In Birdland, we are reeling from a great tragedy. A massacre in the chicken house.
I saw, as I approached the coop this morning with a scoop of pellets, the fine, white feathers blown all over the chicken yard, but I could not have anticipated the horror I felt when I raised the lid to the coop: some chickens cowering in the nest boxes, carcasses spread on the floor.
Later, when I lifted the poor, still, bodies out with the shovel I realized they had been there all night. In one nest box I was surprised to see a ball of grey fur.
My poor black silkie scared herself grey? Or lost her outer feathers to reveal a white undercoat? Or maybe the white silkie got muddied in the battle? Now she has tucked her head under her wings, afraid to even look.
(I should explain that a "silky" chicken gets its name from the feathers that are so slender and flexible, that they look like fur.)
I gave this fat ball of fur a reassuring pat as I clucked to the survivors. But a little triangular face with sharp triangular teeth grinned up at me and hissed! It was not a chicken, but an evil possum nestled in the nest box.
I yelled for Ursula, but my dog misunderstood my pointing and started chasing the chickens out of the coop. She thought she was helping, poor dog, and I yelled louder until Michael opened the window and started beeping her with the bad dog egg.
He too, mistook my message. The bad dog egg, which emits a high frequency noise unpleasant to dogs, usually deters her, but not in the midst of excitement. I shouted and screamed until Michael understood that there was a possum in the coop and he came out. I had already patted the evil brute, and it didn't bite me, and I started to believe that I could lift out the nest box and it would just stay curled up. At first I thought I would spill it out into the yard so Ursula could dispatch it.
Ursula's predecessor, the great Isis, killed many a possum and once even a raccoon the size of a small bear, but Ursula has yet to prove her skills as a hunter, so I was loath to let it loose, lest it take refuge somewhere near and even slip back into the coop to repeat its carnage.
Instead, I began to hatch a plot to hurry the nest box into the garden coop and shut it up in there until I could figure out what to do with the fiendish varmint.
I did that, and it quickly sought refuge in another nest box already in the garden coop. This one is more private, with a lid and a smaller opening. I latched the garden coop door, and the monster sat huddled in the shadows of the nest box.
Now I am having a cup of tea to mull over what to do next. If you don't know what to do, have a cup of tea and maybe a plan will come. Possums are creatures of the night, so though I wasn't sure the garden coop could secure a possum, I was reasonably sure it would not try to quit the little box it was hiding in until enveloped in darkness.
How will I get the demonic vermin out of my garden coop and far from my chickens before night falls? Could I stick its hiding place into a dog crate, and then drive it far away and let it loose again?
I will admit I thought briefly about bringing it to a young man I know who has a gun and asking him to slay it. As unsporting as it is to shoot a caged beast, I believe if you could have seen the sight I saw, you would have entertained similar thoughts.
I cleaned up the blood and feathers and gave the poor, traumatized chickens extra pellets. I clucked to them comforting songs of green grass and spring. And now I sit with my tea and try to regain my composure.
I've given myself until 2 p.m. to decide on a plan of action. I'll go about my day in peace, and then at 2 I will do ... something.
Retrieve beauty; recover peace; blessed be.
Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She tries to respect all creatures great and small, but in the case of possums, she finds this a great challenge. You can read the exciting conclusion to this tale next week in this column or at http://www.letterfrombirdland.blogspot.com . Hays can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org  or via snail mail care of this newspaper, 15 Main St., Champaign IL 61820.