Friday, April 11, 2008

The Possum in the Trash and the Snake in the Basement

Husband calls at 9:00 a.m. and informs me there's a possum in the trash can.

Me:  And why didn't you let him out?

Rod: I was afraid Maggie might attack him.

Me:  Why didn't you put Maggie in the car and then cope with said possum?

Rod: We were late for Maggie's appointment with the oncologist.

And so I found myself staring at a possum who had somehow pried open the lid of our trash can and slid down the recepticle to enjoy a nocturnal feast.  I thought that surfing trash cans was largely the domain of raccoons, but the sight before me suggested otherwise.  The possum regarded me with the bilious expression of a drunk recovering from a bender.  Then I noticed his panting, in addition to a protruding stomach. Was he sick?  I gave the trash can, now on its side, a little shake, hoping to encourage Mr. Possum's departure.  Instead, he dug in, resting his head on a discarded sport sock.

Another phone exchange ensued.

Me:  I think he's dying.

Rod:  They're nocturnal.  He probably just wants to sleep.  Leave him alone and eventually he'll wander off into the woods.

Me:  Maybe our trash is killing him.  What if he ate one of the socks?  What if it's entwined around his intestine?

Rod:  Then there's nothing we can do about it, right?

Annoyed by my husband's eminent reasonableness, I ventured outside again to look at Mr. Possum, who was either sleeping or dying--I couldn't tell which.  I gently picked up one end of the trash can and tipped it, sliding the marsupial to the opening.  He showed his teeth.  Testiness I took for a good sign.  We regarded each other warily until he closed his eyes, resting his head once again on the discarded sock.  Defeated, I went back into the house, certain to find a dead possum in a couple of hours.

As Rod predicted, Mr. Possum wandered away, no doubt irritated by these continuous intrusions. I worried about the effect of coffee grounds and crème fraîche on his digestive track until I read that possums (technically the Virginia Opossum or Didelphis Virginiana) are omnivores, frequently feasting on road kill.  They are also impervious to snake venom.  I figured that any creature who can withstand the bite of a rattlesnake will survive our yuppie garbage. 

Speaking of snakes, on Wednesday night I nearly stepped on one that slithered into the lower basement level of our home.  I had just put away my knitting, turned off the BBC evening report, and was making for the stairs when I heard Chloe growl, an uncharacteristic sound for this otherwise docile animal.  I looked down to see a coiled snake at my feet.  I screamed, jumped, and painfully slammed my hip into the handrail, instigating utter canine chaos as the dogs circled the intruder.  Terrified the snake might be poisonous, I grabbed the dogs by their respective collars and dragged them upstairs.  I slammed the door shut, breathing hard.  What to do?  If I left the snake below, it might eventually work its way up the stairs and under the door, finding me in the bedroom.  I imagined waking at 3:00 to the sensation of a reptile undulating against me, not the sort of amorous encounter I want in the middle of the night.

I called Rod, who was in Miami on a business trip.

Me:  There's a snake in the basement.

Rod:  What?

Me:  There's a snake in the basement.

Rod:  Is it poisonous?

Me:  How the hell do I know?

Rod: (thinking for a moment) Either sweep it out of the house or put a bucket over the snake. I'll deal with it when I get home.

Me:  The snake might die by then.  I don't want it in the house,  but I don't want it to die.

Rod:  (exasperated)  Then sweep it out of the house.

As it turned out, the snake was more terrified of me than I was of it.  I grabbed a broom and gingerly poked at the little serpent to see if it attacked or showed fangs.  He coiled defensively into a mound.  Satisfied the snake wasn't poisonous, I gently pushed him into the garage and then outside.  I went upstairs to bed, relieved that I wouldn't have an unexpected companion in the wee hours, at least not of the reptilian variety.

The next day I glanced at the web site for the Chesapeake Bay Program, hoping to identify the interloper.  Recognizing the markings, I realized to my horror that I had indeed swept a baby copperhead out of the house. Further research disclosed that the babies are just as venomous as the adults.  It was my good fortune to have encountered a cowardly copperhead; still, I'd rather not press my luck.

A condo in the heart of urban D.C. is starting to look good.    

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