Opossum delivery

Baby opossums in a crate smallThere are 14 wide-eyed weirdos riding in the back of our SUV. Ron and I are heading to our property in Hocking Hills (Ohio), praying that they’ll like their new home and want to stay and start families.

The second thing I learned about baby opossums: They’re adorable.

The first and most important thing I learned about them: they eat ticks. [NOTE: This is critically important, because every time we hike on our land, I end up with a tick on me. It’s one thing to come home, peel out of my clothes, give the dog a bath, take a shower, and find one during that process. It’s entirely different when I wake up during the night and find one having a party on my stomach. Those are sleepless nights that create lots of additional cleaning and midnight showers.]

In May, I contacted the Ohio Wildlife Center— an organization dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of injured and orphaned wild animals. They were delighted to have another volunteer ready to re-home some of their former residents. So, we are on our way to deliver these 14 babies to the woods near a small stream on our land. Two cat carriers contain seven critters each.

An apparent rain shower means the roads are still wet. Steam floats, hovering just above our car whenever when round a curve and dip down, before rising up another hill.

Ron has decided to name each opossum after the Seven Dwarfs. (Or should it be Dwarves?) Sleepy, Grumpy, Bashful, Sneezy, Doc, Happy, and Dopey – I usually can’t remember all seven. That’s what Google is for! The second crate will be Sleepy 2, Grumpy 2, Bashful 2…you get the idea.

The first crate includes a real leader. He sniffs the air as we open the back of the car. He hangs upside down on the door of the crate as Ron carries it to find the perfect location for their release. We have two streams on the property, (we haven’t figured out yet if they’re connected; we definitely need a drone and a better map), but when we get to the area we remember as the “turn” we realize it is completely overgrown. (“You go first,” says Ron. Nope. No way. Such a funny man.)

We head back to the trails that we are paying to keep mowed, and find a spot near the ravine where the second stream is located. As we were instructed by our friends from the OWC, we set out some cat food to give the little guys something to eat as they start out in their new home (and to entice them out of the crate), but we needn’t have worried. “Doc” leads the way. We take a few photos and head back to the car for the second crate.

We open the car and are horrified. The opossums are in a pile in the back. Two of them look dead! Oh no! Did we leave them in the car too long? What are we going to do? And then one of them moves.

Right. They’re scared. THEY’RE PLAYING OPOSSUM. Wow. It’s as if I had forgotten what animals they are.

We place the second crate a few hundred yards away from the first to give all 14 “dwarfs” space to spread out. We open the door and wait. They do not have a leader. They stay put. Obviously, we need to get out of their way. We go back to check on the first batch. The crate is empty! We can’t see any of them!

We’ll go back in a few days to retrieve the crates. We cross our fingers they’ll be dining on ticks—and a little bit of cat food—in the meantime.


What are those tiny birds?

Dug (our dog) loves to explore. He’s mostly hound dog—either beagle or Basset—with a bit of corgi, all nose and not much leg. We walk with him for hours each day. Ron spends the most time doing that. They drive to a parking lot near the bike path and walk trails along the river. I tend to walk in neighborhoods near our house.

One of his favorite spaces to roam is the 40-acre Methodist Children’s Home in Worthington. Bordering High Street, the property includes a nursing home along with the regional office and conference center of the Methodist Church. Behind those are open fields and abandoned dorms, classroom and office buildings, and a chapel. They’re overgrown, falling into decay while the local community (and city council) discuss how the space might be used. I’m hoping for an official park, but there’s a debate between that and retail. (I assume office buildings are off the table now that the coronavirus is showing everyone how to work from home.)

Dug loves it. There’s a city of groundhogs, and he knows their tunnel network. He checks each opening every trip. When he spots a groundhog, the chase is on! He yelps and howls, sprints after them, and pulls me along. On previous trips, I’ve wiped out, face first in the dirt, dropped my phone, lost my hat. For the most part, though, I can hang on, run with him, usually shouting, “Slow! Slow!” He pretends not to hear me. Teenagers.

One 93-degree day last September, I drove him the half-mile to the property. With his thick fur, I wanted to limit his time in the sun. Everything was still. No movement from the ground. We abandoned the groundhog network and crossed the driveway to an old “family and career center” building. We went around to the back and down a slope toward the edge of a ravine, through calf-high grass under 40-foot trees. I gazed up and saw an unusual flock of tiny birds darting through the branches.

I stopped and stared.

Not birds. Cicadas. Huge cicadas. Hundreds of huge cicadas.

A chill ran down my neck, into my back and goosebumps made the hair on my arm stand up. I began to pray, “Please God don’t let one of them land on me. I will crap my pants and collapse, or worse, and I have to take care of Dug.”

I whispered, “Come on, Dug. We have to go. We have to move. Now. Now. Let’s go. Come on, come on, come on.”

