MARSUPIAL MAN

 

Marsupial Man

 

Comes the charming Evening, and the Possum Parade begins.

Erupting from a thousand crawlspaces & hollow walls,

shortly after sunset, these nocturnal marsupials announce their awakening with numerous mysterious murmurings & scufflings from behind laundry walls or ancient sagging ceilings.

They emerge from their hidden exits (that loose bit of corrugated iron, that gap between the planks) with the sound of sharp claws scratching on the corrugated iron rooves . The tree branches start rustling and swaying, and soon you will see the first hunched, silhouetted form making its way swiftly along the telephone wires.

Indeed, the numerous wires and poles with which we humans have crisscrossed the sky have become the the Superhighways of todays sophisticated urban possum.

And sooner rather than later the first possum of the evening will make its way across my roof and down the peach tree, there clambering down the verandah railings, through the cat-door, along the hall and into the kitchen, hence to sit high on its haunches, moist pink nose whiffling, shining black eyes staring hopefully.

I squat down and offer a piece of sweet potato or banana. One little hand will trustingly grasp my finger, while the other delicately takes the proffered treat.

Clutching their meal then in both hands they munch away and study me with their solemn eyes. Calmly I lean forward and stroke the thick grey fur that is somehow both softer and coarser than that of a mammal.

This nightly ritual is one of the highlights of my day.

 

The are actually three species in the area, but only the two brush-tail species visit my kitchen. The smaller, shyer ringtail possum has never ventured inside the cat door, but then they rarely come down to the ground level to browse, unlike the bigger, bolder brush-tails.

Possums are very territorial. Spring is when a young possums mind turns to thoughts of love, and as a result the nights are alive to the sound of ferocious growls and screams, and bodies crashing desperately through the branches in terror or pursuit.

Over the years I’ve followed a family of possums through a number of generations; Grand-Matriarch “Nick” (for the nick torn our of her ear in a fight) produced a baby punctually each spring before she finally disappeared into the night. One of her offspring whom we named “Red” for his unusually ruddy tinged fur, passed his mutation onto many of his offspring.

You can tell when the females are ready to carry a joey.

The lips of their pouch, easily visible on their abdomen become reddish & more prominent. When the blind, tiny, hairless possum is first born it must crawl by itself to the pouch, though the mother aids its perilous journey by licking a path through the fur.

The weeks pass and the mother develops a distinct waddle and girth as the occupant in her pouch grows.

As the joey grows ever larger and the pouch more cramped, you might see the surrealistic sight of a leg sticking out of her pouch at an absurd angle, while the Mother unconcernedly munches on a tidbit. Finally the mother comes in one evening with a smaller, cuter version of herself clinging desperately to her back. The humans gather round and ooh and aah.

Yes its a big night in the Hellfire Home when a young possum makes their debut.

They are apt to be shy of course and at first won’t take food directly from my hand, waiting instead till the mother takes it, then stealing it back from her. Understandably, the mother herself at this time tends to be more skittish than usual. Adult possums can well defend themselves, but the newly emerged are extremely vulnerable. Their life depends on not losing their mother, and instinctively, they know it.

All of which goes somewhat to paint the background for my recent metamorphosis into “Marsupial Man”

 

 It was Possum Parade time in my kitchen, and a Mother Possum and child were paying a visit. Indeed, they were taking the keenest interest in the contents of the compost bucket, which they’d thoughtfully knocked over to make for easier browsing.

Suddenly the wind blew a door shut with a tremendous crash that shook the house on its stumps. Startled, the mother possum’s instincts for self-preservation kicked in and she bolted for the cat door, scrabbling over the smooth lino.

The baby, in a panic, lost its grip and confused ran smack bang into the compost bucket, where it scrabbled around fruitlessly for a minute or so, before emerging covered in spaghetti.

Realising he’d been deserted, the tiny creature gave several heart-breakingly desperate squeaks, but its mother was no longer in earshot.

“Its all right little one,” I said in a reassuring tone, “your mama will be back soon.”

At the familiar sound of my voice, it scurried over, grabbed by pants leg with one little paw and looked up at me with its liquid, black eyes.

