flower bed. As opossums do, it was more scared of me than I was of it.
By this time, both of my cats - Delia and Bubbles - were transfixed by the odd-looking fur ball that trembled in the cold night air on the highest limb of the tree, terrified to come down. With the ruckus I caused, I can't say I blame it.
Being from the country, and knowing opossums live to eat, I figured I would do the right thing and dump out a cupful of dry cat food for my new friend to snack on before going on its way. I remember around the time my Granddaddy Joe died, my grandmother had a plastic cat food bowl on her back porch that served as a magnet for opossums and other critters.
Opossums are the most grateful animals in the wild and there is little they will turn their pointy noses up at.
While I knew it wouldn't come down to eat while I was within view, I looked at it and said, “If you're gonna hang around, you need a name.”
If my neighbors heard me, they probably thought I needed to be in a straight jacket, but I felt it necessary to give the animal a chance to speak before I labeled it.
After a couple minutes of scratching my head, only one name stuck: George.
For those of you who aren't familiar, the moniker given to my woodland friend originated with George Jones, who was one of the greatest voices in country music. The hard-living crooner earned a reputation for not showing up to gigs and that, coupled with the fact that the drunk SOB looked like a opossum, earned him his famous nickname.
While I can't say with certainty if George the Opossum was a male or female, because I'm not an expert on opossum anatomy, let's suspend our disbelief and assume for the sake of the story that George was a male.
And wouldn't you know it? After some topshelf Purina, George became a regular visitor. Few things gave me more satisfaction than sipping a beer and watching George bury his face in a pile of cat food. Once, I even listened to Jones' classic “The Grand Tour,” while he snacked.
I get home well after dark during the work week, so I made a regular habit of checking the tree out back for the same familiar pair of beady little eyes and a toothy grin waiting for a handout. After a few weeks, he was less timid to come down from the tree and I kicked myself for not naming him Zacchaeus (read your Bible).
I think I grew partial to opossums because they are misunderstood, like me. Just because I look like a neo-Nazi skinhead who talks slow, doesn't mean I'm not compassionate or educated. And just because opossums look like Chernobyl rats, it doesn't mean they will give you rabies or cause you any harm.
In fact, there are many illuminating tidbits about opossums you should know before you take a broom to one out of frustration for what it's doing to your trash can.
(animals with a pouch).
ticks, mice, roadkill, snakes and other pests (but will eat your chickens, too, if you aren't careful)
the U.S. is the Virginia opossum, also known as the North American opossum.
up to six hours to avoid predators, according to some studies.
stings and other toxins, according to the National Wildlife Federation.
which carry Lyme disease. The Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies estimates that a single opossum can kill about 5,000 ticks in a single season.
Years ago, it was also commonplace to make a meal out of opossums. My grandmother just this past weekend told me about eating them growing up.
My Paw Paw Jones (her daddy and a WWII vet) would trap a opossum, then feed it greens for two or three weeks to clean it out. They would then salt and pepper it, wrap it in aluminum foil and bake it to be served with potatoes and onions.
“Back in those days, you ate whatever you could get,” Grandmother said with a laugh.
While I don't plan on giving it a try anytime soon, it's worth mentioning, because I will go out of my way to give that woman a shout-out in something I'm writing.
After a couple months of seeing and feeding George every three or four nights, he eventually stopped coming around.
I would be lying if I said it wasn't like losing a cherished pet and I get green at the thought of another family feeding him more expensive cat food.
I'm not sure if I will ever see George again, but my hope is that he is simply living up to his namesake as a “No-Show.”
Ryan Phillips is the executive editor of the Starkville Daily News and the Daily Times Leader. The views expressed in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of either paper, or their staffs.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Russia is seeking to counter U.S. diplomatic influence by stoking conflict in Syria even as it portrays itself as an arbiter in the civil war, the top American general in the Middle East said Tuesday in notably pointed criticism of Moscow.
"I'm being very serious when I say they play the role of both arsonist and fireman — fueling tensions and then trying to resolve them in their favor," Army Gen. Joseph Votel told the House Armed Services Committee. He said Moscow is pushing alternatives to Western-led political negotiations in both Syria and Afghanistan in order to limit U.S. influence.
Russia "has to admit" that it is incapable of, or not interested in, playing a constructive role in ending the multi-dimensional war in Syria, he said.
"I think their role is incredibly destabilizing at this point," he said.
For its part, the Russian military has consistently accused the U.S. of sparing the Islamic State group and other militants in Syria in the hope of using them to topple President Bashar Assad. Russian officials have strongly denied responsibility for any civilian casualties in Syria and insisted that they have only struck militant targets after verifying their location through multiple intelligence sources and avoided targeting populated areas. Russian military officials and diplomats also have scolded the U.S.-led coalition for reducing the one-time IS capital, Raqqa, to rubble and causing severe suffering for its residents.
On the military front in Syria, Votel said Russia is using the conflict to test and exercise new weapons and tactics, "often with little regard for collateral damage or civilian casualties." He asserted that an increase in Russian surface-to-air missile systems in the Middle East "threatens our access and ability to dominate the airspace" of the region.
He said that along with Iran, Russia is trying to bolster the Assad government and fracture the longstanding strategic partnership between the United States and Turkey. Washington and Ankara are increasingly at odds over the presence of U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters regarded by the Turks as aligned with Kurdish terrorists.
Alluding to these fighters, who operate under the banner of the Syrian Democratic Forces, Votel said, "our partners on the ground in Syria have advanced us a long way toward our objectives, and we will stick with them through the completion of this fight," referring to the goal of eliminating the Islamic State's shrinking hold on Syrian territory.
Russian officials say they seek the destruction of IS even as they support Assad's effort to stamp out opposition forces. Votel said Moscow should get no credit for what he called the imminent defeat of the Islamic State's "physical caliphate."
"Russia has placed this progress at risk with their activities, which are not focused on defeating ISIS, but rather on preserving their own influence and control over the outcome of the situation," he said, using an alternate name for the extremist group. "It is clear that Russia's interests in Syria are ... not those of the wider international community."
Votel said Moscow also is exaggerating the presence of Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan and portraying it as a U.S. and NATO failure.
"While the (U.S.-led) coalition and the Afghans are the only forces actively fighting ISIS there, Russia has used familiar propaganda techniques to brand ISIS's presence as a U.S.-NATO failure," Votel said.
As IS loses its grip in Syria and Iraq, U.S. forces are turning increasingly to the battle in Afghanistan, where American commanders are trying to energize Afghan combat forces and break a stalemate in the long fight against a Taliban insurgency.
"Military success in the campaign up to this point presents us an opportunity to reposition some of our resources from Iraq and Syria to Afghanistan in a manner that keeps the pressure on ISIS, but also sets us up to break the stalemate in Afghanistan," Votel said.
U.S. forces have been in Afghanistan since October 2001, when they invaded in response to the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaida.
Votel also expressed concern about Iranian influence in Syria and Iraq, while noting that Iranian harassment of U.S. Navy vessels in the Persian Gulf has declined. Votel said he nonetheless is concerned by Iran's increasing used of drone aircraft, which he said pose a potential threat in the Gulf.
In a Aug. 30, 2016 file photo, U.S. Central Command Command Commander, U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, speaks to reporters at the Pentagon. Votel, the top American general in the Middle East, said Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018 that Russia is seeking to counter U.S. diplomatic influence by stoking conflict in Syria even as it portrays itself as an arbiter in the civil war.