He was sniffing and quite unaware of the danger from the sky. I pulled. I was afraid to look up. What if they’re creatures that can sense fear and they land on me? He stopped to sniff. “Now, now, now, now. Go, go, go.” I coaxed and pulled a little harder. He began to move.

We made it around the building, across the driveway and into the open and cicada-free field. My heart pounded so hard I felt dizzy, but we had made it. They didn’t follow us.

And then I thought­–we’re buying 65 acres of woods in Hocking Hills. I am afraid of bugs. This is going to be really interesting.

Pros and Cons

Last June, Ron and I decided to get serious about fulfilling one of our lifelong dreams: owning a cabin in Hocking Hills. We had always thought a place for a weekend getaway would be lovely. I envisioned a couple of acres. Ron envisioned 10 or so.

We had an acquaintance who had land to sell. Although we were in no real financial position to go forward with a major purchase, we drove down to take a look.

We got the grand tour of 130 acres on a Gator. (Sure, it’s listed as a utility vehicle, but it’s really just a four-wheel drive golf cart.) It was a little bit of fun, and a little bit of terror lurching up tree-covered hills over fallen limbs and big rocks. One valley was being prepped for a potential pond fed by natural springs in the area and had been cleared of trees.

The day was hot and cloudy. We toured the first 50 acres, around the pond-valley, and up the hill on the other side. Trees had been cut down to cut paths for hiking and to make the journey easier for the Gator. The acreage is actually zoned agricultural, so land management is required and includes tree harvesting.

And then we heard the thunder.

“Do you mind getting a little wet?” asked Fred, our Gator guide.

“I’m not worried,” I am always optimistic. “Maybe it will go around us.”

Instead, we were deluged–the kind of pouring rain that makes vision impossible. I once heard someone call it, “Looks like all the buckets in the sky are pouring.”

Fred drove the gator down to the road and around the corner to his house, which was about a half mile away. We sloshed in, peeled out of skin-soaked pants, socks and shoes, gratefully accepted towels and T-shirts, and threw our clothes in their dryer.

We discussed what we had seen: 130 acres was 10 times bigger than we ever imagined. Such beauty, though. (I mean, if wooded hills are what you like.)

First, the fears set in. We made lists of pros and cons. Really just cons. I thought I was an optimist, but maybe my fretting makes that a lie.

1. We had no idea how to manage that much land.

2. We live an hour away and can barely keep up with our house.

3. We really couldn’t afford to buy 130 acres without selling our house and moving there.

4. I like the suburb we live in and didn’t want to actually move there. (I like my comforts and the conveniences of nearby shopping.)

5. We have grandchildren–lots of them–and we see them mostly on the weekend.

6. How would we have time to learn about finding a good building site, and arrange for electricity, plumbing, septic tanks, and more that I didn’t even know to worry about yet?

7. And how would we afford the land, plus putting something on it?

8. We would need our own Gator. Another expense that we didn’t know about. And, we assumed, only the beginning of expenses we hadn’t considered.

Sure, it was our lifelong dream. It’s beautiful. But there were so many other ways to spend our money.

We talked for two weeks. Back and forth. It was just too expensive. We told B., the owner, “No. Can’t do it.” And then we were really sad.

But the next week, B. called us back. What if he divided it? He recommended the section along the road, an area we had only seen in the pouring rain. It was just 65 acres (funny how that seemed reasonable by comparison). He’d sell the other side of the hill (with the large pond space) to someone else.

“Come back and see it. You didn’t see much of that side in the rain.” He was right about that.

We debated. The land is zoned as agricultural property (such a great tax savings). This means we’d become tree farmers and have to work with a forestry expert to create a land management plan. The list of things we didn’t know got longer! There was no building, no electricity, no water, nothing. We didn’t know how to get any of that for the property. We felt we were too old and it was too much work. Who would we hire to help us? We didn’t know anybody in that area! And we were outsiders. (I’m from a small town. I know what it’s like. We’d be strangers for the rest of our lives.) The grass along the road needs to be regularly cut. The paths need to be maintained, also.

And frankly, if I’m going to have that much land, I really want a stream. That’s what I always dreamed of–a ravine and a stream. Space to roam about. We thought we should keep looking for a better property. But gosh, B. is such a nice man.

So, to be polite, we drove back down to say no in person. And when we arrived, we got back on the gator for a rain-free tour of the other side of the land.

And discovered: a ravine and small stream that led to the road.

A lifelong dream. We could start out just hiking once or twice a month. Maybe some camping. We don’t have to build right away. We can take our time and get to know what we need to do. And then B. said he could help us out financially. What an opportunity! What a legacy for the kids! If not now, when?

We now own 67 acres of land in Hocking County. The adventure has begun.