I got a call that an opossum was stranded on a concrete divider on the Wantagh State Parkway. If true, the animal was in dire straits.
The initial report had come around noon on a recent Saturday via a call to the hotline of Volunteers for Wildlife, an organization where I am a board member. A staff member asked whether I could check it out.
We called Nassau County Police and were informed that the parkway is patrolled by state troopers. I realize that police have a lot to deal with every single day, and helping an unfortunate creature is not always doable, but I called and hoped for the best. As it turned out, the desk officer said he’d send a car to the scene. As long as I dealt with the animal, the trooper would do what he could.
I got to the spot first — Exit W3 in Levittown — and, no surprise, no opossum. This happens. People unaccustomed to seeing nocturnal animals such as raccoons during the day often think that the animals are in trouble. Although the callers are well-intentioned, sometimes the animal is neither in trouble nor a threat.
The state trooper called my cell and said he would soon arrive. When Trooper D.A. DiGiacomo drove up, he said the opossum had been spotted farther south. He asked whether I had my car, I did, then said to follow him. He was parked on the shoulder of the northbound lane, and we had to drive south about 400 yards farther.
I thought we would cross over an overpass to drive south on the other side, but I was wrong. I pulled behind him and we proceeded south on the grass while steady traffic flew by in the other direction!
Then I finally saw the grayish opossum sitting precariously atop the divider, obviously frightened and only a few feet from certain death on each side. The animal was frozen in place, shaking. Its dark eyes looked straight down.
DiGiacomo asked whether I was ready. I said I was, but not really sure for what.
He turned on his car’s flashing lights, drove south a few hundred yards farther on the grass — and very carefully turned into the oncoming traffic, which came to a stop behind him. Then he drove slowly ahead, with the cars at a crawl behind him.
This maneuver was fascinating to watch, but now I had to get to work.
I grabbed my net and a towel, put on my Kevlar gloves and slowly approached my frightened marsupial.
I dropped the net over him, threw a towel over that to make sure the animal stayed on my side of the divider, and then grabbed it. The opossum protested with a few attempts to bite my hand, but I imagined it was relieved to get off that divider.
I placed it on the road to check for any injury, but as soon as I lifted the net, the opossum was off like a shot toward the roadside, heading for the safety of the trees. I never saw an opossum run that fast!
The helpful trooper pulled his car off the parkway, and as the traffic passed, we were saluted with raised fists and honking horns from motorists who had witnessed the rescue.
“Nice job,” the trooper said.
It was a shared moment of joy. I followed the opossum as it disappeared into the woods, and then thanked the trooper and the driver of a highway-assistance truck that had pulled up on the other side of the parkway.
It was a save done well, keeping one opossum alive, and giving a rescuer a smile that would last all day.
Reader Jim Jones lives in Bayville.