The Silence of the Possums

For a dozen years—in all seasons—we have been enchanted by the running of the Ringtail possums on our tin roof  at night.
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Theirs is a joyous beat as the family is coming or going from a feast. They always hurry, for there are enemies everywhere. Especially dangerous is open ground.  Scrambling ahead of a thunderstorm  I have seen them backlit by lightning like riders on the storm.
And yes, we have cursed the little tooth marks on our only apple, or the ruinous bite into a fat rosebud, or grape,  but really there is plenty to eat for everyone. And nary a drop of poison has been laid in our garden.  We planted more fruiting natives and made water available and fell in love with the  drumroll of tiny feet. It was the sound of home.
It was ever a thrill to catch a glimpse of one in the fading light; a creamy-bellied, brown, cat-sized critter with babies on her back, swaying with the load as she skidded on  gum leaves, grey and slippery as aluminium, her ears rounded and her eyes bright and kind as a buddha’s.
The Ringtails  (or Ringies),  have well-worn pathways, what have been mammalian highways for millennia, I suppose, as they nightly climb the trees, tip-toe along the fences, fleeing across the rusty roofs and up into one of the tall palms that houses their dray— a spherical nest made of shredded grass where they all hunker down.
Tree hollows would be nice, desirable even, but these burn in fireplaces in their thousands.  A possum is wise to build a dray in these days of habitat clearing.
So over the years years they’ve built two homes—one with sea views—at either end of the garden.
A Powerful Owl will eat 300  Ringtail possums in a lifetime.  He will slice the head off with his aptly named  powerful talons. Their other sworn enemy—the afeared Diamond Python—is an ambush artist. He will lie curled on the pathway or in the trees frequented by the hapless Ringies, and wait. And wait
The possum who meets this  square-jawed snake, is doomed, as we saw recently, when the embrace to the death was efficiently enacted in the bromiliads, with flashes of green diamond and  a cream belly entwined by black scales making a disturbing picture of nature ‘red in tooth and claw’.
Frightened eyes stared out from the dray.
The possum family did not did not fight back.  They have no weapons. They did not plot and seethe and plan revenge. They packed up and vanished into the night, squeezing into  a crowded habitat deemed preferable to being squeezed to death; finding asylum. Somewhere. Lucky ours is a roomy backyard full of pristine coastal heath, and not a town or city or landscape scarred with roads.
A family of possums who has lived here for generations was suddenly gone. The python had strung itself between two ferns as it digested the visible lump in its belly. Then shambled off to the Frenchman’s place. But the Ringtails could not live with the terror.

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Now  there is no beat of feet on the roof.  A possum expert (my sister in law, actually) says they’ve probably relocated due to the presence of the python. They might return. In time. For now the drays are empty. The strawberry guavas  are left untouched; the roses bloom, unmolested.
At night, I can hear the silence of the possums.
And I miss them.
. . . there’s a killer on the road  . . . riders in the storm . . .

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lS-af9Q-zvQ

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