The life of an opossum in the city is fraught with threat and dread from the start. Lacking the aggressive tenacity of its nocturnal neighbours and competitors the raccoons, the shy and timid possum defers to everybody and backs down from everything. To scavenge tentatively at a garbage can in the dead of night, when the roaring avenue has at last fallen silent, remains its highest goal.
Two evenings back, after the latest in an endless series of storms, I heard a frantic high-pitched squealing noise out front, emanating from deep within the moonless leafy obscurity. The most adventurous of the resident cats, a large bold Siamese, was out wandering the overgrown ivy; from these agitated sounds I expected he had unwisely got himself caught up in a bit of aggravation with the local squadron of unapologetic raccoons. Hobbling down the wet slippery path with intent to intervene, I found the cat in an uneasy standoff with not a raccoon but a possum. Standing half-erect on stubby hind legs, with mangy charcoal coat, black ears, pale grasping digits, white muzzle, pink pointy snout, small bright glittering eyes peering anxiously into the weak flashlight beam: in that stretched moment of mutual speculative inter-species wonderment the possum shifted its defensive attention from the cat to me. The cat rocketed off into the darkness. The possum briefly gaped, reviewing an extremely limited set of options. And then flopped over on the sopping path, as if shot. Playing possum. Whatever gets a scared survivor through the night.
Young opossum (Didelphis virginiana): photo by Amy, 2006
Opossum (Didelphis virginiana) playing dead: photo by Johnruble, 2006