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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Heart-y meal...

Laura with deer heart
My wife teaches a program for high school seniors interested in pursuing careers in the medical profession. Each year she hosts a "Cardio Day" in her classroom at the hospital where the entire focus is on all things heart related (strangely, this always happens around Valentine's Day...I am not sure that is a coincidence). Doctors, technicians and others speak but the main attraction is often the deer heart dissection. Why deer hearts? Well, they are similar in size and shape to human hearts, making them useful and they are readily available from hunters and free, making them practical. The students love the activity and learn a lot. The problem is disposal. Simply throwing the sliced up hearts in the dumpster at the hospital is far too risky. Anyone finding them might come to the conclusion that they had stumbled on human hearts.... no one needs that kind of publicity! So after all these years, I know that MY role for Cardio Day is to get rid of the hearts at the end of the day. I come home from work to find our blue cooler sitting in the driveway. I then carry the cooler into the backyard and take out one sliced open heart after another and give them the old Frisbee toss into our field (Hey, why waste them...some backyard beast will enjoy them).

We used to have an opossum that lived under our back shed. One year, on the evening I tossed out the hearts, it snowed. The next morning I got up and checked for tracks. Sure enough, our resident opossum stumbled on one of the deer hearts less than 20 yards from its winter home. His tracks told the story of it grabbing the heart and carrying it back under the shed. I found no other tracks.

Opossums are a southern species. They really are not well adapted to winters in New York. When it gets really cold, near zero F, they don't even exit their burrows. Frost bitten ears, tails and toes are all common. Nor do they have behaviors that help! They do not hibernate. They don't even cache food. I mean a self-respecting New York mammal may have taken the time to have gathered ALL the deer hearts on a night that was warm enough to forage for food (I have a series of camera trap photos of a red fox doing this very thing). But this opossum just grabbed the first food it came upon and brought it home and ate it.

That old shed is gone but this winter we still have an opossum calling our backyard home. Last Wednesday was Cardio Day and I laid out a single deer heart in front of one of my camera traps. It took less than two hours to get the following photo:
Dinner is served!

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