A young female Virginia Opossum will be joining The Quarry Farm in January as an educational ambassador. She was surrendered to Lake Erie Nature & Science Center after she had spent the first months of her life in illegal captivity. She is not afraid of humans and has no experience of the wild world so will live here, helping us teach people about North America’s only native marsupial.
Years ago, we asked people to help us give a name to a male Virginia Opossum. The winning name was Captain John Smith. The name and the history behind it was so intriguing that we ask you to help us again. Please send possible names and the reason behind the suggestion to email@example.com by January 21.
Neighbor Casey shared this quite serious and effective (if you’re a peahen) show displayed in spring by Mavis and Gert. It was for the benefit of the bluejays that were invading the corn and bird seed feeders and bowls outside Casey’s front door. Nevermind that Mavis and Gert were invading from across the road. We lost Mavis last year when she challenged the fox to a duel. Happily, Casey saved this video.
After Mavis was lost, Gert mourned for a time. Mavis was the blustery dominant hen. She used to stomp down the driveway, across the road and up to “her” feeders. Nearly a year later Gert has taken up the charge and found her stomping feet, although she is much wiser about predators than her sister. She adopted three chickens and protects them from everyone and everything, but she does know that her puffy display has its limits.
If Jimmy Toskr the Eastern Fox Squirrel (EFS) had been born almost 10 years ago with 20 toes, he would have spent his life running up and down trees, doing backflips over blowing leaves, growling and squealing at people and other predators under his tree and collecting tree nuts to stash in tree cavities and underground. He would have danced rapid spirals around tree branches with female squirrels in early spring, and on warm fall and winter days. He would have done the latter for the sheer joy of sunshine and freedom.
Instead, Jimmy Toskr lived his decade bound to the indoors. He was born in or around a Northwest Ohio golf course. According to Oregon State University’s National Pesticide Information Center, golf courses regularly use pesticides to maintain the health and appearance of the turf. Pesticides include herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and rodenticides, plus a few other applications that lead to golfers being advised to minimize their risk of exposure by:
Wearing golf shoes and socks that cover the ankles
Wearing pants or longer socks to cover the lower legs
Consider wearing gloves and/or be sure to wash hands after golfing, before eating or smoking
Consider calling ahead and scheduling tee time several hours later or the following day after a pesticide application has been made
Since wildlife, including Jimmy Toskr’s mother, can’t do any of those things, Jim was born with a stunted tail, no cartilage ‘cup’ around one ear and only eight toes. He was unable to climb to escape predators. He couldn’t grip tree trunks and branches or balance properly with a full, bushy tail. Although EFSs are mostly terrestrial, Jimmy was completely ground bound, and that ground was where he was found. He was accepted by Nature’s Nursery and placed in the care of volunteer Linda Madras Gorey. When it was clear that the young squirrel was nonreleasable, Linda allowed him to be put in the care of The Quarry Farm as an education ambassador. He lived with us until the early hours of Friday, December 2, 2022.
What we learned from Jimmy Toskr: • EFS are not very social, unless the squirrel is Jimmy Toskr and his friend is Steve. Jimmy allowed Steve to stroke his forehead and to coax him back into his cage after a run. • EFS are very intelligent. They know approximately where they have stashed tasty tree nuts, including in the ferret hammock that swings from the ceiling, and will strongly object to it being removed for any reason. • EFS recognize when they have the advantage of safety from a predator. Quinn the Red Fox and Chryssy the Cat are two predators that Jimmy taunted on a regular basis. He knew they couldn’t get through the cage doors and would throw things at them from high on the top level. Sometimes he would sprawl like a sunbather on the lowest level and twitch his tail, just out of reach. • EFS run, jump and roll just for the fun of it, like this:
Although an EFS may have a steady diet of tree nuts, greens and fruits, a cozy hammock to hide in and destroy a couple of times a year, fresh water and interaction with a variety of species—even when they have never really known otherwise—they recognize the absence of a life that is rightly theirs. Jimmy often sat on the upper level of his cage, watching the cottonwood and the world outside his east window. Nothing would break his concentration, not even new walnuts in the shell.
Three weeks ago, Jimmy exhibited signs of a stroke. Quinn sat outside his cage and cried. Jimmy seemed to regress; to allow and even want human contact no matter who that human was. He rode around on one’s out-stretched arm and munched apple during the ride. In the evening, he sprawled out on Steve’s chest and fell asleep. Jimmy rallied a week ago, walking on all fours to stash food under Steve’s t-shirt and licking Greek yogurt and almond butter from his favorite person’s finger. He fooled us into ordering another ferret hammock as it appeared he might actually need it for another six days, weeks or maybe months. Then he went away altogether.
