Friday, July 1, 2011

City in a Zoo

Mother and baby possums by rufus50
Mother and baby possums, used by permission, rufus50 on Flickr.

One of Chicago's several mottoes is urbs in hortis (or urbs in horto) which means, aptly, "city in a garden." It is indeed a conscientiously woodsy and flowery place in the summer, even, maybe especially, in the heart of the Loop. It could equally aptly be the urbs in bestiary. There have been sightings, in neighborhoods far from mine, of deer, coyotes, and once even a cougar (peremptorily shot to death by the police; they never did figure out where it came from). In my neighborhood, which is one of many parks, small woodlands, and ample fresh water, we routinely see racoons and cottontail rabbits, as well as predatory beasts of the air such as peregrine falcons, kestrels, and red-tailed hawks. This morning my friend Karen and I were heading out to the path along Lake Michigan for our constitutional when we noticed something furry moving in the shrubs in somebody's front yard. We're both always on the lookout for stray cats, so we stopped to take a look. What should pop out from under the greenery than a momma opossum with two babies gripping her back, exactly as in this photo (with my thanks to Brian Walak for its use). The babies, miniature replicas of their parent, and their mom fixed their shoe-button eyes on us. We could see whatever wheels opossums have in their little heads were turning: are these two-leggeds going to leave us alone, or should we make a run for it? Or play dead? Or??  Finally, in the name of getting to work on time, Karen and I broke off the stare-down and continued our power-walk; mom promptly ducked under a garden gate just exactly far enough so the kids wouldn't be scraped off her back, and took them safely under the hostas in the next yard.
Although there were plenty possums (as they're usually called these days) in southern Indiana where I grew up, they are nocturnal and most often observed in the form of road kill. They're usually not considered attractive - their long naked tails make them look a lot like oversized rats. So this is really the first time in my life I've come across a living family up close, and I have to say, the babies clinging to their mother's back and the look on their mother's face were in fact quite endearing.


  1. I have had possums coming to my porch buffet nightly for years......last year I had a couple of babies coming on their own. I find them adorable creatures....but then I love mice and rats too.

  2. Aw, they sound cute. It's nice that we can co-exist.

  3. They are beautiful. Quite different from our possums. Well not strictly ours, the ones here, which are an absolute pest, are imports from Australia.