Saturday, April 11, 2015

Triskaidekaphiliacs Exchanging Glances

Solitary strangers in the night,
faces pale and stern,
revealing nothing
of the concise intricate thoughts
racing through our minds
as we assess the situation
at hand.

Falsely hung
in the Tree of Life,
perhaps due to our penchant
for introspection
and nimble changes in perspective.
I never the less prefer to abide awhile
where water flows fair,
and pickings are easy
in hollowed nest,
or abandoned hole
while I contemplate my strategy.

Like ghosts in the moonlight,
We bravely scout from airy branches
climbing across varied terrain
cushioning our nomadic nests
and swimming confidently
with extra limb
across any watery course
that may bar our chosen path.

I am a smudge of shadow,
a slow and wary traveler
Seeking my way.
Heartbeat a tad slower,
toothy smile wider
than other mammals my size
loose in the night.

Occidental tourist,
Native of the
New World;
Only I am
Twice en-wombed.
Wise ranger am I,
from these worldly experiences
collecting masks and clever tricks
for every occasion.

I am the High Priestess
who sits at that still place
between opposites.
My passive resistance
to venomous bites,
immune to contagion.

Should I wake too fearsome a foe
I'll drop dead on the spot!
An award winning performance,
I must surrender all I thought I knew.
Entrancing myself
to beguile my audience,
treasures safe in my hidden pocket.

Then we'll vanish
like Bogie and Bacall,
to pass in the night
another clandestine meeting.
Sacrificing ourselves at roadsides,
taking what we can find
to provide for tomorrow
as we go our separate ways.
Play it again!

For those new to the game, each poem is inspired by a Teacher found in Nature; a star, stone, animal, plant etc that holds lessons of Wisdom for us. Can you guess who is singing today? Congrats to Sharonlee and Jaguarwombyn for naming this Teacher!

"Happy, smile. Sad, frown. Use the corresponding face with the corresponding emotion. But no. You want this mysterious... " ~ Kate (Meg Ryan), French Kiss
Family Didelphidae has 15 genera and over 60 species that can be found from North America down to the tip of Argentina. They can be as small as the 40 gram/1.4 ounce mouse Opossums to the Virgina Opossum which can weigh in at anywhere between 5 and 15 odd pounds! Most Opossums are solitary and nocturnal, coming together briefly to mate or form family groups. Some stay primarily on the ground and some almost never come down from the trees. 
While often referred to as possums, there is quite a bit of difference between Opossums (Didelphidae) and true Possums (Phalangeridae). Both are marsupials and share a vague similarity in appearance and habit, but they are not actually closely related. For our purposes, I will focus on the Opossum I'm most familiar with, the Virgina or North American Opossum.

The Opossum's has the widest mouth and most teeth (50!) of any mammal of similar size. Males can be identified by the bright yellow stains on their chests from the scent gland located there. Opossums are nomadic in nature, rambling through a home territory of roughly 10 acres in varied terrains. You are just as likely to find a Opossum in urban areas as you are forest, hills or swamps. Desert areas are the only terrain too harsh to support this adaptable Creature Teacher. 
Opossums are omnivorous opportunistic eaters who especially enjoy over-ripe fruits and tinned cat food (so don't leave out pet food!). They will eat frogs, small birds, insects, snails, slugs, rodents, and other small vertebrates, snakes, plant matter including overripe fruits, eggs, pet foods, human garbage and dead animals. They are actually very helpful creatures to have around in terms of keeping other pests in control! Tidy and healthy too despite their readiness to climb through garbage or partake of carrion for a meal.
Opossum metabolism and body temperature are significantly slower than placental mammals their size, and this slower movement rate may contribute to their generally unconcerned air as they saunter along their way. It may also be why they are so resistant to both venomous snake bites and diseases in general! Only one in approximately 800 Opossums will contract rabies, for example, nor do they act as carriers for this condition.

They do not hibernate over winter. While predominately nocturnal, they will be far more active during the day in winter months though, as they switch their activity to take advantage of the warmer daylight hours. Opossums also appear to have adapted to the colder temperatures and sparse supplies of winter months by being able to lose 45% of their overall body mass during this time without any harm. Females in captivity who were fed well over the winter still lose as much as 27% of their muscle mass in response to this seasonal period.

