Nearly every day, my wife and I take a walk along the same route through the neighborhood surrounding our home. This has allowed us to become familiar with many of our neighbors, both human and non-human. Our walks are frequently paused for a moment, or diverted to the opposite side of the road in order to give a wild neighbor the space he or she needs to feel comfortable. Shortly after beginning today’s walk we stopped and then crossed the road so as not to frighten off a male robin that was attempting to subdue a large earthworm. The bird stopped for a moment when he saw us approach, but he continued with what he was doing as soon as we showed him that we weren’t interested in capturing him or usurping his prize. It was no real inconvenience to us to alter our path, but it would have been more than an inconvenience both to the adult robin and the babies that were waiting for him to return with a meal if Julie and I had taken the less considerate route.
The unpleasant reality of walking along a road is that you are continually reminded of the impact of human transportation on both our domestic companions and our wild neighbors. We have come across many cats, opossums, crows, squirrels and other animals that happened to cross the pavement at just the wrong moment. We generally move the carcasses off the road so they don’t attract new victims into the path of cars, and the bodies slowly disappear due to the combined efforts of scavengers, insects, bacteria and time.
For the past week, we have been seeing the steady progression of decay in the bodies of three very young opossums that are lying on the grass near the road about a half-mile into our walking route. Judging by their size, the unfortunate youngsters were likely still riding around on mom’s back just before their demise. I have imagined many different scenarios for their final moments, and all of them leave me feeling more than a little sad for what they must have experienced.
As Julie and I were returning from our walk today, I was momentarily lost in my thoughts. Suddenly, Julie stopped in her tracks and motioned to me to do the same. I looked up to see that we had nearly arrived at the spot in which the remains of the three opossums lay. Standing on one of the opossums was a Black-capped Chickadee. As we watched, the chickadee began plucking fur from the dried skin of the opossum. After a minute or so of determined effort, the chickadee’s beak was completely obscured by the puff of soft, white hairs she had collected. She would use this fur to line her nest, and it would once again act as insulation for young, growing bodies. Although sadness remained for the opossum’s premature loss of life, the thought of hatchling chickadees sitting in a comfortable, warm nest brought a smile to my face.