5: An Elusive Squatter
One morning I woke early and happened upon one of my furry housemates returning home after a night out. It scurried up the tree out front, rambled along a bough, took to the electricity wire and effortlessly tight-rope walked up to the side of the house where it scaled under an eave and into a gap in the fascia as big as my fist. Despite all my work plugging gaps in the roof I’d missed this one hole hidden under the junction box.
Later that day I obtained an off-cut from the construction site across the road, went up into the roof at twilight to ensure the brushtails were all out, grabbed the ladder and a hammer and from the outside blocked up the hole. And finally Tab and I returned to some undisturbed nights of blissful sleep.
Then three nights later we were again rudely woken.
In the small hours a high-pitched, panic-stricken scream came from above which woke us instantly. Had the possums spitefully brought their mates back after my eviction handiwork? What were they running up there? Kangaroos? I was perplexed.
So I changed into my roof-time clothes, grabbed a torch (and an oven-mitt for some reason) and up through the manhole I went. I was absolutely certain all the brushtails were out before I had blocked the hole. I knew their habits and sleeping nooks – down in the cavities of the front porch – and I knew very well the confines of my own roof space.
What I didn’t know until that night was that a Ringtail Possum had also taken up residence. Its drey must have been built high in the rafters, somewhere up near where I spotted the poor, timid little thing. My torch-beam shone on the ringtail’s iridescent-grey back, trembling and frightened, head pulled snugly into its forequarters, the white tip of its prehensile tail coiled tightly around nothing but its own fear.
Peering over its shoulder at me, again I saw into a possum’s beautiful nocturnal face, this one with eyes like balls of onyx. I moved the torch beam away from its face. The little bugger must have been starving!
I felt terrible. I’d trapped a wild animal, cut it off from food and water and the livelihood of the outside world. I’d completely overlooked this shy, secretive little ringtail among its larger, noisier, more confident brushtail cousins. I’d inadvertently detained it within the house’s musty roof space for three whole days and nights, so there and then I stormed down through the manhole and went outside, grabbed the ladder and hammer and swiftly clawed off the barrier secured on the fascia under the junction box.
The possums had to live somewhere so I relented and again opened up my roof to them. And over time Tab and I adapted, we managed to sleep regardless of all the bumps and noises in our roof.
The other day while in the neighbourhood of the old weatherboard house I took a ride-by for old time sake; I wondered if my possum boxes might still be there and I was prepared to trespass and climb the tree out front if the opportunity arose, curious to see if they were being used by the possums.
But the house had succumbed to the wheels of progress – excavations had leveled the ground for townhouses. There was no sign of the possum boxes or the tree in which they were tied; the whole lot had been razed. Easy for me though, I just moved on. Harder for the possums, to where would they ultimately move?