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Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Meek Shall Inherit...

So, I looked into the natural history of my marsupial buddies today, and here’s what I found.

Once upon a time, 70 million years ago or thereabouts, these little guys emerged from the Cretaceous North American underbrush. The proto-possums are called Peradectids, at least, that’s the latest research from the University of Florida and those sooooooutherners  should know a thing or two about possums, after all. They were sharing their territory with the dinosaurs, so things were probably pretty tough, but then, just 5 million years or so later—the mere blink of an eye in geologic time—that famous or infamous asteroid struck, putting a sudden, dramatic end to the long reign of dino domination. Possums somehow survived.

What is more, they used the new space they’d acquired, after emerging from various fallout shelters—probably the gigantic ribcages of their now deceased neighbors—and, in a fit of exuberance, split into several families. Eating insects, fruit and eggs and other people’s leftovers, they trudged down Mexico way and over the land bridge into South America, where they continued to evolve. At this time, South America, Antarctica and Australia were still cuddled up together on a big comfy couch of floating basalt, and so from here, the proto-marsupials marched on to find new homes.

The three continents finally parted company and drifted away from one another. Eventually isolated in Australia, the marsupial line would proliferate into many strange and wonderful shapes. Sadly, most of these exotic critters, are now extinct or on their way out, like the legendary Tasmanian Devil, who is really—cartoon aside—quite a fetching little beast.   

Meanwhile, in North America, all the possums went extinct during a time when North and South America were no longer connected. Therefore, for an epoch or two, North America was deprived of this a vital member of Nature’s clean-up crew.   Fortunately, for fans, like me, a short three million years ago, the land bridge between North and South America rose again—or the ocean receded, locked up in the polar ice caps or whatever—and possums returned to their ancient point of origin once again.

Now, while you are laughing at possum—squashed by the side of road—no doubt intentionally driven over by some bully of an ape with delusions of grandeur because he sits in a machine with an internal combustion engine—well, think again! The “dawn of man” --and guess what, guys? There wouldn’t have been any “dawn” at all without woman, too—this “dawn” began a mere 3 million years ago, about the time possum was returning from his very successful South American road trip.

Now, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit—true proto-primates came on the scene some 55 million years ago—but essentially, a possum is, was and has been, a possum. You’d recognize a Peradectid as a possum, but you sure as heck wouldn’t recognize that little shrew thing with the forward facing eyes hanging in a tree as a member of your high-falutin' family.

There’s something to be said for plain and simple, for humility, for not making a fuss and aggrandizing oneself--that, and for a body plan which allowed possum to survive 70 million years -- plus that legendary asteroid that took down the grandest, over-the-top animal family our planet has ever given birth to. It has been said that "the meek shall inherit the earth" and perhaps they will--which is one of the reasons why I admire this mundane, gentle creature. 

Cute as a boxful of possums

--Juliet Waldron

A restrained country romance about Post Civil War Pennsylvania--a young, too pretty German girl comes to America to the house of her well-married big sister and learns a few things about love, life and religion.