Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Heap o' Sun and Shadder

Thursday morning, after we robbed the bees, Mr. Keenon, Ryan, and I were sitting around a table in my backyard visiting. Emma and the Keenon sisters were sitting on the grass nearby while Emma showed them how her miniature loom works. Nathaniel had gone inside to get ready for work.

It was very peaceful. I was still on this kind of high from the excitement and wonder of our time with the bees. I saw our experience in a kind of golden glow--we had sucked the marrow of life, nourished the vital spark, approached the Light through our close encounter with His handiwork.

Then, one of the Keenon girls spotted a possum, and Emma ran inside to get Nathaniel to shoot it. This is normally the way we deal with possums, but Herb is always home when we do, because possums come out at night.

I was still deliberating over whether to have Nathaniel shoot the possum, when I realized that the girls had treed it; Nathaniel had appeared wielding a crowbar, and Ryan was shinnying up the tree armed with what looked like an old wooden shovel handle. Clearly, the teenagers believed in action and had taken the matter into their own hands.

Vastly relieved that I didn't have to make any gun decisions without my husband, I joined the circle around the tree.

Po' lil' possum!

Ryan shook the branches and swiped at the possum with the tool handle. I don't know which measure finally effected the possum's fall, but it dropped on the ground in front of Nathaniel, and he gave it a mighty whack with the crowbar.

I shivered.

I hated that he had to die, but he did. Possums are horrible predators of chickens, and they don't even eat them. They just kill them and leave a bloody mess. Plus, I was worried about the reason this possum was out in broad daylight. Did it have rabies?

Because of this fear of rabies, we decided to burn the body. Nathaniel carried the possum by the tail, trailing blood, to one of our burn sites. He laid it down, and everybody piled sticks, leaves, and hay on top of it, followed by a "tee-pee" of small firewood. Mr. Keenon lit the straw. Five teenagers, Mr. Keenon, and I stood in a circle around the funeral pyre, waiting to make sure the fire started.

Although I was sure that we were doing the right thing, as I looked around the circle, I couldn't help thinking that this was really odd and that we should be making s'mores instead, singing blithely.

I didn't want our golden morning with the bees to have this dark shadow of possum murder cast over it.

But it did, and I have been bothered off and on since then with the odd feeling it gave me. Yesterday, the first verse of an Edgar Guest poem sprang into my head:

It takes a heap o' livin' in a house t' make it home,
A heap o' sun and shadder, an' ye sometimes have t' roam
Afore ye really 'preciate the things ye lef' behind,
An' hunger fer 'em somehow, with 'em allus on yer mind.
It don't make any differunce how rich ye get t' be,
How much yer chairs an' tables cost, how great yer luxury;
It ain't home t' ye, though it be the palace of a king,
Until somehow yer soul is sort o' wrapped round everything."

Though there is nothing mentioned of possums in this simple poem, the theme is that it is the combination of the good and bad things experienced together at home that makes home so dear.

And so the killing of a possum on a summer's morning plays its part in that. It is no less a thing than robbing the bees. Both events will become part of the "heap o' sun and shadder" in my memory. May God help me to embrace it all.


Fotofule said...

Ahhh, this reminded me of E. B. White's "Death of a Pig".

R.I.P, chicken predator.

Wendy Haught said...

Thanks, Bev. Ever since I posted it, I have wished that I hadn't. I feel a little better now.

Wendy Haught said...


Another thought: Death of a Pig! I can't believe you didn't recall Atticus taking out the rabid dog in To Kill a Mockingbird! It's your favorite!

Fotofule said...

Haha! You're right! But it was your expression of the topic, your writing, that made E. B. come to mind. Stephen and I have read that story to each other many times. Hey, we all have a little "Fred" in us. :)

(And my husband shoots at perfectly nocturnal racoons - healthy in every respect, but eating out house!)