In Norse mythology,Ratatoskr is a squirrel who runs up and down the world treeYggdrasil to carry messages between the eagles perched atop Yggdrasil and the serpent Níðhöggr who dwells beneath one of the three roots of the tree. Jimmy Toskr is now whole and is running up and down the Tree of Life. He is the Toskr, hurling commentary as he connects Heaven and Earth with the support of 20 strong toes.
The last time students from Ohio Northern University (ONU) spent part of Ada Community Engagement Day, or ACE Day, at The Quarry Farm, COVID-19 wasn’t a household word. The word ‘pandemic’ prompted grainy images of people wearing masks and schools, theaters and businesses shuttered worldwide in 1918 because of Spanish flu.
Super Dave Seitz hadn’t yet taken on invasive bush honeysuckle in the nature preserve. The first incoming ONU freshman who volunteered here as part of the ACE Day tradition lopped and hauled honeysuckle from the western bank of Cranberry Run. Then Dave began his frequent pilgrimages from Columbus and rocketed our invasive-clearing program 10 years ahead of schedule. So when the ONU ACE Day committee asked if we had any projects for participants of their 10th school year—one with a return-to-normal beginning—we jumped at the chance to host a building-painting crew.
Two of the farm animal sanctuary outbuildings are over 100 years old. They are solidly framed structures that were donated to us as long as we moved them from their original sites. In their current function for storage and henhouse, they are subject to lots of perching, head-and-tail scratches, snout rubs, and general body flopping (often with a fresh splash from a mud wallowing.) They both needed a good coat of best paint to prolong their structural integrity and general all-around sightliness.
Ten people came and went to work. The morning was coolish and sunny so the animals were ever-present. Paint cans and brushes were lofted to keep curious bills, beaks and muzzles out. Silkie the Donkey insisted on being a third wheel—rather, a second head atop a shoulder—and had to be encouraged to move along. The Canada geese wrestled with paint can lids and drips. Bruce the Bronze Turkey kept one young man very close company by planting himself directly behind his knees.
“He’s like a shadow or a ghost,” said one person. I explained that Bruce had claimed a new human friend and was making sure that turkeys Edgar and Bernard knew it.
In just an hour and a half, both buildings were covered except for the highest peaks and one big pig-sized full-bodied mud rub and a snout print. One person was surprised that goats weren’t “more involved”. Other than a few shirt-sleeve nibbles, the bovids were interested but unaffected by the whole procedure.
“This was the best site,” commented the ONU faculty who worked alongside the Polar Bear undergrads. “After a long week, ‘Painting with Animals’ was very therapeutic.”
Storm clouds gathered and spilled an hour after the ONU van drove south down 7L. The rain was not quite strong enough to wash Nemo’s nose-and-thigh art from the buildings, but there’s a solid slather of paint beneath to seal the old hardwood for good long time.
Nemo the Pig has been featured in this space before. She came to us in 2015 as a tiny shoat. She was scraped, bruised and broken from a fall onto I-270 from a transport truck in Columbus. A kind, determined person rescued her, nursed the piglet’s wounds and brought her to us. For a couple of weeks, we socialized little Nemo by carrying her around to programs in a baby sling. She housebroke easily, although she outgrew the house and was unable to turn around in hallways. At six months of age, the age that young pigs are typically “finished” and loaded into a crowded transport to be “processed,” Nemo was spayed at Ohio State University. For the first few years of her life, she was one of the first farm animal sanctuary residents to greet visitors.
“I’ve never seen a pig that big,” everyone still says when they see her for the first time. There’s a reason that they haven’t.
Nemo excavated a mud wallow that is so deep and wide that the geese and ducks swim in it when rainwater fills it to the brim. She made friends with Carlton the Pot-bellied Pig, a buddy system that continues to this day. They allow the other pot-bellied pigs, the geese, ducks and the occasional chicken to use their mud wallow.
Seven years on, visitors don’t often see Nemo, especially when the sun is high and the air is hot. Children love to see her, but she doesn’t often run to greet them, even when we mention the word “apple.” I did coax her out to see third-grade students from Ottawa Elementary in May. She walked out of her favorite building, stared across the pasture at the kids waving at the fence, then turned and walked away to her muddy spa. “Not today,” she seemed to say. I explained to the students that, while they could shed their coats and put on sunscreen, Nemo can only protect her fair skin and floppy ears with sparse, fair pig bristles, cool mud and shade.
For those lucky enough to visit on a cool day, Nemo allows a soft jowl rub. She sighs the deep, rumbling sigh that one would expect to emanate from a body such as hers, closes her blonde lashes and rolls over for a belly pat.
