Picture of single persimmon on a branch - backlit

Persimmon Jim: The Possum

Chapter 7
by Joseph Wharton Lippincott, 1924


Picture of branch with persimmons
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Persimmon Jim: The Possum  Intro    |    Preface    |    Ch. 1    |    Ch. 2    |    Ch. 3    |    Ch. 4    |    Ch. 5    |    Ch. 6    |    Ch. 7    |
                                              Ch. 8    |   
Ch. 9    |    Ch. 10    |    Ch. 11    |    Ch. 12    |    Ch. 13    |    Ch. 14    |    Ch. 15  |

Chapter 7: Summer Nights

JIM rested for two days in the new den.

The weather had turned cool and his companion had gathered many more leaves and made the cave even more comfortable. She brought them easily enough by wrapping her powerful tail around a bundle of them and then dragging them in. She found fish left stranded on the banks of the creek by the receding water and fed on these. Jim too ate the fish when he finally came out to relieve his hunger and to try the bad leg. Water they found within a few feet of the den.

Life for Jim was easy and happy, but of course this could not last. His companion grew irritable and often quarrelled with him. Her growling at last drove him to sleep outside of the cave under a laurel bush, but as this did not seem to suit her either, he finally gave the cave a last look and good-naturedly ambled away to his own hollow oak and the companionship of Screech Owl.

He spent, however, only a few nights in the oak. Hot weather came with a rush and sent him in search of a more shaded den. He tried out a hole which a mink had left, under the roots of a willow beside the Creek. This, however, was too damp.  Next he explored a heap of brush and then an old wood-pile at the corner of Sam Collins's pasture. One night in each was enough; they did not feel safe.

He wandered early one night past a den on the hillside back of Ben Slown's barn. There was an outcrop of rock here under which a woodchuck had once upon a time dug a burrow. Of course other animals had finally succeeded in driving him out and making his den a half-way retreat between Ben Slown's buildings and the woods.  Jim knew that the mate of Gray Fox had recently enlarged the burrow, so was not surprised to find the strong scent of fox all about and to hear the shrill growling of fox cubs as they played near by in the moonlight.

Suddenly a gray shadow came swiftly from the rock pile and the watchful vixen faced him with just enough menace in her manner to show that he must come no closer.  Whereupon, he sat down where he was, with all his dignity, and waited until the nervous mother had gone back to her cubs. Knowing she would continue to watch him, he circled the rock pile den at a safe distance and hunted for two other woodchuck burrows which he knew were on the hillside. One of these now contained a family of skunks, so he backed away; the other was empty, the big woodchuck having been caught by the she-fox and eaten by the cubs on a special feast day.

Jim entered the long, slanting burrow, found a bed of soft grass in a pocket near the bottom and lay down in it without any hesitation. A woodchuck's den was always clean and dry and cool. A few fleas jumping about on his fur did not bother him.

The woods were still offering an everchanging food supply. In May, Jim had hunted hard for frogs, young mice, birds' eggs, snakes and even worms. Without the big night-crawling angleworms to fall back on he and even the owls would often have gone hungry. But with the coming of really warm weather, the wild strawberries ripened on the hillsides in such quantities that all the little animals were satisfied.  Then there were the cherries and the mulberries.

After them came wild raspberries, later dewberries, blackberries and in July early plums. Those were the big crops, but Jim had found berries of other kinds, fruits of plants, queer looking fungi that were edible, and numerous crickets, grasshoppers, grubs and other large insects. Food indeed became too plentiful. Jim could climb for it, or he could pick it off the ground. He preferred the latter and grew fat.

The woods were so warm, so packed with briars and leafy growing things, so full of scents and of other wild creatures, that Jim's enemies were glad to leave him alone and seemed to have forgotten him entirely.  Nor did Jim have to go near the farmers.  The hens and the ducks meant nothing to him when food was so plentiful in the woods and fields.

The main worry in his life was the little lady 'possum who, instead of living in the cave or under the hickory stump, now wandered sometimes to the very end of Goose Creek Valley and even to the other side of Oak Ridge. She had, one day, surprised Jim by appearing with seven little ones. These were sharp-nosed, bright-eyed little things, as fully furred as their mother, for when they were first born, blind and without hair, she had placed them in her fur-lined pouch or pocket and carried them hidden there untill they could run about.  Her pocket was much like that of the kangaroo, but while the kangaroo would have considered two a crowd, the 'possum thought nothing of caring for seven youngsters and feeding them all with milk in the pouch.

Jim did not see the family until they came out of the pocket one night to feed under a mulberry tree. Two dared not come out at all, preferring to peep at him from behind a fur blanket. He had seen little 'possums, year after year, but these interested him much more than the others. He did not know that they were his children, he only saw that they belonged to his little companion and meant more to her than he did. He liked to snuff at them and to sit for long intervals to watch their antics.

They were serious-minded little creatures with few ideas on how to play. But they were great eaters and knew how to steal a ride whenever their little legs became tired.  Indeed, as soon as the mother would grow restless and prepare to move to some other place, they would either climb into her pocket or onto her back. With four paws just like hands, they could cling to the long fur and ride along very comfortably.

The second time Jim saw the youngsters they were being carried on their mother's back, having deserted the pocket except at lunch time; so as not to hinder her movements they instinctively rode on her shoulders where the weight was easily borne.  Soon after that) when their teeth were strong, the mother no longer gave them milk at all and made them eat what she caught or found for them. However, for many days after that they still followed her and slept in the nests she made for herself and them.

It was then that the mother began to roam so widely, a dangerous thing, because she did not know the enemies on the new grounds. And it was then that the strange thing happened which for a time completely changed the old lonesome life of Persimmon Jim.

...continue to Chapter 8: Gray Cat Makes A Discovery