Opossums have an amazing 13 day gestation period followed by about 2 months of development within the pouch. 13 functioning teats within the pouch seems to be the limit, so while an Opossum may give birth to up to 20 honeybee-sized "joeys", only the 13 strongest will make the arduous journey to the pouch and successfully claim a functioning teat, which will then swell in their mouths to help maintain that vital attachment. This makes the number 13 important to those called by this Teacher. Opossum's message or lesson may manifest or resolve itself with 13 days, for example. Mating between Jills (females) and Jacks (males) can start as early as December and run as late as October. They can have up to three litters, with most births occurring between February and June.

Jills have a forked vagina with 2 separate uteri, and Jacks have forked penises. Hence the name Didelphidae, two("di") wombs("delphus"). Their sperm is unique in that they pair up in the male reproductive tract during maturation, and remain paired within the female tract until just before fertilization. While fascinating, it is not understood why this occurs only in the American Opossums. This pairing may increase sperm motility in the female reproductive tract and/or may also help protect the sperm during passage but is also not fully understood at this time.

Opossums are frequently depicted hanging from a tree branch by their prehensile tail. While young joeys may be able to do so briefly, adults are far too large and heavy to accomplish this move, although they may appear to as they are very agile climbers. Their tails are used as an extra limb while climbing or swimming though, and one might easily catch a glimpse of some local Opossum waddling by with a bunch of leaves clutched in their tail with which to line their nest. They don't dig their own nests either. They will take over a conveniently abandoned den of some other creature, drainage ditch, or curl up in a hollow tree or similar natural space.

This consistent depiction of them hanging from a tree reflects to me this Teacher's connection with the lessons expressed by The Hanged Man in the Tarot; sacrifice, letting go, surrendering, passivity, suspension, contemplation, and gaining a fresh point of view- all good Opossum lessons. This Teacher's primary lesson to us is that of Appearances. Naturally very quiet animals, the Opossum can put on quite an aggressive display to warn off potential predators; hissing, growling and producing plenty of drool to show off their wide mouthful of pointy teeth.

While they are capable of defending themselves with tooth and sharp claws, they very seldom have to resort to this sort of defense. If their aggressive display doesn't work long enough for them to beat a retreat, they will "drop dead" (aka "play 'possum"); giving every appearance of having died. Opossums are even able to give off the smell of death through an anal gland at will! The Opossum actually enters into a trance-like state that simulates death, right down to the rictus-like grin on their faces. This usually confuses or turns off a potential predator who may not be interested in a carrion meal; The ultimate passive aggressive move!

The 13th card in the Tarot, The High Priestess, also shares lessons with this Teacher and bears examination by anyone called by Opossum. The Opossum asks us to spend a little time every day in Contemplation as a means to develop Awareness and Clarity, both in our internal and external view of Life. Are we allowing ourselves to be diverted from our chosen goal? Are we buying into the appearances put up by others, or even those masks we wear for others? 

This Trickster Teacher is an excellent one to turn to if we need help identifying or properly employing masks. Sometimes the message being delivered is that we are using the wrong mask to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves. Sometimes we need to put on a brave face for our self or for others, and sometimes it is more effective to remove our mask altogether.

While we should never feel it necessary to apologize for our feelings or experiences, we shouldn't use those things as an excuse for making poor decisions either. No one "makes" us respond with anger, fear, aggression etc. We choose how we respond, and must live with the consequences. Sometimes the very best response to a given situation is no response at all, and this can be extremely challenging! When someone insults us, for example, it is difficult not to respond emotionally or defensively. 

Opossum reminds us to be aware of where, when and how we choose to invest our energy, as well as pointing out that appearances are deceiving. The mask others choose to show us is often no more real than 'possum's grand death scene. How does this clever Teacher appear in your life?

"The world is governed more by appearance than realities so that it is fully as necessary to seem to know something as to know it." ~Daniel Webster

"Things do not pass for what they are, but for what they seem. Most things are judged by their jackets." ~Baltasar Gracian

"How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours." ~Wayne Dyer.

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