Today was Spring Family Day on The Quarry Farm. At 1 p.m., the temperature was in the 90s, sending a puddle of honeybees up the side of the north hive to cool…maybe. We are very, very new to beekeeping so I don’t know why they are washboarding backwards and forwards above the hive entrance. But I did learn this week that this inch-by-inch dance is called ”washboarding” and I would do it to cool off outside my hive if I were a honeybee.
So a little before 1 p.m. the first family arrived. The Rita the Greeter’s table and umbrella was up, ice water and cookies were in the pavilion and “staff” appeared as coolly collected as anyone could be during a Midwest heatwave. Dragonflies swanned in and out of blooming Lizard’s Tongue on the quarry wetland. Pearly Crescent Butterflies flickered orange under Buckeye tree leaves. Nemo cooled in her mud bath and Beatrice emerged from her own spa to visit with her piggy admirers.
“It’s all so peaceful,” someone said.
I smiled, making a mental note to take my new plants out of the truck as soon as possible. At 6 a.m. this morning, My Steven saw the donkeys at the front door, Nemo lounging in the flowering herb bed and several goats munching away at the blossoms. I forgot to latch the lower chain on the south gate last night. While Steve sold his bread at the Bluffton Farmer’s Market, I bought new herbs from Ann Boyd’s My Own Backyard.
We have been, and continue to be, blessed to not just interact with but to actually get to know many beings here on The Quarry Farm. We meet lots of people, learning each time how many are interested in the world around them and how we all can be better stewards of that world. Just about every visit, tour and workshop results in one of us responding to a question with, ” I can’t answer that,” prompting us to find out more about something.
People are great. We can exchange ideas pretty freely. But the beings that remind us most how much we have to learn in this life are the animals. They can readily communicate with each other—even the trees and plants talk—but it’s up to them to learn how to deal with humans.
Over the years, the farm animal sanctuary residents have dealt with us. They come and they go with the end of life. Johnny the Canade Goose who taught us how inquisitive and intelligent these birds are. Audrey the red hen that taught us that even a hot wire slice through a chick’s beak and a fall from a truck along I-75 couldn’t stop her from seeking a cuddle. Smart, determined Gertie the pot-bellied pig who taught us that pigs are cleaner than dogs, cats, and most humans (no they don’t like to live in swill.) Mister Bill the giant goat who absolutely did not like to be told ‘no’ but forgave you for saying it as long as you scritched between his horns. I’m going to stop naming these names because the tears are coming.
Some of them have barely tolerated us, forging kind of a love/hate relationship with us because they haven’t had a choice, what with humans being the most ruthless predator (dang those opposable thumbs that can latch a gate and turn a key.) Two residents come immediately to mind: Bernie the Rooster that attacked me and my red windbreaker and the red lawnmower, and Jacques the Canada Goose who could run across four acres before you could put a fence between you and his bony, flightless wings and bill.
I wouldn’t trade the knowing of either of them for the world.
This morning, when Beatrice’s Belly Rub Girl offered Sean the Virginia Opossum his dried cranberries, greens plus a peanut butter sandwich for winter sustenance, Sean didn’t wake up. Just last Friday, Sean met the entire second grade class at Kalida Elementary School. Sean was always great with people. He didn’t hiss or growl or show his 50 teeth like most Virgina Opossums do to defend themselves from the two-legged predators that could very well mean to eat him. He tolerated all of us quite well, so he was one of our go-to wildlife ambassadors for offsite classroom visits.
The second graders thought Sean was “adorable.” They couldn’t understand how anyone would go out of their way to hurt his kind. They asked if they could see him walk. He was more interested in sitting, even though he was born with no eyes and had every reason to be afraid of squirrely limbs and echoes in the halls of school.
They asked how old he was. “He’s almost three,” I told them. How long would he live, they wanted to know. “Two to three years,” I said. How old is he in people years? “Very, very old.”
So it wasn’t a huge surprise that Sean fell asleep last night and didn’t wake up. He isn’t the first Virginia Opossum to have served The Quarry Farm as an ambassador of his kind to those who might wish him harm, but he was the one who immediately convinced them that Virginia Opossums have every right to live, under our porches and wherever their nomadic ways take them, in peace.
Ylvis is a Norwegian comedy duo consisting of brothers Vegard and Bård Ylvisåker. They are the creators of the viral song and video The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?) that I did listen to after I lost count of how many kids and parents brought it up after meeting Quinn, The Quarry Farm’s rescued fox and educational ambassador for her species.
