As mentor to a female possum on my hill, I have been helping her find greater tranquility in life. Before we proceed with the story, however, here’s a quick summary of events up to now.

The first challenge was to overcome hostility between the possum and a raccoon that also likes to hang out around my cabin.

To do this, I brought them to the negotiating table by putting two handfuls of peanuts on it. Over the course of several nights, I moved the handfuls closer and closer together until they were contentedly eating nose to nose.

My next challenge was to teach the possum proper dining etiquette. That proved fairly easy.

This being Marin County, I’ve now begun encouraging Ms. Possum to become a bodhisattva and begin the path toward spiritual enlightenment. Fortunately, her curiosity has been piqued, and she’s giving it a try.

Resting from her sojourn, the bodhisattva achieves serenity among life’s blossoms.

Many possums never find tranquility. Here a male possum turns his head to show one of several bites he recently received from somebody — presumably another male.




As it happened, Linda Petersen, ad manager of The West Marin Citizen, and I were watching last week when he began making moves on Ms. Possum. At first she ignored him, but when he persisted, she hissed and bared her fangs, causing him to back off.

Although noticeably larger than Ms. Possum, the male is scared of me and skedaddles whenever I open a door onto my deck.

Ms. Possum and I, on the other hand, get along famously. She’s grateful for any peanuts I put out and has no problem with my petting her, as one would a dog, or scratching her behind the ears. Photo by Linda Petersen

From scratching her, I’ve seen for myself what excellent insulation Ms. Possum’s outer layer of fur provides. Even on cold, wet nights, her soft, inner layer remains warm and dry.

However, I should stress that Ms. Possum is unusual and that you shouldn’t try this at home. There were no possums to speak of in West Marin until 25 years ago (they’re native to the Deep South), so you wouldn’t be screwing up an established ecosystem by befriending one. But possums have sharp teeth, and you don’t want to end up like the male above with a bunch of puncture wounds.

The danger is not primarily rabies. The body temperature of possums is low enough they seldom get it. Nonetheless, they can carry H1N1 (swine flu), and I always wash my hands after petting with Ms. Possum.