“Yes its ok,” I assured it, “she’s coming back for you. Just wait here.”

Misinterpreting me entirely, the baby possum started climbing my leg, and soon disappeared under the hem of my dressing gown.

“Uh, watch the groin there, “I said, as sharp little claws sought purchase in their ascent.

Eventually the little creature took up residence near my left armpit, and showed no interest in leaving, not even when tempted with food. He’d just grab the little bits of banana i proffered and snuggle back into the warmth of my dressing gown. He seemed perfectly happy; he’d found a much more roomy pouch. (That old one had been getting cramped)

There was no doubt about it, I had been adopted. I had become Marsupial Man.

 

Actually, once I’d got over the shock, I enjoyed my transformation. It was a nice feeling, to have that little creature nestling near my heart and to think that it trusted me enough to take shelter there. It reminded me of when my daughter was just a baby herself and I used to swaddle her in my clothes in the winter to keep her warm.

Yes I was going all paternal (or possibly maternal)there, but alas, all good things come to an end, for eventually the real mother got over her panic and realising she’d lost her passenger

retraced her steps. She eventually made her way back to the kitchen, cautiously peering and sniffing the air as she entered.

It was time for the Mother and Child reunion, but there was a problem. The baby had become extremely attached to its new quarters and resisted all efforts to extract him, clinging desperately to my dressing gown, shirt and flesh.

So I tried taking the dressing gown off and he clambered up my shoulders & hair and took roost on top of my head. Not wishing to risk losing my scalp by trying to pluck him off, I tried lying down on the floor with my head near the mother possum. This worked.

Realising at last that its real mother was near by, the baby clambered down and wiggled joyfully up to her. I was a bit concerned that she might reject the baby because it would now have my scent on it. Indeed, she sniffed it suspiciously a couple of times, gave me a dirty look which translated into English would probably say something like,

“You baby stealing monster! I’m watching you”.

But then she nudged her child to climb on board, and, baby once more clinging tightly to her fur, she waddled off into the night.

*

The Australian possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) is currently ubiquitous throughout the Brisbane area. It has adapted well to the massive changes we have wrought on its environment, indeed so well that perhaps it is lucky that it hasn’t been declared a “Pest”.

Fortunately it is at the present a protected species, you can have a possum removed from your roof, but it must be immediately re-released within 50 metres, so its best to find and block its entrances when you do so.

Alas, a rampantly anti-environment, pro-“development” State government has recently come to power and ominous changes are in the wind.

Already farmers are once again allowed to shoot the magnificent flying foxes that grace our skies (oh theres supposed to be a limit, but who’s going to be out there counting, hmm, when Farmer Joe starts shooting?) and I hear the Department of Public Prosecutions has been instructed not to pursue any pending “illegal-tree clearing” cases. Who knows when once again these Life Hating creeps will decide its ok to “cull” other annoying “problem species”, like the crow, the sacred ibis, the bush turkey and even indeed, the possum.

But we must put these future forebodings aside. For now, and indeed as long as I live, the possum and all the other “problem species” will have a Sanctuary in my Domain.

And the Future belongs to the Feral.

***

***

The Reverend Hellfire is a practising performance poet and an ordained Minister of the Church of Spiritual Humanists AND the Church of the Universe.

All donations accepted.

***

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~ by reverendhellfire on September 16, 2012.

4 Responses to “MARSUPIAL MAN”

  1. A delightful story. We have possums here in Canberra, and they scamper about every night, and use the wires as highways. But as far as I know, none has ever used my cat doors (one downstairs and one upstairs) though rogue cats have come in, and been bested by pur cats defending their territory. I don’t feed or pet the possums. Can’t handle them and cats, too!

    • Yes the cats scowl but they know the house rules (rats & mice only are considered legitimate prey-no birds possums or lizards. Snakes are a contentious point).
      Much as I enjoy the possums company I don’t intend for them to become too tame. A wild animal needs to keep its sense of wariness, particularly where humans are concerned.

  2. Thanks for sharing such an informative story as we don’t have possums here, they look so cute:)

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