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The Possum on the Porch and other tales

   Even though I live in the suburbs I am always surprised by just how many wild creatures manage to make their lives in the scant bits of habitat that still remain.  Somehow they manage to forge an existence in between the tract housing, the asphalt driveways, and the manicured lawns of modern day suburbia.  
   Some people may consider them a nuisance, but my reaction is entirely different.  I enjoy them immensely, whether it’s their occasional, at least in our eyes, quirky behavior, or whether it’s just watching them be themselves.
   It was just before Christmas when I had my first ever interaction, up close that is, with an opossum.  Opossums, as a rule, aren’t that sociable and I can’t deny that I find them a little scary looking.  With their long snout and skinny tail they have a have something of a primeval appearance to them.  At the very least they look like they would be more at home in Australia than they are in the Northern Neck.  
   But this was an experience that changed my view of possums.  I came home from a Christmas party one evening and found an opossum sitting in the rocking chair on my front porch.  I assumed he would run off as soon as I approached, but he didn’t.  He just wouldn’t move.  This wasn’t normal animal behavior and I wondered if he might have rabies.  I called the police, who along with a remarkably cheerful animal control warden became the core of a late night possum watch.  
   It was an unusual sight – three grown men, debating at length, what this possum, sitting in a rocking chair on my front porch, was up to. The animal control warden doubted it was rabies since opossums have a body temperature which makes it hard for the virus to take hold.  He figured the opossum had been frightened, perhaps by a car, or maybe by a dog and was just scared.  
We all seemed to empathize with him and we agreed that the best thing to do was to let him spend the night in the rocking chair.  He apparently left sometime during the night.
   Then there is the rabbit.  Rabbits, as a rule, like to go out during the day.  They want to be able to easily spot predators and get away from them as quickly as possible.  At night they prefer to be tucked up safe and sound in their hutches.  
   But, not Clyde.  
   Yes, we’ve named this particular suburban critter and he is our local brown rabbit.  Clyde, unlike most rabbits prefers to roam during the night.  I guess he likes to live dangerously.  I have seen him several times around midnight and on occasion, when I have had to leave for work especially early, just before sunrise.  He is the first night owl bunny I have ever met.
   Some of the other animals in the neighborhood aren’t all that unusual.  We have a fox who like most foxes prefers as little human contact as possible. To his human neighbors he is a passing reddish brown blur.  
   However, not all foxes are quite so standoffish.  A friend of mine was a part of the elite detail that guards the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  He recalled that during his tour there was a fox that took up residence in the ground just beyond the tomb.  The fox usually showed up around three in the morning and with rapt attention would sit and watch the men do their slow and solemn back and forth march.  The fox, which the soldiers in their straight ahead gaze could only catch out of the corner of their eyes, became a special nighttime visitor.
   Unfortunately, some of the animals that used to visit my house don’t anymore.  New development, the clear cutting of some nearby forested land, and the resulting loss of habitat have taken their toll.  Many, I think simply weren’t intended to be suburban critters.  The owl that used to drop by from time to time is a good example.  I have always heard that an owl “hoots,” but not mine.  This owl reminded me of the way my grandfather used to cough.  But, for whatever reason, he has moved on and no other owl has come to take his place.  He may have had an annoying hoot, but I still miss him.
   Animals and the suburbs don’t always mix and from time to time, whether it’s a flower bed that was there one night and gone the next morning or a tree that gets gnawed on by a beaver, they can be trying.  But I also get a lot of enjoyment out of them, whether it’s the rabbit that doesn’t know when to go to bed or the slightly demented opossum.  It’s a feeling that as homogenized as life can be in the suburbs that there is still some room for the animals that make their homes alongside ours.
 

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