Barking Up A Tree


They’re at it again. I had no intention of writing about them tonight, but they will not be denied. I have spent the last hour torn between attending to the upheaval in their little world and attempting to accomplish at least one or two tasks which are clamoring for attention in my own little world. It seems that the upheaval has won out again as the outlandish caterwauling begins anew in the back yard.
With an exasperated sigh, I lay aside my tools and head for the door, picking up a flashlight on the way. As soon as they hear the customary creak of the hinges, they fall silent, but immediately, they have a new objective. In a flash, I am surrounded, if you can call it that when there are only two assailants. Both of the black bodies are flung at my trunk and about my legs in disarray, as they jump and paw, each attempting to gain the advantage of the other in their bid for my attention. Presently, the huge male disengages uncharacteristically, to lope around the corner of the building, only to appear seconds later from behind the tool shed. I get the message and move that direction myself. Obviously, they have something they want me to see and I will get no rest until I see whatever it is.
No amount of shining the light at the grass will turn up anything, so I focus the light instead on my jet-black antagonists. They are no longer paying any attention to me, but are standing, looking expectantly up into the big mulberry tree towering above us. I shine the light up and see nothing…at first. Then, as I run the beam up along the biggest branch, I see it staring down at me. Yuck! I have never liked those scavengers—those overgrown rats—those opossums! They are not attractive in any way at the best of times, and to see one staring down at me from ten feet above my head, teeth bared like a ghoulish Cheshire Cat…I am immediately repulsed. The monsters at my feet are re-energized by the sight of their prey in my lantern’s beam and bellow out their disdain of the marsupial. If I didn’t know better, I’d call it a rodent, but that could just be my prejudice showing. I half-heartedly toss a rock or two at the beast, realizing that the only thing I will accomplish is to move him further up the tree. It does. So I do the only thing I can do in this situation.
I walk back around the corner of the building and find the dogs’ favorite possession. They cannot resist the squishy rubber chew toy and, within moments, are chasing it across the yard in the dark. Well, to be accurate, the male is chasing it. The female, either too lazy or too wise to chase it, awaits his return each time and then attempts to remove the toy from his mouth as he brings it back. Satisfied that I have distracted them adequately, I return inside to see if anything can be salvaged of my evening. I can’t stop thinking though, about the conundrum of the silly dogs and the wise opossum.
You see, the opossum is a survivor. These creatures can exist; even thrive, in most any environment. They bear huge litters, with as many as thirteen babies able to survive in each one. They carry their tiny young, called “joeys” in a pouch, just as their distant cousins, the kangaroos, do. Because of this portable nursery and ready source of food, the survival rate is fairly high. The species is resistant to disease, so they don’t tend to die out from rampant epidemics, as many other species do periodically. They are also what the experts call “opportunistic omnivores”, meaning that they will eat anything. Many of you know this firsthand, after seeing your pet food disappear, or finding your garbage containers upset and the contents strewn about your patio or yard. Most other feral species thin out when urban sprawl occurs. These hardy beasts thrive, with many more opportunities for ready-to-eat meals, as well as more hiding places in the form of various structures.
This particular opossum has one more advantage over the silly canines yapping down on the ground. He knows that the trunk of the tree he has selected to climb descends to the ground outside the fence which encircles the dogs. He can come and go with impunity, although their barking obviously disturbs him. Nevertheless, he has visited this particular tree a number of times in the past and he is fairly well assured of living to see another dawn, in spite of the would-be hunters below. You can almost imagine him thumbing his nose, as he sits on his high throne and looks down upon them with contempt.
And, what of the dogs…man’s best friend? One would almost wonder why we don’t make pets of the opossums, instead of these fickle, silly creatures. They have chased their prey through the treetops innumerable times and have yet to nab a single squirrel, or cat, or opossum, once it has gained the shelter of the tree limbs. Still they persist, barking incessantly as they sit and bluster with their empty threats. The squirrels tease them mercilessly, the cats actually stare right at them and sit unafraid, as they voice their ire at full voice through the fence, and this opossum ignores them as he walks the limbs above them night after night. Why do we care about these idiotic creatures so much and spend our fortunes on their care and comfort?
Once again, I’ve taken the long way around to come to a conclusion. You may object to the one I have reached, but, as I look at the parallels, it seems indisputable. We are so very much like those silly creatures that it begs the question: Why would our Creator waste His time on us? We bark and run in circles, chasing, not only our tails, but things that bedevil us which we will never be able to reach, nor affect in any way. We have tasks to do which we can accomplish, but we insist on obsessing about the ones which we are not even called to address. The cacophony is deafening.
Don’t believe it? Turn on the television news shows and listen to the bickering about who did this and who started that. Even now, I am threatening to abandon the social networking world until after November because of the incredible noise and rancor present there. Friends attack friends, or even folks they don’t know at all, simply because of a chance comment someone made. Or worse, assaults are made because a political figure (with whom we will never have personal contact) has said or done something to which we object. We turn on each other in our barking and snarling, but never move one inch closer to our real goal of serving, and healing, and befriending those who need us.
This is not about politics. This is about who we are in our heart of hearts. When it becomes more important for us to love our neighbors than we do ourselves; when we recognize that anyone we can put our arms around, or lend a helping hand to is not our enemy, we will at least have begun the move from the barking, threatening beasts in the backyard, to the human beings our Creator intended for us to be. There are many who will never make the quantum leap, but they don’t know the Master’s voice. I hope for better from those of us who do.
Well, I hear them going again. And since, strange as it may seem, the neighbors are already sleeping (at 1:30 AM, no less), I’ll see if a little distraction will do the trick again.
Silly creatures…the dogs, I mean.
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
(Ephesians 6:12—ESV)
“Man is the most intelligent of the animals – and the most silly.”
(Diogenes~Ancient Greek philosopher~412 BC-323 BC)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved.

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