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OUTDOORS COLUMN: Loathesome but likable

Bob Kornegay

Bob Kornegay

I have a deep and abiding respect for our native wildlife species. Whether they walk, swim, fly, or crawl, I am much impressed by the fact that evolution, or the lack thereof, has granted all of them a niche, a specifically important ecological role to play. I even tell myself that every living creature is blessed, and blesses us, with its own brand of natural beauty.

Wait a second. That last statement isn’t quite accurate. I must make one exception. Consider North America’s only marsupial, the opossum. Bless his hard-favored little heart.

Face it, any way you cut it, the ‘possum is ugly; capital “U” ugly. He’s always reminded me of a giant mutant rat created by some wild-eyed mad scientist in the dungeon laboratory of a Hollywood movie set. To be brutally honest, I’m not wholly convinced even his mama believes he’s pretty. I say this totally objectively. It has naught to do with the fact that I caught one prowling in my chicken pen two nights back.

Several years ago, while searching for the proper description of the ‘possum’s sublime ugliness, I happened across an essay on the lowly beast written by my late friend Harry Middleton in a back issue of “Southern Living.” Harry wrote that the ‘possum is “ugly enough to make a freight train take a dirt road.”

Considering the ‘possum, one also becomes naturally curious as to why we observe so many ‘possum road kills along our Southern byways. I posed the question to a wildlife biologist friend of mine who told me the critter’s brain is almost totally nonfunctional when it comes to thinking and problem solving. A ‘possum on the highway senses an approaching vehicle, tries in vain to figure out what it is, and subsequently becomes a ‘possum pancake on the asphalt griddle long before his pitifully inept brain can tell his squatty little legs to get him the hell outta Dodge.

In other words, for lack of kinder terminology, the ‘possum is not only ugly, he is also an idiot.

Sweet Thang, the longsuffering wife of my buddy Cletus Monroe, has no problem coping with the ‘possum’s stupidity. It’s his terminal case of the uglies she can’t abide. While this is somewhat surprising, considering her taste in men, the fact remains “Thang” never fails to get the shudders and shakes at the mere thought of a ‘possum. Even the mention of his name gives her the heebie jeebies.

A few weeks after they were married, Clete caught a half-grown ‘possum in his backyard one night and “innocently” decided Sweet Thang might appreciate the opportunity to get to know it up close and personal. He foolishly carried his unexpected guest, all “sulled up” and beady-eyed, into his doublewide castle. He was met by a keening wail, a string of vicious obscene epithets, and a ceramic Elvis figurine that narrowly missed his head as it crashed into the wall behind him. Next came a half-empty bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon, a sure-fire indication of her anger, as Sweet Thang never wastes beer except under the direst of circumstances.

“You get that ugly, nasty !@#$%! outta my house!” Mrs. Monroe squalled.

Disappointed, Clete muttered something about the ‘possum’s being no uglier than at least half her kinfolks. As a result, she became no more tolerant of ‘possums and a lot less tolerant of Clete.

That notwithstanding, and despite his unattractiveness, I still like the ‘possum. There have even been times when the odd one or two was a special guest on my dinner plate. His ugliness is obvious and his stupidity a matter of record, yet I consider him a kindred spirit, particularly when I look in the mirror or attempt anything intellectual.

You know, scientists say there are probably more ‘possums on earth today than there were when the first white settlers arrived on this continent. It doesn’t matter that we have raped wildlife habitat and drastically decimated so many other species. Mr. ‘Possum, friends, is a survivor.

In my book, ugly, stupid, and alive beats cute, smart, and extinct any day of the week. Even Sweet Thang reluctantly agrees. Given that, she says Clete should be around for a long, long time.