Discounting Oprah, left-handed threads and that spray cheese in a can, there are really only two things in this world for which I harbor strong opinions as to their uselessness: Opossums and the laws of physics. As far removed from each other as two things could possibly be, imagine my nearly incapacitating surprise and awed sense of wonder when the two converged for an afternoon of theory reinforcing merriment.
Here, you’ll have to excuse me, as I offer a preface to this story.
Let it be said the discovery part of science has always held a certain intrigue with me, and growing up on a farm in what I considered the middle of nowhere (four miles outside Tiskilwa), I experienced more than my fair share of encounters with both the aforementioned subjects, which provided countless opportunities for scientific learning.
Blowing stuff up with flame applied to aerosol cans, learning about action/reaction when daring our overnight town folk friends to throw caution to the wind and take a chance with the electric fence, and let’s just say (for illustration purposes only) that if I was 10 years old and hit my brother in the head with a football while he was scaling the large pear tree at the east end of our yard, he quickly grasped the theory of gravity, while tumbling through the branches, without ever having viewed Newton’s equation. Observing these things firsthand, I saw no need for a bunch of “laws” written by a posse of nerdy Einsteins.
And as far as opossums go, they had a tendency to catapult themselves out of stacked hay bales in the barn, hissing and baring their teeth unconvincingly before trundling off into the cornfield, to do whatever it is that opossums do.
So it came as a mild shock one recent pre-dawn suburbia morning, while groggily swaying on the deck, (still asleep for all intents and purposes) and half grasping the retractable leash while the dog did a canine’s a.m. business, that a rustling in the shrubbery caught my attention. In the residual light peeking through the kitchen blinds, I made out the familiar opossum shape. Startled, and exhibiting the speed, agility and elusiveness of a macaque, it hurtled itself through the adjacent tree and onto the roof, where it disappeared against the dark backdrop of asphalt shingles and night sky. The ensuing “hunt” was cancelled, however, since unlike Marlin Perkins, I have no “Jim” to send into dangerous wild animal encounters.
So we’ll now fast forward to later that afternoon and the point of this tale. Rounding the back of the house near the deck, my eyes were drawn upward by a slight movement. There, just above me in the gutter was the rogue opossum. I quickly, yet silently, picked up the nearby garden hose, conveniently left unrolled in the hot sun. Taking careful aim, I squeezed the nozzle trigger and unwittingly became the Galileo of the marsupial world. My experiment uncovered the following truths: 1. An opossum in motion will remain in motion, especially when hit with a high pressure jet of water; 2. The forward speed of an opossum is in direct proportion to the temperature of the water being shot at it; 3. Opossums respond well to gravity; 4. Opossums, regardless of their mass, fall at the same rate as a basketball or Frisbee dislodged from the roof; 5. The shortest distance between an opossum in the gutter and the ground is a straight line ...
So there you have it, learning fun with opossums. Anyone need a subject for a junior high science paper?
Chuck Mason, a self-described opinionated wiseguy, resides in Princeton. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.