As I was writing last week's post for NewsWorks, there was an intruder in my chicken coop. A little bit of fur was sticking out of the straw bedding in a corner, and I was waiting for my courage to build up to the point I could confront it. It's just a thing with me, wild mammals. They scare me. This is especially true if they're sick or injured, which I thought this one could be if it was taking refuge in my coop.
The "it" turned out to be a possum. It had been holing up in there for several days, and when I discovered it I had a sudden explanation for why the chickens were skittish, going through so much food, and not leaving eggs. Not a very good detective, I finally thought to poke around inside, and there it was.
With the backup of a bunch of overly excited kids from the neighborhood and my visiting mom, I routed the possum from the coop by poking it with a shovel (ok, Mom did this part. I took pictures.) It ran off and we congratulated ourselves for prevailing over the darker side of nature.
In his book Wilderness and the American Mind, Roderick Nash discusses how the earliest settlers in America quickly developed an antagonistic relationship to nature. Wilderness became a symbol of darkness and evil, in which howling and rabidly sinister creatures lurked in the gloom, bent on destroying the civilized world if they were not destroyed first.
This Puritanical outlook on nature has been on my mind quite a bit after what happened next. Although we began shutting the chickens up early, the possum must have crept back in around dusk last week and hidden in the coop overnight. I'll spare you the very disturbing details and will only say that I no longer am the custodian of any living chickens, and they did not leave this world peacefully.
Feeling threatened by nature is ridiculous. A possum isn't capable of evil any more than a chicken is, and night isn't inherently sinister compared to day. But it can be hard not to attach symbolism to such events. It's getting better now, but for the first few days after this happened I kind of felt like a Pilgrim. Not because it was Thanksgiving, but because for the first time my small urban yard seemed a desolate wilderness filled with savage beasts.