over on their way to one of the two hospitals nearby, our very own "Mariachi Chorus" entertains us with their high-pitched song.

Ordinarily, I don't mind their serenades even at odd hours. I realized last night that the reason I don't mind is that ambulances go past here pretty fast and the accompaniment is generally brief. Last night was an exception, a long exception.

When Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus (the hubs and me) settled in for our long winter's nap last night, we had fully expected that the noisemakers and excitement from New Year's Eve was pleasantly over. You know, over, like a couple of days ago. We had just reached an agreement between the dog and cats Tony and Alice about which sections of what real estate on the mattress were allocated to whom and where the easements were when the racket started.

With no high pitched screaming, I was pretty sure the three canines next door did not have a cat as a quarry. After all, these are small dogs who are justifiably afraid of cats. The few outdoor cats in my neighborhood could take three small dogs with one paw tied behind their backs but are entirely too lazy to get into a situation like that.

Amid the chihuahua high notes was a baseline of songless growling. John and I looked at each other and shrugged. We were pretty sure the situation would resolve itself shortly. We were wrong. It went on. And on.

"I'm pretty sure the Mariachi Chorus has cornered an opossum in the fence back there," I gestured out the window where Alice was now enjoying her ringside seat.

"Ungh," John said. Really, he is a big talker, just not after 11 pm or so. The ruckus had been going on for half an hour. I turned a page in my novel, no where near sleepy.

"It's surprising Miguel and Martha can sleep through this." I imagined shoes being thrown out windows. A shoe could hit a dog, I reasoned. We wouldn't want that. John muttered something about rolling over. I endured another 20 minutes with remarkable patience. Alice never left her post, enthralled with the yaps and squeals of the dog and the gutteral rumble of their quarry. These are tame dogs so while they might corner their prey, the next steps were not entirely clear.

"I know where a flashlight is," I said, nudging John gently. "Wouldn't it be terrible if little Pogo got hurt?"

John sputtered a few things that might have been Butte-en-ese or Gaelic or something else my mother would have pretended not to understand and swung his legs over the side.

"I get a back scratch out of this and that's final." I agreed quickly.

He donned his robe suddenly reminding me much of an elderly spinster who had neglected to shave her legs. Or beard for that matter. He left the bedroom, rattled around in some utility storage spot. The backyard light came on and Alice sat up with greater interest. The crunch of leaves and the beam of the flashlight helped us follow his progress. He was my Knight of Wands, bringing light and energy to change the stalemate.

"Daddy's going to save the possum, huh, kitty?" Alice was not sure if that would mean saving it for her or just saving it. One of those would be good news. She intended to watch. Tony hid as the better part of valor. Quincy slept, deaf dog.

The barking and growling continued, but in a few minutes it slowly moved along the fenceline from the back of the yards towards the front. A bit of scuffling followed by a de-escalation in barking. Gates opened and closed. Feet trudged up stairs. The back yard light went off. All was quiet. John slipped back into bed.

"You were right," he muttered. "Possum. In the corner of the yard. Got his tail stuck in a board in the fence. Used a stick. Should be OK now."

He rolled over, no longer interested in the back scratch. I assume he will collect later. He likes a good scratch.

Mrs. Chocolate started up again. We looked at each other and sighed, no longer willing to answer the alarm. I read a little more in my novel and started to snooze, noise and all. I turned out the reading light finally and Mrs. Chocolate gave up the possum alarm, finally realizing she was no match in the dark for a fully grown and annoyed Pogo. We all settled back down into our naps with hope for a better tomorrow.

Best wishes and Happy New Year.


  1. Cousin Dave says we call it a "mess of iguanas" for reasons I can just imagine. Naughty lizard!

  2. Great post! I know so many people who get bent out of shape about the Hierophant and I think there are good and bad sides to this card, as with any card. And if I sound a bit defensive about all this, it's because the Hierophant is my birth year card and I've spent a lot of time trying to get my head around that.

    But if one looks around, there are probably some positive Hierophant characters in our past and present. My martial arts instructor is like a Hierophant in many ways - he's a teacher, I have to take a lot on faith because I don't "get" the moves right away and have to trust I will, and in the class, he is THE BOSS (because people can get hurt, otherwise).

    Anyway, thanks for the great analysis.