Today’s “Quarry Farm Fridays with the Bluffton Public Library” featured North America’s marsupial. Angus the Virginia Opossum is our resident education ambassador for his kind.
As Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton so eloquently said regarding the present pandemic, we humans are waking up to life. While we blink sleep from our eyes, life goes on around us.
Here on The Quarry Farm, bush honeysuckle whacking is a means to social-distance ourselves during Ohio’s StayHome proclamation. At this pace we may see the forest for the invasive trees this year. As David Seitz works his way south from the old stone quarry, Paul Nusbaum is clearing A new walking trail to skirt the ancient homestead well, Riley Creek, and the Bottom’s rich vernal pools. That area is a quiet shelter for migrating songbirds. As I took out my own pandemic fear and frustration on bush honeysuckle and a [gasp/horror/curses] privet I found at the northern-most point of the nature preserve, a Black and White Warbler eyeballed me from the top of a small maple. My camera and phone sat safely at home on the kitchen counter so the only image I can share with you is a description of a dainty bird, striped black and white from beak to tail.
The aforementioned lack of camera is the lead in to the story that I saved for sharing on a rainy day. Thunder rolls outside today and heavy downpours turning clear Cranberry Run the creamy brown of the surrounding fields, so here goes. I present to you a tale filled with suspense, partial nudity and a happy ending.
It was a dark and cloudy Wednesday night. Somewhere in the darkness, a domestic fowl uttered a strangled cry. Fergus the Tree Walker Coonhound scrambled to his feet, baying all the way down the stairs. I stumbled along behind, forgetting my eyeglasses on the nightstand. Fergus blew out the front door and down the driveway. Quinn Fox wove through the hound’s floppy Muppet feet, emerging through the tangle with Gerald the Rooster in her jaws. I screeched at her to “drop it!” She did! Fearing the worst, I carried a limp Gerald into the house. He had a heartbeat, so I left him in the bathroom basin and ran back outside, trading Fergus for Cady the Pitbull because Cady is quieter at 2:00 a.m. than an excited hound dog. My Steven was now in the fray, tracking Quinn with the flashlight app on his cell.
I was in a shortie. Steve wore a t-shirt and boxers. Our shoes and my eyesight were in the house. It was maybe 40 degrees on March 25 in Northwest Ohio.
We took turns going back inside to grab shoes, jackets and cheddar cheese. After much fun and games on Quinn’s part, the little red streak took refuge under the front porch. Steve shown light under the deck while I crawled under, cheese in my cold little fist. Since Quinn likes cheese and there is no soft pillow under the porch, she was ripe for reclamation. Once she was back in the warm house with Fergus and Cady, Steve spotted a wet mound of gray fur at the point of the Fergus/Quinn collision. A young Virginia Opossum lay there. Its tongue lolled on the grass and its legs curled in little clawed fists. We stared at it in the beam of the cell light, surmising that the marsupial had probably climbed up in the roosting box shared by Gerald and Arthur and startled Gerald into mad flight. While we watched, the dead creature blinked. Steve carried him/her down the hill and into the woods.
As far as we know, the opossum is fine. Quinn, Fergus and Cady are fine. Gerald was standing in the basin by 2:10 and is fine. That bird has the nine lives of a cat. We figure that, between picking fights with Arthur, predator encounters and a past life as a cockfighting rooster, he’s depleted his store of vivacity by at least half. Steve and I, however, ran through any amount of dignity we ever had long ago.
Outside is frozen again.
The morass of Boxing Day mud and not-mud is navigable on the farm animal sanctuary. We need some snow to make it all pretty again, and to keep Cranberry Run flowing. The little creek, reduced to sparse puddles during this dry summer, is on the move enough to water wildlife, but the old quarry is still much drier than it should be, with the wetland reduced to the southeast springs. Without precipitation in some form, bulbs of blue flags, dragon’s tongue and beard will become dormant again.
I know we’ve talked a lot about osage oranges here, and I’m going to again. Yesterday, we noted that the whole fruits are now reduced to trails of Chartreuse and ochre meal, leftovers from the forages of squirrels and other herbivores who are foraging for anything to raise their fat reserves.
For so many reasons, I wish they could eat bush honeysuckle and lots of it. We humans will have to keep chopping away at that…only fair, since our kind brought it here.
