(This is the third post I’ve written about the adventures of Pepper the Possum. Read the older posts of you need to catch up!)
I don’t know about you, but I always feel better after a good bath. So I decided to give one to Pepper. I didn’t know if it would make her feel any better, but I realized it would make me feel better. It is hard to feel enthused when you are grubby, and when those you are putting your hands on are grubby.
So Thursday was spa day at my place. I placed a small face towel in the bottom of the shower for traction, lined up an assortment of shampoos and conditioners, along the floor, put some drops of lavender oil in the shower stall, and turned the hand-held shower spigot on lukewarm.
In my arms, Pepper was cradled like a baby, and I settled her onto the towel, and let the warm water run over her.
She was not thrilled, but I think I can honestly say she was not horrified either. She looked around and sniffed at the air while her butt end stayed squatted on the towel. She made a little, short sniffing sound—something she does when I pick her up—and tried once to lick the shampoo.
I worked as quickly and gently as I could, massaging the dried poop spots off her tail, rubbing carefully on the orange scabby skin areas, and making sure to avoid her eyes. That morning, I’d looked up oatmeal baths on the Internet, and followed the directions to make colloidal oatmeal bath powder at home. You run it through a blender until it is powder fine. Then you stick the powder in an old sock, wet the whole shebang, and squeeze skin-soothing oat milk on all the dry and rashy areas of your skin.
Pepper’s skin needs all the help it can get. The parasites we are working to eliminate in her have made her skin dry, scabby, and thickened. Elsewhere on her small possum body, she is near-bald.
Pepper was accepting of the oatmeal sock, and let me squish and wipe slippery, creamy oatmeal all over her scaly back and sides. When she had soaked as long as she and I could manage, I rinsed her off, toweled her dry, and treated all her sore spots with coconut oil. I rubbed herb-scented olive oil on her hands and feet, and when we were all done, she didn’t look half bad. I must say, she cleans up better than I do these days. I think her hair is thicker. Certainly, she is less wrinkled.
I tried to put her down into her clean and fluffed sleeping bucket, but she grabbed at me and hung onto my arm. Perhaps she’d like to take a walk-crawl, I thought, and set her down in the garden. For all her good looks, the bath had not done anything for her leg strength. She still crawled on her belly, but held her head up high and sniffed at all those good outdoor summer smells. Her eyes were clear—even the one that had looked blue and weepy a few days before. And her nose was no longer that anemic shade of vanilla. It actually had some pink in it. I fed her a finger-tip full of yogurt for a treat, and tucked her back into the bucket, placing the bucket outside where she could hear the pond fountain. Although she gave little physical indication of it, I sensed that she felt better outdoors.
I am an impatient woman. Although I’ve only had Pepper for three weeks, it feels like months. I think I focus on her too deeply, and hours seem like days when you are an overly concerned possum parent. When Pepper goes three days without any improvement or —God forbid—goes backward a step or two, it feels to me as though we’ll be caught in this limbo land of uncertainty forever (Which, when you come to think about it, defines life pretty well, doesn’t it?)
This feeling of being too wrapped up in things is common to me, but I’ve never acknowledged just how bad it feels in my body. For example, I’ll wake up in the morning with a blank mind and relaxed body, and then I’ll think about Pepper, and I’ll feel myself start to contract. Is she alive? Remember her medicines. Hurry, get up and get food ready.
Don’t forget her laundry…
The actual “work” of her is not all that time consuming, nor demanding. It is my brain that makes the situation feel overwhelming to me, and makes my chest collapse like a deflated balloon.
Pepper—and every other little or big task in my life—is an indicator to me of the way my brain constructs the frame of my feelings, and how it overlays that framing onto my body: My brain tells me I am rushed and overwhelmed, and then my body follows right along and gets tired and anxious. But it really all starts with the thought. If I can capture that thought for a moment and release it from my body, I feel better.
What can I do about this revelation? The same thing my friend Keith said when asked what he was going to do about the horde of flea beetles munching on his potato plants.
“I’m going to watch them,” he said.
I’m watching where my mind goes with Pepper. The thought of her care some days seems overwhelming to me, and yet when I have my hands on her and am actually giving her care, the moments are magic—almost sacred. Trying to figure this out is not the way for me to go about this. Watching it, watching the thoughts and feelings, is the wiser way. Insights arise naturally from this kind of processing.
Pepper didn’t eat much the last two days. She is still skinny as a bean pole, and I watch the thought about her not eating assail me throughout the day. My breathing gets shallow. My shoulders hunch.
So I take long breaths and say to myself, “She’ll eat when she is ready. Bigger hands than yours are in charge of the outcome here. Your task is simply to love and to offer supportive care.” And these comforting words from my heart to my brain help my shoulders to square themselves and my breathing to deepen.
A few days ago, I cleaned out the old chicken coop and filled it deeply with fresh straw. I put a small wooden dog house at the far end, set a bowl of water in the corner, and moved Pepper out of her bucket to the secure enclosure. In the chicken coop, she would have room to move if she ever wanted to. Meanwhile, she’d have the familiar healing sounds of nature all around her.
The following morning, I found her cuddled like a half-moon in the straw next to the doghouse. Too hot for sleeping in the little wooden house, I figured. At the far end of the coop was a small pile of droppings. In the night, Pepper had roamed her new territory, pooping as far away from her sleeping quarters as possible.
I woke her up the way I always do: With a stroke of her head and a syringe of cherry flavored medicine at her nose. She yawned and shook her head as if to work the cobwebs out of her brain. I picked her up and cradled her like a baby and cooed to her, stroking the top of her forehead with my fingers.
I’ve always sensed she liked this position. She yawned again and looked up into my face, and I saw that—for the first time—there was someone home inside that little head. Since I brought her home, she as been a willing patient, accepting all that comes to her with a blank, quiet resolve. She was quiet on this morning, too, but it was a different kind of quiet. It seemed to me that some of her soul had returned to her body to light up her eyes.
She stretched her funny bowlegs out to encourage me to rub her tummy—the first overture she has ever made to me. With her soft front paws, she held my finger and looked deeply into my eyes, never blinking. My own vision grew blurred.
And so our journey continues…