Sunday, December 01, 2013

`Where the Seeing is So Much Better'

Alive, after dark and treed, an opossum looks like a cheaply made stuffed animal sewn together from mismatched parts.  The eyes are red sequins, the body what’s left of a leg-warmer, the tail a lopped-off computer cable. Dead, it’s moist and heavy, the fur mussed and flecked with blood, the teeth white and geometrically regular, a sad thing. Until Friday night we’d only seen them alive. Their unreachable nearness goads the dog into fury. He barks and slathers and runs the fence line obsessively. Somehow he caught one and dropped it on the grass in the backyard, a trophy. Death, I think, was from a snapped neck. Luke probably shook it lifeless. I lifted the sodden body off the ground with a shovel and dropped it in a trash bag. I wanted to be certain he was dead and not “playing possum” like an Eastern hogback, the snake that rolls supine, lies motionless and emits a noisome musk. He looked dead by any standard I know, and I dropped the bag in the trash bin, where it remained unopened the next morning. 

Both animals, marsupial and canine, acted according to their natures. No blame can be assigned except, perhaps, to us, but only in a highly attenuated, meaningless fashion. Man, we might say, was the vector, the carrier in the collision of two species. With our dense housing, trees and plentiful food, we set up the conditions for the death of the opossum. Their world intersects ours only on the margins, sometimes fatally. Verlyn Klinkenborg (More Scenes from the Rural Life, 2013) describes a nocturnal visit from an opossum, attracted by the cat-food dish: 

“Now it stands in the light for another moment looking hopelessly disorganized, as opossums do, and then it wanders off into the darkness, where the seeing is so much better.”

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