Inside artificially heated four walls, we welcome a new resident. Thanks to the Ohio Wildlife Rehabilitation Association and the Stark Parks Wildlife Conservation Center, a Virginia opossum will venture into classrooms and programs as an educational ambassador with The Quarry Farm. Like Captain John Smith, another North American marsupial “he”, this Nature’s garbage collector will help people learn more about the vital role his kind plays in world health and balance.
Here’s the thing. We can continue to call him “he”, “the Virginia opossum”, “OP2” or other nonspecific things. As he is an adult, with a guesstimated age of one year, the short anticipated life expectancy of Virginia opossums means he may not be with us for more than a couple of years, max. But don’t you believe that he deserves more than that, whether he cares or not, as long as we keeps the scrambled eggs, cat and dog food, veggies and fruits coming?
So as with the Captain, we invite you to submit potential names for the new guy. Reasons behind your nomination are welcome. After all, we walked away from the last contest with a wonderful American History link as well as a memorable name for a memorable soul.
Here’s what we can tell you about this little man. He was found by a Stark Parks visitor. This animal was approachable (not normal), wasn’t thrilled about being picked up (normal) but allowed it (not normal.) The easy catch was probably because he had, sometime in his recent past, suffered from head trauma, likely hit by a car while scavenging on or along a road. Because of the injury, he doesn’t move quickly and has permanent head tilt. He does, however, like his grub and was able to find it long enough to allow him to heal in the wild. Luckily, a kind, potential predator found him before a determined actual predator did. On December 17, we drove to Hartsville, Ohio. He made the journey to Putnam County, Ohio with us that same day.
There’s a Quarry Farm apron or t-shirt (winner’s choice) in it for the winning entrant. Please submit names (and stories; who doesn’t love a good story?) to firstname.lastname@example.org by the time the ball drops on Jan. 1, 2017.
The overwhelming downside to establishing relationships is the inevitable loss and grief that accompanies them. Sometimes, when we’re lucky, we can postpone that inevitability for decades. Other times…well, we take what we can get and are simply grateful for it.
So it is with Captain John Smith and we are, indeed, grateful.
Given that it’s an extinct language, there’s just a short list of some 550 words/phrases in Powhatan with which linguists are familiar. Goodbye isn’t among them. Thank you, on the other hand, is. So…
Kenagh, Captain John.
We will miss you.
Beginning with an 11 a.m. appointment with a room full of children and a few adults at the main branch in Ottawa, we visited every Putnam County District Library location in the county. In this case, “we” is not a royal “we” but rather two humans, a middle-aged Virginia opossum and a bucket of freshwater macroinvertebrates.
Two weeks ago, we drove an hour east to Honey Creek, a Seneca County tributary to the Sandusky River. Our mission was to collect hellgramites, the impressive predatory aquatic larva of the terrestrial and flighted dobsonfly. By all rights, or if all was right with the world, we should have been able to find them in Cranberry Run as it passes through The Quarry. Underneath all the silt of the stream and Riley Creek into which it flows — even the bigger Blanchard at the end of the Riley — there is a river bottom of cobbles and boulders, prime habitat for hellgrammites. But there’s that silt, smothering everything.
Like I said, we drove to Honey Creek in between heavy rains and flood events and did net a few dobsonfly larva as well as two large dragonfly “babies”: a spidery skimmer and a froglike darner. Here at home, we collected leeches, snails, and half of a freshwater clam shell, its mother-of-pearl lining worn smooth. We set up an aquarium for their stay.
Each weekday morning, Captain John Smith was loaded into a carrier and as many macros as we could fish out of the aquarium were placed in a bucket for transport. No dragonflies made the bucket because, a few days after their arrival in Putnam County, the hellgrammites ate them.
It was a good week. We met new people, the Captain made a favorable impression for his kind, and I got to play with leeches. One young man suggested that leeches are kind of like shape-shifters. I like that. I’m going to remember that for our next gig. Two more suggested that the Captain’s tail looks like corn on the cob. Never though about that before, and they’re right.
Today is Saturday, and we are kind of tired. It seemed like a long week, what with two speaking engagements per day on top of day jobs, slogging buckets and straw through rain and mud here on the farm and in parking lots and nursing one of the potbellies through a mysterious spate of abscesses until his appointment next week at Ohio State University Veterinary Clinic.
But I realized, after finishing Sy Montgomery’s The Good, Good Pig, that two speaking engagements per day for five days wasn’t nearly enough time to point out the importance of Virginia opossums and hellgrammites in our human lives. You need a lifetime of appreciation.
