Nowadays, survival involves knowing how to handle modern inventions, like money and machines, electrons and data and car-washes and stuff like that.
But In prehistoric times, stayin’ alive meant something totally different. It probably meant that somebody in your tribe was pretty deadly with a bow and arrow, or a big stick, or some such implement for killing animals so you could eat them. Hunters hunted, gatherers gathered, and life goes on.
Survival for cave men wasn’t as easy as it is now.
We know a little bit about this from seeing cave-man paintings that archeologists have discovered and brought forth into the great legacy of human experience and expression. If you’ve ever seen– in an encyclopedia, or a masters thesis or a coffee-table book– a picture of a cave-man painting, maybe you noticed it probably involves killing an animal, like a mastodon, or a saber-tooth tiger or maybe, a possum.
Some things never change. Men still have, with their impressive array of implements, the power of life and death over most critters; this lowly slow marsupial is no exception to the rule of ultimate human mastery.
I thought about this when I encountered a possum this morning. He was suddenly displayed for me to see easily and up close, like a museum painting, or sculpture. But this was in no gallery. It was on a sidewalk where I just happened to be wandering, this summery Saturday morning along a shady avenue in Gainesville, Georgia.
He was not alive.
At first, I couldn’t tell if it was a possum. It just seemed like a classic critter image, like . . .
like a cave painting. The sight of it connected in my brain with some Neanderthal artwork that I had seen somewhere.
Maybe it was the teeth that ripped this cave-art association right out of my neuronic imagery file. Those bared fangs just leaped into my primeval intuition, like a prehistoric reflex suddenly recovered.
And then, my mental odyssey back to the here and now was punctuated with a momentary stop in the 1950’s, when I remembered vividly a bared-teeth image from Old Yeller, a movie about a very lovable dog that went mad with rabies and had to be taken down by his master’s father. I remember so clearly seeing Old Yeller’s teeth, bared so ferociously, so unexpectedly, by the onslaught of rabies.
Had this been a rabid possum? He looked like one.
Probably not. But he sure looked crazy with those teeth displayed like fangs.
Why hadn’t someone, a city sanitation worker or someone like that, scooped this critter up after his untimely demise?
Maybe they left him for cave-art.
But that would be unlikely. Gainesville is a very civilized, lovely, genteel southern city, with magnolias and shady boulevards and classic old houses, and monuments to old soldiers.
Nevertheless, I encountered the possum in an unlikely place– where a private front yard sidewalk joined the city sidewalk. The fanged critter was directly in front of this grand ole home, which is now an attorney’s office.
So, obviously, this possum’s once-smelly inclusion at the edge of such a serene domicile is not some Neanderthal statement. Probably just the City’s oversight. I mean, who wants to mess with a dead old possum in the summertime? This sidewalk relic has apparently survived its stinky phase, to become an artful representation of classic southern culture.
Or maybe its a warning to the other critters: Watch out Pogo; the humans are takin’ over!
We have met the enemy and he is us.
Well shut my mouth, it’s probably a southern thing, this odd juxtaposition of images, the dead possum and the old someplace. You’d have to be there.
Southerners never cease to amaze me, even though I am one of them.
Now here’s a joke to end with: Why did the possum cross the road?
To meet his Maker.