I can tell you that most foxes do not have blue eyes and I’m not sure what the Ylvisåker Brothers did to have a fox assigned to them as a guardian angel. That is one spirit/bodyguard that is going to melt away into the landscape at the first sign of trouble. But before it takes off, it’s going to pick your pocket, race away with the goods, stash them in a secret location, and urinate on whatever it is to lay everlasting claim. Items that we have found in Quinn’s “secret” hideaway (a litterbox in the basement) include: socks, underwear, dog toys, peanuts, a jar of peanut butter, potholders, dog collars, cat treats, baby carrots, potatoes, Fig Newtons, buttered toast, and whole bags of bread and rolls of toilet paper.
As far as what the fox says, Quinn says a whole lot. I’ve never heard her ring-ding-ding, although she did snatch a bell off the Christmas tree and that rang mightily until it was buried in kitty litter. The Ylvisåkers really didn’t reproduce much of Quinn’s vocalizations in their 2013 earworm, although she did mutter fraka-kaka-kaka when I changed the litter box and a wrapped stick of butter fell out into the garbage bag. And after she grabbed a second stick of butter from the box I hadn’t yet emptied, she screamed a-hee-ahee ha-hee while she ran up the stairs with her reclaimed treasure.
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The final (at least the last scheduled) fall field trips drove away this week. Each offers its own teachable moments. As I stood at along the front fence of the farm animal sanctuary with a preschool group from Dupont, one of the smallest boys stopped and called, ”Soo-wee! Soo-wee!” in hopes of calling forth pigs. I puzzled over that, wondering why he would think they would come.
“Um, that’s not going to work. They’ve never heard that before. Call them by name. Try calling Nemo, Beatrice, Bob…”
Adults might have been offended. Heck, I probably would have. After all, we are all told that turkeys gobble, donkeys hee-haw, geese honk, and pigs come running when you shout Soo-wee. That little guy never stopped to take a breathe before he called to Nemo and she trotted up and over the hill followed by Beatrice and Carlton. Clive, a much more cautious pot-belly, watched from a distance in the southern area of the pasture.
“What’s his name?” asked the boy.
“Oh, that’s Clive. But he won’t come. He’s very shy about people.”
“CLI-I-IVE!” called the small young voice of optimism. Here came Clive. The boy asked if Clive would eat the mint leaves that the boy had collected in the garden. I said no. But what do I know? Clive took it gently between his tiny front teeth, then allowed the boy and several classmates to pet his tufty fur.
Just when I’m feeling all wise and knowledgable, something raises a metaphysical eyebrow in my direction and suggests eh, maybe not so much.
Every now and then someone tells us about the Virginia Opossum that has lived under their porch for years. If there is one thing that we learned while volunteering with Nature’s Nursery Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and during the years following is that these individuals are probably not the same Virginia Opossum. While getting to know educational ambassadors for this fascinating species, we have discovered that they are nomadic creatures, moving from place to place to eat whatever they find in their path and sleeping in the most convenient dry spot when they need to. Combined with the fact that Virginia Opossums only live for two or (maybe, if we’re lucky) three years, the animal that people see around their porch from year to year is actually a parade of several of North America’s only member of the marsupial class of mammals.
Did you notice that I said “if we’re lucky”? There are a lot of reasons that it’s a great thing to have Virginia Opossums around. These free-ranging omnivores consume a varied diet that includes plant material, grasses and leaves, grains, fruits, carrion, snails, slugs, worms, insects, rats, mice, snakes, amphibians, eggs, crayfish, and fish. They are nature’s garbage collectors. We would be up to our eyeballs in offal without these animals coming and going. We would also be dealing with more biting, disease-transmitting ticks. Research on captive Virginia Opossums at Illinois’ Eureka College estimates that they eat, on average, 5,500 larval ticks per week. That’s nearly 95% of ticks that cross their path.
The biggest and best reason that we are lucky to have Virginia Opossums is that we just are…lucky, that is. They have been around for a very long time—at least 70 million years—as one of Earth’s oldest surviving mammals. Because they eat almost everything, they are disease-resistant. In fact, they will do just about anything to avoid direct contact. To appear threatening, a Virginia Opossum will first bare its 50 teeth, snap its jaw, hiss, drool, poo and stand its fur on end to look bigger. If this does not work, the Virginia opossum is noted for feigning death (passing out) in response to extreme fear.
Here on The Quarry Farm, we are so lucky to have known a few non-releasable Virginia Opossums. Sean is the current onsite educational ambassador of his kind. Sean was born without eyes so can’t properly protect himself from predators. He is also agreeable to human contact, which is why we have a State of Ohio education permit that allows us to house him and introduce him to people who want to know more about him and the world around all of us.