Nor is it enough time to admire the intricate, delicate patterns that trace the exoskeletons, especially across the backs of their heads. One glance in a bucket at the boneless athleticism of a swimming leech is just not enough, not enough for anyone.
We hope it was at least enough to leave everyone wanting to learn more. As Ms. Montgomery noted in her book, maybe a one-off was enough to lead some to a new way of thinking.
Before we continue along the trail in a search of wildflowers and wild mushrooms, let’s take a moment to highlight a Friday adventure that we shared with the third grade class from Pandora-Gilboa Elementary School.
Although the school is just around a few corners from The Quarry Farm, this is the first time a class has been able to pay us visit in a while. This morning, the sun rose in a clear blue sky, the tortuous winds that we’ve had of late held their breath for the most part, and 41 students descending the bus steps to join us for the morning.
At three different stations, these curious kids learned about herbs alongside the butterfly garden, beneficial insects that spend much of their life in and along Cranberry Run and Riley Creek, and met some of the animals of the sanctuary.
At Station 1, Laura talked about past and present uses for herbs, and the pollinators that live amongst them in the Red Fox Cabin gardens. The students chose snipped samples of their favorites from a selection of culinary and/or fragrant herbs, zip-lock bagged the cuttings and labeled the bags for the journey home.
Steve brought on the dragonfly nymphs, or at least a bucket of them, at Station 2. He talked about the life cycles and habits of these predators, as well as others like damselflies and water scorpions. He pulled the old arm-covered-with-leeches trick, asking, “How long will it be before these leeches suck all the blood from my arm?” The answer? Never. The leeches he displayed were fish leeches.
Bronze turkeys Humperdink, Inigo, and Miracle Max were the greeting party at Station 3, the farm animal sanctuary. Johnny the Canada goose joined in, too. Most of the residents were lying low — in outbuildings and under trees — due to warm, sweaty temperatures, but Buddy the donkey came out. Potbelly Carlton and Lucy the donkey made their large group debut as well. Carlton rolled over for a belly scratch and Lucy leaned in for ear whispers.
Captain John Smith the Virginia opossum was the special guest “speaker” during the lunch hour. Half of the class met the Captain at Christmas time during a classroom reading of Jan Brett’s The Mitten. We thought it only fair he should meet the whole class on his own turf.
Here are a few more images from the day. Thank you to Nikki Beckman for sharing photos, Jessica Arthur and Jill Henry for sharing your class time, and top Paulding Putnam Electric Cooperative and First National Bank of Pandora for supporting this educational program. If anymore photos arrive in the email box, we’ll add them to the show.
One animal stayed outside in the winter snow to clean up after everyone else who snuggled inside the mitten. That’s what third grade students in Mrs. Arthur’s class at Pandora-Gilboa Elementary School found out this week when one class member invited Steve to read a story to his class.
As a holiday treat, with language arts side effects, students were allowed to bring sleeping bags and pillows to class. They read favorite books in comfort and listened to visiting friends and family read out loud.
Quarry Farm friend Jaren asked Steve to be his reading guest. Steve chose to read Jan Brett’s The Mitten, a tale of woodland inhabitants who all find cold-weather shelter inside a mitten that was left alongside a trail.
If you’ve ever read The Mitten, you’ll know that quite a few animals, big and small, fit inside. But the Virginia opossum didn’t make the cut. We figure it’s because Nature’s garbage collector wandered on, cleaning up everything else that the bipedal trail walkers left behind.
This being said, Captain John Smith*, The Quarry Farm educational animal ambassador for Virginia opossums everywhere, accompanied Steve on the classroom visit. The Captain’s beautiful self was a hit, so much so that he was invited to visit Mrs. Henry’s class across the hall. But, since Captain John hadn’t had his breakfast yet, nor had he used the loo, Steve thought it best that the two of them return home.
There will be other visits. Like his namesake, Captain John Smith is up for the adventure. As he is nonreleasable due to his lack of fear, especially when it comes to humans like those that dropped that mitten, he benefits from the outing and is a wonderful guest.
* The opossum received its name in the early 1600s from Captain John Smith of the Jamestown colony in Virginia. Smith was trying to pronounce, for his mates across the pond, the word aposoum, a Virginia Algonquian word meaning “white beast.”
The Quarry Farm is pleased to introduce Captain John Smith.
Thanks, Kim, for the suggestion, and thanks to everyone who offered up a recommendation. There were several that made the cut, but this, by far, was our favorite. Want to know why? Just follow the link: