Sunday, November 7, 2010

Skunk Tales

Living in the country means dealing with an assortment of pesky creatures that are intent on foraging in vegetable gardens and garbage cans or building nests in the most inconvenient places. One morning we came out to find an entire section of our lawn chopped up as though someone had taken a hoe and hacked it to bits. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to do such a thing. In the end it turned out that we had a resident skunk digging up the grass in search of grubs during the night. Neither of us was keen on having a skunk as a close neighbor so Bev set out a live trap to see if we could capture it.

It was only a matter of time before the furry little fumigator followed his nose to the bait in the trap and ended up caught. Bev’s theory was that if you covered the cage so the skunk couldn’t see you, it wouldn’t feel any need to spray in self-defense. Deciding to put it to the test, he crept cautiously forward with an old blanket held out in front of him like a shield. He managed to get close enough to toss it so that its folds settled in a haphazard cloud completely covering both cage and occupant in shadowy darkness. He then picked the whole thing up and, careful to make no sudden moves, carried it to the back of the truck with the intent of driving it off to some distant field where the luckless captive could be released with no chance of finding its way back to our house. The theory proved sound as the skunk showed no signs of agitation and endured the entire trip without resorting to its only effective weapon. Bev positioned the covered trap so that the skunk would emerge downwind of him, lifted the edge of the blanket just enough to open the door from behind, and then beat a hasty retreat. He watched from a safe distance until the little creature finally decided it was safe to emerge and waddled off into the distance.

That particular incident ended with the sweet smell of success. My Dad told a different story of one of his own boyhood encounters. He and a chum were walking to school when they noticed a skunk wandering about in the yard of a neighboring farm. School was forgotten with the prospect of much more interesting fun near at hand. The farm was quiet with no signs that anyone was stirring in the house or barn. They set their lunches on the porch in order to arm themselves with the only weapons at hand, a broom and the galvanized zinc washtub they found hanging from a nail on the outside wall. The big square tub was an essential piece of equipment that was a part of every household. It was used for any number of things ranging from laundry to bathing children to carrying vegetables from the garden to the root cellar during harvest time. I am quite certain that it was never used for the purpose it was soon to be employed in.

The boys set about stalking their prey with as much stealth as any big game hunter. They weren’t total fools. The skunk might not be deadly but it was dangerous all the same and what they were doing was risky. Hearts pounding, they managed to edge close enough to make their move. The time for caution was past. Dad darted forward and, quick as a flash, trapped the unsuspecting skunk beneath the overturned washtub. Not to be outdone, his friend rushed in to give the tub a few good whacks with the broom. Bev’s theory definitely did not apply when the skunk happened to be trapped under a galvanized zinc washtub that was being energetically thumped with a wooden broom handle. Predictably, it let loose with its full arsenal and the boys leaped away in alarm when the spray hit the inside of the tub so that the pungent smell came wafting out from under the edges.

There was an outraged shout from the house and they looked up to see the farmer’s wife scowling at them from the front porch where she had emerged to check on the commotion in the yard. She shook a fist at them and they did the only prudent thing in the circumstances. They made a run for it.

The boys never heard how the skunk eventually got released from its makeshift prison. They had no idea whether or not the washtub would ever again be useful for laundering clothes or babies. They judged it best to steer clear of that particular farm for the foreseeable future. Their lost lunches caused a pang or two of regret but neither of them felt inclined to try to retrieve them. All things considered, it seemed a small price to pay.

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