Opossum and Snake Go to School

Tyree the Red Rat Snake (also called Corn Snake) and Sean the Virginia Opossum starred at the Wildlife station at the 49th Annual 5th Grade Conservation Tour in September.

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.

The first run of the season

Today was the first day of the plunge into the season of animal rehabilitation calls. An hour or so after arriving at home, a call came in about a Canada goose that was reported to have a broken wing, and spent three or so days frozen to the ground amidst field stubble out on Old 224. I met up with Mum so that we had a better chance at catching the creature.

We drove out toward the area where we were told we would find the goose. We parked in a driveway that once belonged, presumably, to a house along Old 224, approximately one hundred and fifty yards up the road from where we had spotted our target. The two of us laughed helplessly, looking out at the goose, which sat across one of the many impromptu lakes created by the melting of the snow. In fact, it was more like an impromptu creek, being connected to the Blanchard River at its head and base, roiling at both.

The snow made the drop down into the field look gradual, but my first step toward the bottom proved that assumption to be false. My right leg plunged down into the snow, burying itself up to just above my knees. Chuckling, the both of us tread more carefully down into the field.

Upon approaching the spontaneous creek, the Canada goose stood up, displaying a slightly off-looking wing, and took a few hesitant steps away. It had had no need to, as unless we were going to miraculously acquire a boat or full-body waders, there was no way we were going to reach the other side of the waters.

We stood on our side, looking right and left for a break we could cross, when the goose took off, running and throwing open its wings. It caught a bit of wind and rose higher and higher, gliding west through the river corridor. Turning, we strode back up to the road and back to the car, shivering in our sweatshirts. Two vehicles stopped and inquired as to whether we needed help (thank you!) and chuckled when we informed them that we were returning from a literal wild goose chase.

And so, for us, the year begins. Hopefully, this first call foreshadows the course of this year, with concerned fellows and the positive turn of events.

An Eighth Direction

Preparing shelter house pad

The shelter house project at Red Fox Cabin is underway. A crew from Hovest Construction broke ground on Tuesday, clearing and leveling ground between the posts of the compass garden for 24’ x 24’ concrete pad. The crew finished and sealed the pad on Wednesday and cleaned and leveled the work site this morning. By August, this pad should support a 20’ x 20’ shelter house, the site of many future meetings, presentations and gatherings of all sorts on the Quarry Farm.

For anyone helping to raise the shelter house, there will be food. That includes observers.

Dooryard Garden Club at Red Fox Cabin’s zelkova

Members of the Putnam County Dooryard Garden Club visited right after Hovest Construction packed up their Bobcat. The group inspected the new project before touring the cabin, walking the Cranberry Run Trail, and meeting Educational Ambassadors Buddy the miniature donkey and Beatrice the pygmy potbellied pig.


Back up! What is a compass garden?

As the official name states, the Quarry Farm includes a nature preserve and a conservation farm. Red Fox Cabin and the gardens that surround it are part of both designations. One of the original gardens developed by Gerald and Laura Coburn was the compass garden. This garden is engineered according to the European navigational instrument that measures directions in a frame of reference that is stationary relative to the surface of the earth. However, the Red Fox Cabin compass garden was also designed in homage to the Coburn clan’s Native American heritage, primarily with traceable roots to the Cherokee Nation.

The Cherokee honor seven sacred directions to encompass a fully-dimensional world rather than one of singular dimension. In addition to the four singular dimension directions (east, north, west and south), there are: up (above), down (below) and center (which is where you are). Each direction is also associated with a season and a color:

  • NORTH is the keeper of winter, the season of survival and waiting. The North is associated with the color blue and the path of quiet.
  • SOUTH is the keeper of summer, the season of warmth. The South is associated with the color white, representing peace, happiness, and serenity.
  • EAST is the keeper of spring, the re-awakening of Mother Earth after a long sleep. The East is associated with the color red and represents victory, power, and war.
  • WEST is the keeper of autumn, the season of death and where it is hidden. The West is associated with the color black.
  • ABOVE is associated with the color yellow and represents peace.
  • CENTER is associated with the color green and represents the here and now.
  • BELOW is associated with orange/brown which represents the chaos and turmoil of the ever-changing Earth.

Note that I speak of the compass garden in the past tense. Invasive plants overran most of the directional plantings. Recently, the Quarry Farm board decided a permanent structure was needed to shelter visiting groups requiring seated onsite presentations since Red Fox Cabin can only hold a limited number of people at a time. The compass garden ground was deemed the most convenient location for such a shelter. The spot also sits just above the old stone quarry-turned-wetland, offering cool summer breezes and good views of butterflies, migratory birds and native trees.

So maybe some of the visual symbols of the old compass garden are missing, but the fully-directional world of the Quarry Farm is still growing. The house wren that is nesting in the apple gourd even stood her ground next to the construction site. She was back at her post this morning, scolding all visitors from her high tower in the zelkova tree.

Find out more about the Cherokee Nation, past, present and future, folklore and tradition, at

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