A slight diversion …

We have been amused, recently, by new residents in our barn.  Our encounters first began with a mystery – some small critter was

Paw prints gave me a clue to the identity of our night time visitor
Paw prints gave me a clue to the identity of our night time visitor

leaving its “calling card” on the floor of my tackroom.  It might have been a rat – we had an explosion of them last year (hazards of having a barn) – but somehow that didn’t seem quite right.  Our next clue came when the visitor left a few paw prints one night.  I had some slight suspicions about our visitor – and this seemed to confirm them.  The very next night we had our answer.

We were finishing up chores one evening.  I came back into the barn from the storage area, turning off those lights as I went. Turning back to face the barn I stopped with a start – there at the cat food dish was an “alien” visitor.  A baby opossum, thinking the barn was clear, was cleaning up crumbs left by our barn cats.  Clearly frightened by a two-legged “intruder”, the poor little thing had pressed itself tightly against the corner formed between the corner post and stall wall.  And I was without my camera or smart phone!

Our first encounter with the night marauders
Our first encounter with the night marauders

I dashed back to get my camera, while my mother kept an eye on our little visitor.  By the time I returned, it had moved into the dark storage area, but had been joined by one of its siblings.  I managed to snap a shot, unsure if we would ever see them again.  It turns out that I had nothing to worry about!

The very next night I could not go anywhere without running into one of the little buggers!  Around every corner we startled a little

The "clean-up" crew making sure no cat kibble is wasted
The “clean-up” crew making sure no cat kibble is wasted

baby, out on a night forage.  We found ourselves apologizing each time we startled one and sent it scurrying for cover – all the time smiling at the little “party” in our barn.  For nearly two weeks this story has repeated, much to our enjoyment and the consternation of the little possums who find us a terrible inconvenience.

Most people give me a look that says “You need help!” whenever I exhibit my obvious enjoyment of these little wire-haired “rats” – but I can’t help it!  I have always found possum personalities appealing.  I’ve heard the stories of them as aggressive, nasty creatures – but I have only seen aggression when they are pushed or cornered.

Not yet the "grumpy old man" look I've seen in the adults
Not yet the “grumpy old man” look I’ve seen in the adults

I used to deliver papers in the early morning hours, and I had many encounters with these nocturnal nomads.  I was most frequently greeted with a cross look that always reminded me of the grumpy old man in a sitcom, walking with a cane and mumbling about all those “pesky kids”.  Not once did they approach me … or even hold their ground.  As long as I didn’t advance, they’d toddle on their way, possibly throwing another cross look my way, just to be sure I didn’t follow.  The babies haven’t quite reached that level of grouchy security, but I can see the seeds of it even at this young age.

Moochie and "friend" waiting for chow
Moochie and “friend” waiting for chow

The babies are currently no larger than large rats, yet I’ve been surprised that our rat-killing cats don’t give them a second look.  Maybe it’s the smell – I hear it’s strong, though I have not tested that theory for myself.  Whatever it is, there seems to be compatibility among the ranks, for the moment anyway.

The opossums are the not the first family to grow up in our barn.  In our early years here, someone let a number of domestic rabbits loose and they populated like … well, rabbits!  Some of their tunnels still exist.  Just last year another wild family took advantage of the old rabbit tunnels.

I was going out to the side barn to do the horse’s grain, when some movement caught my eye.  My brain registered that it was not one of the cats, so I turned out of curiosity – and there were a couple of baby skunks!  As I watched, more poured out of the mouth of the tunnel … and more … I believe I counted eight in all – a rather large litter!

Last year's little brood, enjoying the "obstacle course" of scrap lumber
Last year’s little brood, enjoying the “obstacle course” of scrap lumber

It was a pleasure to watch the little bushy-tailed brood sparring and playing like a bunch of kittens!  I will admit that the time they remained was a little more risky than our current invasion, and we were far more cautious about finishing chores before dark!  But the little pole cats seemed unperturbed by us or the barn cats, who escaped any unpleasant odorous consequences in spite of the close quarters.  We did have one spraying incident with a dog – but they’re rarely cautious about such things!

I have had people tell me they would shoot the critters in my place – but they’re doing me no harm, and they all move on when the time is right.  Life is risky enough for the wild things, as humans grab up more and more of the planet.  Why not offer them a little sanctuary when I can?  In return I get moments of amusement – not a bad bargain in my book!

Be good to your horses … and the wildlife!



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