• Welcome to the farm

Jefferson Weaver
Jefferson Weaver

The possum raised his nose, picking up a half-dozen scents – chickens, eggs, the dodgasted geese, dogs, cats, cat food, the empty garbage can , horses, the stinking goat.

On the evening breeze there was a new smell, and he stretched, crawled out of his nest, and made his way across the yard. 

“Yep,” he said to himself. “A new one.”

Surrounded by cats, who were themselves surrounded by chickens and geese, cowered a young male possum. He sighed, and picked up the pace.

“Y’all leave him alone,” Burt hissed. The geese hissed in reply, and Burt pretended to jump at them. He waved his tail menacingly. Big Mac shook a wing at Burt.

“You don’t scare us!” he honked, and the others honked in reply.

“Chill out, Mac,” Burt said. “And you cats – don’t you have better things to do?”

“We’re just making sure this guy knows the deal,” Johnny Spots said, licking his lips. “You possums sure forget your place.”

“We rule the night, Furball,” Burt said. “Go on back in and get in Mom’s lap and wait for whatever morsels she gives you.”

“One of these days,” Otter growled, flexing his claws. The big black cat stalked away.

“Oh, hush,” Burt said. “Hey, New Guy. You okay?”

The young male possum cowered in one corner of the open cage. He held a slice of apple in one hand, but was too frightened to eat it.

“I guess so,” he said. “Nobody told me the other animals were so mean.”

“Really they aren’t,” Walter the Dog said. “Well, the geese are, but they scare easily enough.”

“We fear nothing!” Mac hissed. Walter shook his head, and sat down to contemplate one paw.

“Burt, this is Paladin,” Walter said.

“Great name!” Burt said. “Mom must have been on an old western kick again. She was watching Sesame Street when my brother Ernie and I were here. Welcome to the world.” Paladin gripped his apple, and stared.

“Nobody told me the world was like this,” he said. “I want to go back inside.” Burt shook his head.

“Dude, we’re wild animals,” he said gently. “We’re not designed to live in the house or in cages. That’s how come Gertrude is so messed up in the head. People tried to make her a pet, and she like to never adapted to the real world.”

“Where is Gerty, anyway?” Walter asked. “I haven’t seen her lately.”

“She’s got a litter down at the cutover,” Burt said. “She’s okay, I guess. William the Hound treed her the other day. She asked him for a ride home.”

“That’s Gerty,” Walter chuckled.

“Would somebody please tell me what’s going on?” Paladin said. “Am I being punished?”

“You SHOULD be!” Big Mac hissed. Walter and Bert turned at the same time.

“Hush!” Walter scratched an ear, then laid down in front of the cage.

“Look, Mom helps baby wild things until they get old enough to go be grownup wild things. That’s you, dude. Congratulations. You’re a grownup now. I just want to welcome you to the community,” Burt said. “There’s always some good eating around here.”

“Do the cats always steal it?” Paladin said. “They licked me when I was a baby. I thought they were my friends.”
“Cats are nobody’s friends but their own,’ Walter said. Otter stuck his tongue out at Walter.   “They were likely trying to figure out how to eat you after they licked the milk off of you.”

“You should see them stare at the baby squirrels,” Burt said, and shuddered.

“Come on, guys, we aren’t that bad,” said Henrietta. Paladin remembered Henrietta from when she would stare in his cage. With no tail, a clipped ear and only one eye, she was the most terrifying thing he had ever seen — until the geese.

 “Come on, Henri,” Walter said. “I remember your younger days.” Henri purred.

“Ahh, the good old days,” she said. “Still, Paladin, if you follow a few rules, we’ll get along just fine.”

“There are rules?” he asked.

“Oh, sure. Like, never go after the chickens. And don’t raid the nests of the domestic birds – wild birds are fair game. That’s the circle of life.”

“And don’t go near the vehicles,” Walter said. “That’s a good way to get run over.”

“The horses scare easily,” Burt said, “but the donkey, Melanie, is pretty cool, if you show her some respect.”

“And the cats don’t like it,” Walter said, “but they are required to share breakfast and supper if you come up on the porch. I’ve seen Mom run the cats off so a possum could eat. It’s hilarious.”

“The goats are a wild card,” Henri said. “You can never tell what they’re going to do, but the little one is fairly friendly – but she hates cats. Stupid  goat.”

“The ducks are sociable, but they stick together,” Burt said. “I don’t recommend trying to hang out with them. They might get the wrong idea.”

“The geese are terrible bullies,” Walter said, “but they’re good to have around due to the coyotes.”

“Snakes, rats and mice are fair game,” Burt said, “but try not to eat any songbirds. Mom raises them sometimes, too.”

“There sure are a lot of rules,” Paladin said. “Are you sure I can’t just go back inside?” Walter shook his head.

“Nope. Trust me, Mom wants to keep all of you wildthings, but she has to follow rules of her own, so she can help other critters.”

“By the way,” Burt said, “what’s your number?”

“Number? What’s that?’

“I was 2019-0027,” Burt said proudly. “My brother was -0028. That’s how Mom keeps track of us.”

“I think he’s 2020-0015,” Walter said, “or maybe -0016. Been fewer than normal this year. He’s the last foster for the season.” Burt drew himself up.

“Well, congratulations! That’s quite an honor!”

“I am so confused,” Paladin said. Burt smiled, and waved one paw dismissively.

“I know it seems like a lot,” Burt said. “It gets easier. Look, let’s go for a walk while we wait for the 11 o’clock cat feeding. I’ll show you around the place. In no time at all, you’ll feel at home.” Paladin tentatively stepped out of the cage, and smelled the air. He detected chickens, cat food, eggs, geese, watermelon, persimmons, dogs, and just a hint of hamburger. There were other smells he couldn’t identify, but he was curious.

“This place does seem like there’s some good eats,” he said.

“Oh, you just wait til Thanksgiving,” Burt said.

“What’s Thanksgiving?”

“You’ll see,” Burt said. “Come on – I know where there’s a fish that’s only two days old.”

“Watch your back, Possums!” the geese hissed. Paladin turned with Burt.

“Shut your beaks!”

Burt smiled, and patted his new friend on the back.

“You’ll fit right in around here. Welcome to the farm.”

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About Jefferson Weaver 1870 Articles
Jefferson Weaver is the Managing Editor of Columbus County News and he can be reached at (910) 914-6056, (910) 632-4965, or by email at jeffersonweaver@ColumbusCountyNews.com.