Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Opossums: everyday pest, or fiends of the underworld?

I keep wanting to return to actual etymology, rather than the etymology of my life--if I may be so bold as to stretch the meaning of the word "etymology". Yes, the title of this blog has a double meaning. Forgive my sporting with your intelligence though, as I'm sure you already knew that. The more I read other blogs the more that I feel compelled to write about my life--not simply from peer pressure (though that is probably a factor), but from the joy and release of doing so. I'm also wondering about how to combine the two--the etymological and the personal.

One of my friends' blog posts that I read yesterday was about opossums, and I am wondering if he would mind terribly if I stole, or borrowed, the topic for today. I wonder if he would mind, but I'm not going to ask. Neither am I going to copy anything that he said. It's just that since yesterday I can't stop thinking about my own memories of opossums.

Speaking of etymology though, as far as I could find out this word is of Algonquian origin and entered our lexicon in the early 16oos, and means "white animal". "White Animal"? That's it? I thought for sure it would mean rodent of unusual size, or scary minion of satan. This should tell you something of my childhood memories of Opossums. I grew up in California, sort of out in the country--at least there was a fair amount of agrarian things going on near by. Anyway, when I was little there must have been more of these things than when I got older. It seemed that early in the morning and late at night they were every where. Mind you, when I was this young I wasn't out roaming the streets late at night or early in the morning, so most of my first encounters were looking through the windshield of the car. But I clearly remember beholding these hideous creatures that looked like gigantic rats with their beady, black eyes--eyes that would flash strange colors in the head-lights. They had these terrible long snouts with large fangs that they barred as they stared down the car--as they seemed to be saying, "Hit me, and I shall become more horrible than you can imagine!"--which is true if you have seen opossum road-kill.

It's really so anti-climactic now as I look at images of opossums on the Internet. Where are the demons of my youth? I swear the ones online are almost cute. I thought for sure that I was looking at the wrong breed or something. Has my childhood memory really played that much of a trick on me?

One of our cats, when I was in my teens, was particularly good at catching rats, mice, gophers, and even birds. His name was Rafael, after the ninja-turtle, and I didn't want to think about what the local rodent population would have been without him because he seemed to bring in one or two a day. I even saw him one day toying with a magpie that was half his size (and roughed up enough that it couldn't fly away). Later that day I saw just the head and a few feathers. He always left the heads of his prey, and one of the organs that I couldn't identify. I can't tell you how many times I have stepped on rodent heads. I was careful to always wear shoes outside.

Well, there was this period of time when Rafael kept begging for more cat food, which was impressive considering the amount of vermin he was eating. He wasn't getting fat either so we started to wonder whether or not he had a parasite. We had heard about rodents eating cat food before but considering his reputation with them we were sure that if that was happening it must have been at the times when Rafael was roaming the neighborhood--which he was wont to do in the evenings. He was such a cat, if I didn't know better I would have thought that we hadn't neutered him. Anyway, one night when we suspected that he was out, we heard the crunching of cat food. I slowly opened the door and there was an opossum, possibly larger than Rafael, eating his food with impunity. And there was the brave Rafael, the great rodent killer of the neighborhood, the vanquisher of voles, cowering in the corner with the most terrified look I have ever seen on his face. I made a move toward the opossum to scare it a way, and normally opossums hiss in the most horrible way when you confront them, but this was an obese opossum. It simply turned and waddled away.

I can imagine though, from Rafael's point of view, what that must have been like. He ate rats for breakfast, and now here is--as far as he's concerned--a rat, larger than himself, eating his dry cat food. Imagine walking into your kitchen and seeing a 200 pound chicken eating Captain Crunch. You might cower in a corner as well.

Okay, for those of you who have been annoyed this whole time because I have been insinuating that Opossums are rodents, let me take the edge off of your annoyance by saying that I am fully aware that they are marsupials. They just look like large rats to me.

1 comment:

  1. Loved reading this. Good to think of them as nasty brutes and I have now caught many eyes glinting evilly in my headlights. There is something sinister there.