Opossum drawing by Gustav Mutzel (1839-1893).
Behind our house a small ledgey hill adjoins a mysterious woods between my street’s backyards and the main street of my town. One winter night I returned late from working and sat down with my snack by the back window. A small pointy-snouted animal emerged down the hill at the back of the yard. I started and leaned into the window. It sort of waddled along a thin snow cover, its snout leading the way. Later I said that if I could have added a sound track, I imagined it saying, “Neema neema neem neem neem neem…..” Blindly following its nose to a place it had clearly checked out before. After that I could identify the tracks its feet and long, rope-like tail left.
But then spring came, and possums showed up dead on roads. How could they know what a car means? In fact, a year or so after my winter possum encounter, I hit and killed one while driving my daughter and her friend home from school musical rehearsal around 1 a.m. Sorry, sorry, sorry, I wanted to say. Instead, I gripped my daughter’s hand, and she gripped back. We both felt awful.