Virtue & Mischief: The zoo ‘over there’


As some of you are aware, the leaders of 195 or so countries concluded several days’ worth of meetings in Paris to hammer out an agreement designed to lower greenhouse gas emissions across the globe. Opinions vary significantly on what, if anything, was accomplished there.

According to United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, it was “truly a historic moment. For the first time, we have a truly universal agreement on climate change, one of the most crucial problems on earth.” On the other hand, Professor James Hansen (a NASA scientist who is often referred to as the father of climate change awareness) was less sanguine about the accord. He called it “worthless words,”, a “fraud” and “bull [bleep].”

Whatever your opinion on the matter—and I have a relatively poorly informed one, but that’s well outside the scope of this family-oriented little column—one must agree, that whatever its cause (El Nino?), the weather in Darke County lately has been amazing. Or perhaps ominous is the better adjective.

My family and I are going to southern Arizona next week to spend several days over the Christmas holidays and Krista and I have been checking the recent weather reports for our destination. It has been cooler there than it’s been here! If I’d offered to bet you that the high temperature on, say, Dec. 13 would be higher in Greenville, Ohio, than in Tucson, Arizona, would have you taken it? If so, you would have lost.

Late last week I sat at my computer and heard a vaguely familiar sound emanating from the grassy plaza outside my office window. I looked out and was astonished to discover it was a pair of riding lawn mowers laboring legitimately away. The youngest amigo, Luke, has become a bit obsessed with practicing basketball—a new pursuit for him—and has taken advantage of this spell of 50- and 60-degree weather by endlessly dribbling and shooting on our driveway court.

Yesterday morning I woke up before the others and fixed a half pot of coffee. It was light out and the cat and I stared out the bay window next to our kitchen nook as I waited for the coffee to brew. Maybe it was El Nino, maybe it was a more vanilla-like manifestation of climate change, maybe it was something altogether unrelated, but whatever the impetus what I witnessed shocked me.

Across our driveway and into our back yard—in broad daylight, mind you—ambled a possum. A slow, ugly, casual-looking possum. He waddled around the back of the house and over to the west side. Graystripe and I sprinted to that side of the house and I opened the curtains of the windows to follow his progression. With nary a proverbial care in the world, he continued around the west end and proceeded to the front of the house. Graystripe was mesmerized by this doughy and repulsive creature. Honestly, I was too. As he has spent his entire life indoors, I doubt Graystripe had ever laid eyes on one. I had never seen one so closely nor in the daylight.

After I lost track of him, I poured myself a cup of coffee and entered our screened-in porch. I shut the door behind me, sat down, took a sip and almost did a spit-take when I spotted Mr. Possum squatting on our little walkway two feet away. He sniffed and shook his body, as if stimulated by a very mild current of electricity. I quietly removed my Ipod from my back pocket and snapped a couple of pictures. After about 30 seconds I became both bored and a little grossed-out by the obese marsupial, so I hollered and clapped my hands. He scurried away in the direction of our neighbors to the east, perhaps never to be seen again by a member of the Swensen clan.

I shook my head and returned to the kitchen nook area to finish my cup of coffee and look over a couple of items in preparation of teaching some fourth/sixth-graders a Sunday school lesson later that morning. What other weird goings-on will happen today? I wondered. I received a speedy answer. As I approached the bay window I saw Graystripe peering out intently, his forepaws perched on the glass while his back paws, firmly situated on the floor, supported him. He meowed vigorously and pressed his snout against the pane. The object of Graystripe’s interest, on the other side of the window, was a stray we’ve named “Pharaoh” (I forget why). Pharaoh mirrored Graystripe’s behavior perfectly. There they remained, in a five-minute feline pas de deux, meowing, turning their heads to and fro, and pawing away.

I took a picture of that, too, and posted both shots—Mr. Possum + the cats—on my facebook page. “It’s like a zoo over there,” opined one of my friends immediately. “Yes,” I replied, “and the kids aren’t even out of bed yet!”

Now THAT is ominous.

By Tim Swensen

Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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