Stumpy

A about four months ago, a possum appeared in the trees near our house. This is not unusual; possums are common, especially down at the chook pen at night, where they come to see what scraps have been left them. But this possum had lost his long bushy tail. Instead, he had a stump with a raw wound at the end and another just above. The stump was bare of fur and the possum looked thin and ragged. Rather unimaginatively we named him Stumpy. Since then, Stumpy has been appearing most nights. At dusk we might hear a thump on the roof as he emerges for the night and see him peering over the edge of the guttering, his eyes bright but fearful.
I called the vet one day as I was worried about the raw wound on his stump which was still open and sometimes bleeding, even a few weeks after we first saw him.
“Possums without tails don’t tend to do very well in the wild,” she told me.
It’s true that he obviously has trouble manoeuvring. He doesn’t have very good balance and, one night, fell quite spectacularly from the birdfeeder suspended from the back deck. He was fine, so I guess he’s pretty tough.
One afternoon as I was going out the back door, I heard a scraping noise above me. I went out into the garden so I could see up onto the roof above the door, and there was Stumpy crouched in the corner of the roof that overhangs the verandah and underneath the main roof that sits out over it. It had been very hot — 40 degrees some days — and I was worried about him up there under a hot tin roof. So I got onto the local Facebook page and asked if anyone knew where I could get a possum box. I soon had a solid box that my husband fixed to a tree near the shed. We wondered if Stumpy would find it so we put a banana on the lip to entice him.

We went away for a week the next day, but when we got back, my husband got out the ladder and climbed up to see if the box was occupied. Nope. No possum. He checked again a couple of days later, but still no possum. I’d been leaving fruit out as usual for Stumpy but it had been going uneaten, so we presumed that Stumpy had finally succumbed to the brutality of the bush, where it really is survival of the fittest. Finally my husband decided he may as well take the box down and return it to the person who had leant it to us. He climbed up and decided to take one last look before taking it down. He didn’t bother being cautious, just opened the top for a quick look, and there, lying on its back in the pile of dead leaves, was a possum.
“Well is it Stumpy?” I asked him when he called out to me.
“I don’t know, I didn’t look at his tail,” he replied. So I climbed up the ladder to look for myself and as I peered into the box, a rather startled and somewhat affronted possum looked back. Sure enough, there was just a bare stump; Stumpy had found his home. We put a piece of banana on the edge of the hole to see if he would take it. We looked away, looked back and it was gone.

Stumpy hasn’t been in his box when we’ve looked recently, but he still turns up most nights and takes the food left out for him. He has put on weight, his fur is lovely and thick, and his stump has healed and is also covered in fur. His only problem now is other possums with lovely long bushy tails moving in on his turf. We hear territorial noises on the roof. I’ve seen one take Stumpy’s food, and last week Stumpy turned up, obviously very hungry because he allowed me to hold a piece of banana while he held onto my fingers and ate it. Hopefully he’ll survive. We’ll keep an eye on him and keep leaving food out.

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Myrtle the Turtle

Last week my friend, Reyna, sent out an email asking if anyone could adopt their Eastern Long-necked turtle, as they are relocating to Geneva for two years and an Australian turtle wouldn’t really do well in a Swiss climate. Since we have a lovely garden pond, I said we would happily take Myrtle the Turtle.
On arrival at Reyna’s house she took me over to her pond to meet Myrtle.
“There she is,” she said, pointing to a clump of plants.
“Where?” I replied.
“There.” And she pointed closer to two tiny nostrils poking through the greenery. She reached a hand in and pulled out Myrtle, who was about the size of a bread and butter plate. She flailed her legs a bit, but didn’t seem too perturbed, reaching out towards Reyna with a neck that was easily as long as the rest of her body, hence the name. Reyna gently replaced her in the pond and she disappeared under the plants, reappearing when Reyna sprinkled some “turtle sticks” on the surface of the water.
“You don’t really need to feed her often,” she told me. “She can go for days. She eats what’s in the pond.”
Reyna’s pond had been purpose built for another resident who washed away after heavy summer rains. It has a timber frame, like a raised garden bed, and a large rock in the middle where Myrtle could sun herself. But the straight timber sides meant Myrtle couldn’t escape. My pond is different. It is set into the ground, surrounded by large stones, more like a natural pond, easy for a turtle to escape from.

Reyna carefully placed Myrtle in a bucket, a little worried that she would hurt her long neck, but since Myrtle did what turtles do and tucked it into her shell, there was no need to worry. Reyna also loaded me up with fish and plants as they would have to drain the pond for safety reasons, since the house would be rented while they were away.

When I arrived home, I carefully took Myrtle out of the bucket and released her into her new home. She immediately swam off and hid under the plants. I have a few fish in my pond and only one plant, so I hadn’t really paid it much attention for a long while, which is a shame, because it’s lovely to have a pond in the garden. Small children are drawn to it like a magnet and love trying to catch the yabbies that creep along, scouring the bottom. Small birds come and bath in it late in the day and dragonflies flit above it in the sunlight. Tiny spiders spin webs in the plants above the water and water-spiders skim across its surface. It’s quite mesmerising to sit and watch the fish gliding through the water. Now I would also have Myrtle to check on each day. Throughout the afternoon I went out to see where she was. She seemed to be luxuriating in her new, larger home, slowly moving about, occasionally poking her nose out of the water. The yabbies poked at her to see what she was and the new fish, her old friends, swam around her as though sharing the excitement of their new surrounds.

The next morning it was raining quite heavily. I couldn’t see Myrtle in the pond but reasoned she may be taking shelter amongst the plants or under the overhanging rocks. But, sadly, there has been no sighting of Myrtle for a week now. She was originally a wild turtle, picked up by Reyna’s family on the side of the road, so I guess that’s where she’s gone: back to the wild.

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