Natural History Notes

Thursday, January 26, 2006

evicting possums

There have been opossums in the basement for months. Note - this does NOT mean there are possums in the house. Our basement is a separate space entered from outside; it is the head-high section on one side of the of the pier-and-beam crawlspace, where the hill is descending out from under the house. This is not a finished and heated space, but it is enclosed by a solid wall, contiguous with the foundation wall all around the house. Cats and dogs and possums and coons are not supposed to be able to get in.

But for many months there has been a broken basement window, and a decayed place in the garage door. Several litters of feral kittens have emerged from under our house. And since last summer there have been possums. I knew there were two because we saw them both at a trash sack one night (just BEFORE I got the holes repaired).

At Thanksgiving I got the window replaced and the door fixed. Now the only problem was to get the door sealed when the possums were OUT. I would much rather have possums, no matter how destructive, living under the house, than rotting under the house. Especially BIG possums. The last day of Crispin, Turid, and Lille Tom's visit, the little guy was standing at the top of the steps tapping the gallery window and saying quietly, "pasta . . . pasta?" I thought it had something to do with Turid, who was cooking noodles for supper. But he kept standing there and repeating, "pasta . . . pasta . . . ," so I went over and looked out the window. And there on the terrace was the most ENORMOUS opossum I ever saw! It was nosing at the formerly-broken window, as if to say, "What's this glass stuff, where's my doorway?" Then it moved off in a leisurely manner, down the steps and around and in the garage door.

I did not want that 30 pounds (at least) of possum to be dead under the house, so for a while I left the door open. Then toward the end of December, I stepped out on the deck in mid-morning, and heard a rustling, and saw the monstrous thing strolling toward me across the lawn in broad daylight. Ignoring me, it went under the new part of the deck, nosing around by the faucet. I thought that at least I knew it was outside, and I nipped down and fastened the garage door, hoping that both were out.

Unfortunately I soon realized that I still heard the other one down there. I kept the door closed, trying to figure out how to install some form of one-way exit mechanism. Then one night I heard it clearly at the repaired window, trying to get out. Knowing that it was that close to the door, rather than way back under the house, I went down and opened the door, then backed off and waited. and waited. and waited. After a long time I heard rustling in the pile of dry leaves I had kicked up at the door, though nothing moved out into the driveway where the light fell. Eventually more stealthy rustling disclosed that Ol' Possum was making its way right along the basement wall beside me. I shone the flashlight at it and it scuttled on off up into the backyard and under the deck. I locked the door and gleefully announced that the possums were gone. Until -

Over a week later Shanna had to go to the basement to reset a circuit breaker, and told me she saw another possum. I was reluctant to believe, but then I did hear it occasionally. I tried the open-the-door-and-wait technique again, with no luck, even though I tried to attract it with a hose trickling invitingly into a bowl of water. No possum. To keep it from dying under there, I put the bowl of water, and a little food, just inside the door. They disappeared. I continued this feed-it-enough-to-keep-it-alive plan for a couple of weeks. At least I figured if I could get a trap from the city, it was probably ready to go in it for food. And by having possum and trap both in the basement, I wouldn't get a cat.

But then last night I heard it below the kitchen, sounding like maybe it was in the recycling cart half full of tin cans. So I went down to check, and sure enough, comfortably curled on top of the cans was a smallish white possum. It seemed not to care that I was there. Cautiously I got hold of the cart handle and maneuvered it out the door. About halfway through, it got disturbed and got up to try to come over the side and back into the basement. I yelled and batted at it with the long flashlight, and succeeded in getting it over the other side and off down the side wall the way the other one had gone. It didn't seem particularly debilitated by the thin rations of the last few weeks, though maybe its sluggishness was a symptom. It certainly didn't seem to be skin and bones. Anyway, I hastily secured the door. Maybe now they're all gone.

I took no photographs of the recent basement inhabitants. I could easily have gotten a portrait of the huge "pasta," only I didn't think of it. Last spring a young one was in the habit of coming and going from the roof by way of the big oak at the back deck -- its portrait is at the beginning of this entry. Multiply dimensions by two and mass by eight to get that monster.

note - can't find the pictures - too many files on too many disks - coming soon, I hope

Sunday, January 22, 2006


The rain barrel is full again! everything's dripping! (probably the kitchen ceiling of one of my rent apartments is dripping too, where it's not fixed yet.) The wilted cherry laurels and ligustrums and grass already look better. I can only hope for the oak trees. Of course this is only one tiny blip in this desert-dry autumn and winter, but maybe it won't be isolated. Hurray! It's raining!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

this is January??

There's no substance to this post. I'm just sitting here on a fine, sunny, calm, 81° afternoon. On January 7th. And no rain yet, nor expected. The sprinkler is going on the herb bed -- the rosemary is distressed-looking, and the thyme may be dead. Also the lantana, and the columbine, and the huge cedar trees across the street. I'm going to go visit the neighbors and suggest maybe they should run a hose slowly for a day on the cedars -- might not be too late. This is crazy.