In early April I saw an opossum who was most evidently pregnant. Her belly hung low to the ground as though ready to burst open and spill out her offspring. I was thrilled to see her back then, to see the evidence of life carrying on right here in the middle of this urban nature refuge surrounding me.
It was this marsupial with child that originally engaged me with the local wildlife. Sure, I’d seen plenty of animals around here before then, but it was her coming to the patio and indulging in some “spare” cat food that made me realize I could draw them near and interact with them.
Last night, for the first time in months, Momma Possum was back. Perhaps around 11 PM local time I stepped out to the patio. Already I’d placed fruit and nuts outside, so I was not surprised to see an opossum contentedly dining just outside my patio.
I pulled the door shut behind me, then very quietly and carefully I stepped to the fence. I could see her well even in the darkness. Something was wrong with her, I was certain of it, for there in her abdominal area was a large bulge that seemed abnormal — and would be so even were she the fattest opossum on the planet. Blanketed in shadow, I could not clearly identify precisely what shape this growth represented. I guessed it might be a tumor or abscess or other health crisis given its size and location. Eyes straining through the cover of darkness, I stepped closer to the fence and leaned over it.
She didn’t react, of course, as I’ve learned how to carefully maneuver given whatever form of life is present. Also, most of the regulars here have grown accustomed to me.
It was much to my surprise that I noticed the mass seemed inexplicably to be moving from side to side, or at least modifying its location and shape in an almost constant state of activity, for each time the opossum moved, what I cared most to observe also moved — just not in direct relation to her movement. What the hell?
And then it happened: I spied a tiny head peeking out from under her belly, perhaps even a tiny arm reaching around for a better grip to steady this young view of an alien world. It was a baby opossum!
Momma paused and sat a bit upright, leaned down, and carefully and lovingly tucked her child back into the pouch that would protect and feed it.
I was amazed. I was also empty-handed. Damn it! I ran back inside to grab the camera and immediately made my way back to the fence where I could get the best view.
Sadly, she already had passed the area where it would have been easiest to get some photos. Failing that, I opted to just watch. I could see the pouch stretching and moving in response to the babies she carried. As she walked and ate, the children presented time and again examples of their presence. A tail would fall out, a tiny arm would reach out and grab hold of Momma, a head would peer around from under her, and even a whole baby crawled out (fell out?). Each time something was amiss, she would stop. With the gentle strength of a mother, she would ensure no one was harmed and would slowly reach down with both snout and forearms to demonstrate maternal instincts at their best. The errant body part or offspring would be gently tucked back into the pouch, followed by a quick examination to ensure no other problems were occurring, and then she would return to foraging. It was even obvious in her movement that she was being careful not to jostle them too much lest she knock them from her pouch.
What a very cool experience. My hope is to get some pictures of her and the babies, so I’ll be doing my best over the next several evenings to catch her outside. I will of course share with you whatever photos I get.