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Archive for Sunday, June 8, 2003

Road kill: Possums and skunks and ‘coons, Oh my!

June 8, 2003

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It has been brought to my attention that, when writing about country critters, I have not given sufficient attention to the smelly and ugly. "What about skunks and possums?" one reader questioned me in the supermarket, "Where are they?" Thanks to my daily walks, I could tell her. "Flattened on the road, that's where!"

As my husband Ray and I walk our county road, we have become adept at avoiding road kill. At least he has. "Watch out!" he'll yell as I am on course for a flat furry spot on the blacktop. It is amazing to me that possums, fat as they look in life, can be squashed so thin.

Possums are marsupials and, like kangaroos, carry their young in a pouch.

Such was the case of the possum that was hit by a car in front of my grandmother's home. Grams, who had an abiding love and sympathy for all creatures, took the mother possum and her entire brood inside her home to nurse them. The mother possum bit Grams cruelly before expiring, but Grams successfully raised the orphaned babies by giving them milk from an eyedropper every two hours.

My friend Betty, uprooted from her native South and transplanted in Kansas, told me about her first encounter with a possum in her Midwestern home ... well, garage to be exact. Her screams quickly brought a neighbor to the scene. "I just saw a HUGE rat!" Betty cried.

Think about it ... gray body, pointed nose, sharp ears and a hairless tail. Lots of people might think a possum was a rat on steroids. What surprised me was that Betty hadn't EATEN a possum. I freely admit that, despite spending a year of my early life in Georgia, many of my conceptions of the South are derived from reading way too many Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings books while growing up. Seems to me that Rawlings' Southern characters ate a steady diet of possum and sweet potato pie.

Defunct skunks are found in abundance on country roads. I'm fairly certain that no driver would deliberately run over a skunk ... or even come close to one given the option. My friend Martha, a school nurse, learned the dangers of proximity the hard way when a skunk hitched an 11 mile ride on the motor mount of her car's engine. "When I first smelled it, I thought it was road kill," she explained, "but the odor didn't go away."

Apparently traumatized by whizzing into town at highway speeds, the skunk didn't avail himself of the opportunity to escape from his perch when Martha parked at various schools on her rounds, although he rather forcefully expressed his displeasure each time she started her car. "At every school, I'd ask the secretaries if they could detect a skunk odor on me," Martha confided. "They said that they couldn't ... until they got close."

When she deduced the skunk was actually her passenger, she drove to a fire station where a fireman liberated the skunk. And you thought firefighters just put out fires!

Unfortunately, no firefighter was handy when Ray, then 7 years old and newly relocated to the country, saw a cute black-and-white kitty while he was walking home from his rural school. To this day, Ray regrets that he was faster than the kitty. The experience resulted in a hasty burial of his clothes, while Ray was repeatedly doused with tomato juice.

I can visualize that scene and also a similar one involving my friend BeeJay and her cat Dorf. When Dorf caught a skunk (or vice versa), BeeJay used tomato juice on the reluctant cat and got in the shower with him to do it! Greater love hath no woman than one who will shower with her cat ... especially that particular feline whose personality was so nasty I dubbed him Ghengis Kat.

While I have written countless times of the raccoons who raid the birdfeeders on our deck, I never have mentioned the many coons who find their final resting places on country roads. I loathe seeing ringed-tails flapping in the breeze over prostrate bodies. Not Ray, though. "Well," he'll say with apparent satisfaction, "there's one coon that won't be eating our sunflower seeds!"

But his seemingly callous attitude doesn't fool me because I haven't forgotten that he didn't have the heart to shoot a coon when he had him dead to rights. I judge a husband by what he does, not what he says. So coons are safe on our land. But on the road? No guarantees there!




-- Marsha Henry Goff is a freelance writer in Lawrence. Information about purchasing her new book, "Life Is More Fun When You Live It Jest for Grins," is available by calling 843-2577 or e-mailing mhgink@netscape.net.

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