Two weeks ago, we received a call from an acquaintance on the east side of Findlay, Ohio. He’d found a female opossum at the side of the road near his home and she was still nursing a litter of babies. When we arrived, he led us to his old horse barn where he’d stashed mother and babies. The mother appeared to have been rolled by a car; she bore a series of scrapes and small lacerations and was favoring her right front leg. The little ones had their eyes open and were covered in a fuzz of short hair. We bundled her into a carrier and brought her home, called Nature’s Nursery Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation Education to let them know we’d picked up the family and set them up in a hutch just off our north deck.
Over the ensuing two weeks, we fed her a combination of dried cat food, soft cat food, apples, peaches, corn and duck eggs. Lots and lots of duck eggs. Once she began restlessly moving around the hutch, we decided it was time to cut her loose. Last night, we opened the hutch door and walked away, went about the business of entertaining ourselves on a Friday evening. Before calling it a night, we checked to see if they had indeed left, or if the amenities of the hutch were too much to take for granted. I was more than a little suprised to find the mother opossum gone, but her little ones still huddled in a corner of the hutch on the blanket we’d provided as bedding. We caught a glimpse of the adult as she moved away and into the tall grass in the bottomland below our house.
I was shocked. While the young opossums had grown considerably during their time here, they were still nowhere near ready to go it on their own. We waited by the door and watched to see if she’d return. She didn’t. Finally, too tired to maintain a vigil any longer, we shut the hutch door, locking the nine babies inside, and went to bed, disappointed and confused and more than a little heartsick.
This morning, a quick glance out the door showed the babies scrambling over the wire mesh of the hutch door. On the deck just outside the hutch and trying to figure out how to open the door was the mother. She barely reacted when I stepped onto the deck and still didn’t as I walked to the hutch, reached over her and pulled the pin that keeps the hutch door closed. The little ones scrambled out and found perches on their mother, who, after all of her little ones had climbed aboard, turned and, lumbering under their weight, climbed down off the deck and away.
I can only guess at what drove her off to begin with; there’s no shortage of nocturnal predators here. But I can say with certainty what brought her back. Call it instinct, if it suits you. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
From The Quarry Farm to all mothers, thank you for your love, sacrifice and determination. Happy Mothers Day.