01 May 2009


No moon or stars visible when I finally go out to gather eggs. The hens have long  since gone to roost. Unable to see in the dark, they always settle in early. And chickens don’t sleep walk.

But someone or something is.

I open the coop door, find the hanging feeder swinging back and forth. Some creature has just been digging in  it, and it warn’t no chicken. My eyes widen; my heart thumps.

I shine the flashlight all around. Nothing out of place. No signs of struggle. Chickens all present, all okay. What could it be?

A few years back, same summer cancer was eating its way through my dad’s body, some predator raided our coop almost nightly. Chickens disappeared one by one. Or, as with a newly hatched brood of chicks, a dozen at a time. My husband Dave and I didn’t know what was after them, or what action to take.

We doubled the height of the barnyard fence to eight feet. Next day, another chicken gone.

We barred the doorway with chicken wire. Next day, two chickens gone.

We sealed the coop doors tight. Next day, all present and accounted for. Day after that, another chicken gone.

Whatever it was—snake, opossum, raccoon, weasel, mink, marten, fox, coyote, wolf, mountain lion, grizzly bear, Big Foot, Loch Ness monster—it was voracious. It was canny. Fearsome. Stealthy. Smarter than we were.

It upped the ante, started making daylight raids. We foiled its attacks only after enclosing our flock in a high-security fence. We dug a trench, started the chicken wire barricade a foot below ground to discourage digging underneath it, then fenced the sides and up over the top as well. At last the chicken population stabilized. 

We never did identify the perpetrator.

Has it now come back? I watch the feeder swinging to and fro. What creature breached our security? A human? 

The answer pokes out from under a nest box. I spot the scaly tail of an opossum. The beast must have crept in the other day when I left the gate open, let the chickens roam the lawn.

Next day Dave chases the opossum out using a shovel as shield, the end of a rake handle as motivation. I cheer him on from behind the coop door. Our foe snarls, hisses, bites, leaves. All is quiet for a few days. Then I find the feeder swinging back and forth again. Just our luck, I tell Dave. We’re being haunted by a were’possum with supernatural powers of translocation. 


Dave thinks to check the maximum security fence, finds a hole big enough for a horde of were-opossums to tromp through. 

I fix the fence. No more nighttime visitors. 

Yet I’m grateful they showed up in the first place. They gave me a wake-up call, set me thinking about my inner life, put me on the lookout for trespassers. Suddenly (or maybe not), there they were, coming out of the woodwork. What, translocating? Strangers, friends, family, institutionalized religion, former employer tromping willy-nilly over personal boundaries I thought were secure, draining my resources. 

I reminded  myself that I am only one person, can do only so much. I examined my inner fences, patched the holes, said No.

Out of the coop, ’possum.

Life is like this. Exquisitely coherent. The ’possum in my outer life prompts me to look inside for something similar. What do I notice? What is happening there? How am I feeling about it? What would I like to have happen? How might I feel then? What will I do now? 

Out of awareness, change.

An earlier version of this essay first appeared in The Letter, May 2009

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