Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Furry Nocturnal Critter
You never want to look at the dark face of a furry critter that has sneaked up on you in the middle of the night and think, “I wonder if that’s a Tasmanian Devil?”
But that’s exactly what I found myself thinking when I saw two beady eyes looking out at me over a small nose on a furry black face under the camping chair six inches to my right.
It’s the kind of thing you can’t get out of your head, the Tasmanian Devil. Like Cassowaries in the Daintree, or Crocs in Queensland, I’m in Tasmania, so seeing the Devil is at the forefront of my consciousness. I want to see a Tasmanian Devil in the wild, but I’m also a little scared. How many of these critters come out to play when the sun goes down, anyway? I know I don’t want to provoke one, given the notorious strength of their jaws. But what is their demeanor? Are they aggressive? Do they run away from people like most wild animals, or have they developed the brazenness to stroll into my campsite and search for food, like the Rufus Bettong?
It’s one o’clock in the morning. I should be in the tent sawing the Zzzzzs, but I’m not. I was enjoying a bit of solitude, finishing up a project outside under the ambient green light from our recently rediscovered LED lightstrip. And now my solitude is interrupted. I am face to furry face with a dark creature of unknown species, and all I can think is: “Mmmm, is this guy just another marsupial scavenger, or does he possess the most powerful jaws on God’s green earth?” I try using the remote control for our ambient LED strip in hopes of scaring him: will he run away if the light shifts from green to red? 1,2,3… RED! Take that! If animals can smirk, this one did. Let’s just say he was not moved. The standoff continued.
*** This amazing photo was taken by Amie Hindson, http://www.zoo.org.au
During our last days in Brooklyn, we were lucky enough to find lodging in a great friend’s apartment. (Actually we took refuge in more than one great friend’s apartment – thanks to all!). There I borrowed Encyclopedia Brown Boy Detective from their eldest son’s collection, to read to Lake and Finn.
“How would Encyclopedia Brown handle this?” I wondered. Encyclopedia Brown likes to close his eyes when he’s thinking hard. I like to close my eyes when I’m scared. Easy. Step 1: Close my eyes. Step 1: complete.
Encyclopedia Brown has a library in his head. I have Wikipedia on my phone. Step 2: Reacquaint myself with the details of the Tasmanian Devil to identify it…. Hmm, black fur, nocturnal, razor sharp teeth, powerful jaws, subject of a Looney Tune, lives in Tasmania…did I say jaws powerful enough to break bones? No internet access for Wikipedia at Bay of Fires, so that’s all I got. Step 2: Fail.
Step 3: Yikes! The creature emerges with a bound so fast it reminds me there was really nothing I could do except sit there, anyway. Black body. Fur. Long tail. Skilled leaper. A smidge of cuteness. Whew! Must be a possum of some sort, or some other marsupial scavenger not yet known to me. The threat level returns to low so long as I don’t provoke it. Back to my project.
But after a few minutes I find I’m still thinking about my late night company. Where did that sucker actually leap to? Did I leave any food out? There’s a scratching sound. I look up. He’s on the fridge box, about three feet off the ground in front of me. Another leap. He’s directly above me, crawling on the awning. Ridiculous. I don’t want his claws to scratch a hole in our Australian canvas, so I grab the camper chair next to me and poke the awning. Gingerly at first, then with a little more force. Scram! In the back of my mind I’m thinking: I sure am glad everyone else on the campground is asleep and not watching me struggle awkwardly and vainly against a Flying Night Possum.
After a poke or two more, he’s gone. But I didn’t see a landing on the ground, and there’s no longer a depression anywhere in the awning. I try to channel the powers of observation Encyclopedia used so well against his boyhood rival, Idaville’s bully in residence, Bugs Meany. If he’s not on the awning, and he’s not on the ground, then he must have jumped into a tree. But I didn’t hear that either. Against my better judgement, I walk out from under the safety of the awning and look at our camper from the front. Where is that sucker? I shine my headlamp low. Nothing. I shine it high. Nothing. Wait a second! Unbelievably, the Flying Night Possum is perched atop the highest point of our camper trailer. Jeepers can that guy jump. He’s staring at me with what I imagine is both a wicked and triumphant smile. This is probably twelve feet from the ground. He then takes a small jump and slides down the camper trailer canvas like our camper is his own personal playground. He lands on the fridge box again, and before I can react, leaps into the trees. I set the lights to blue. Maybe that will keep him away for a while, but the final score is Flying Night Possum 1, Poppa 0
***Tasmanian Devil photo credit to Amie Hindson, http://www.zoo.org.au