The most enigmatic creature at Camp Salmen has got to be the Opossum (Didelphis virginiana) Are they ferocious predators that hold dogs at bay and terrorize chickens at night? (They’ve been accused of reaching in and viciously yanking birds through their cages.) Or are they just the chumps of the Animal Kingdom, eating scraps from trashcans? They lumber along like they’re dumber than a box of dirt, but they may actually hide great wisdom, like Yoda of the forest (Louisiana Indians once deified them and worshiped ‘possum figures in their temples). ‘Possums can be cute; with fuzzy, round, little ears, soft white fur, pink feet and pointy little pink noses, but they can also be repulsive, smelly, disheveled and drooling; threatening anyone who comes near with bare teeth and vile hissing. For an animal, they certainly have personality plus.
They are an omnivore’s omnivore – eating anything they can get their little paws on, from garbage, carrion and crunchy, writhing centipedes to delicate berries on the vine and sweet persimmons from the tree. Another distinction is they are North America’s only marsupial, nursing their tiny babies in a pouch just like a Kangaroo or Koala. As the babies grow up it is charming to see them clinging on Mama’s back for a ride.
Their chief claim to fame is “Playing ‘Possum.” When they get really scared they “escape” by conking out and appearing to be dead. It’s a good trick that has kept them from becoming dinner many times. Their bodies do weird psychological and physiological things. They assume something like a catatonic state for one to four hours that they can’t voluntarily snap out of. They lie down, curl up and with eyes half shut and their mouth open, their lips curl back and they start to drool. Their bodies stiffen like rigor mortis has set in. You could kick one around or carry it like a football and he won’t “break character” because he can’t help it. To top it off, the normally fastidious groomer excretes all over himself, matting his hair and stinking up the place. He looks a mess and I wouldn’t blame anyone, man nor animal, for not wanting anything to do with him in this condition. Still, all in all, I’ll always contend that most possums are better than some people.