Saturday, November 22, 2014


Old man tomato from my garden
One of my guiding philosophies is “Never kick a skunk”.  It comes to me honestly. When we lived in Dugway Utah we encountered the acrid smell of skunk frequently, especially on hot summer nights.  One Monday the garbage truck did not come around and trash was piled at the curb. I went out to toss an old toy onto the pile and noticed a bunch of feral cats rummaging through the refuse.  I don’t particularly like feral cats, so I shooed them away.  There was one inside a large paper bag, however, that did not run.  I thought I would just give the cat-in-the-bag a good kick, but at the last moment I softened and realized it was a poor little kitty with a learning disability, so instead of kicking it I flicked the bag with my toe.  Imagine my surprise as a scruffy black and white tail came backing out of the bag!

A strange sort of hysteria overcame me.  I began laughing as I ran back to our apartment, yelling,  “A skunk is after me!”  Gaye said, “It got you!  Out!”  I had to go out on the back porch and take off my clothes.  They really stunk. 

Kicking a skunk might hurt the skunk or even kill it, but you can never come away from such an encounter without smelling terrible.  It is just not worth it.

I have encountered skunks at other times and kept my distance.  When Spencer was little he decided he wanted to raise some pheasants.  We built a chicken-wire pen in the garden and watched the chicks quickly grow.  But then we noticed that there were fewer chicks than the day before.  I inspected the wire and found a place where something had crawled into the pen.  It had eaten a few chicks and had even left a pair of bird feet as evidence.  So I borrowed a neighbor’s live trap and decided to catch the feral cat that was doing this.  (I don't think I will ever have a warm fuzzy spot in my heart for feral cats.) Next morning there it was, but it was a skunk, not a cat.  The pheasant pen and the cage reeked of skunk.  I think it had sprayed out all the smell it could generate.  I thought of dispatching the critter with my shotgun, but I finally decided to try to relocate the skunk instead of killing it.  

I borrowed a different neighbor’s snowmobile trailer, threw a piece of canvas over the trap, moved it onto the trailer and hauled it up into the South Hills, where we managed to release the captive skunk (we also left the piece of canvas) without being contaminated.  It would have ample supply of mice to survive.

Early another summer morning a still different neighbor’s dog began barking excitedly, something which she did not usually do.  The neighbors were away for a few days and had asked me to watch after Timber, the dog.  I walked out onto my balcony and saw her pointed towards the house, barking her head off.  I walked over there and saw the problem.  A skunk had wandered into the yard, attracted by the dog food that had been left out.  Timber had startled the intruder and was announcing its presence to the neighborhood.  The skunk was backed against the wall, afraid to run away, and Timber was keeping it there, but far enough away to be out of range.  I called her to come to me, where I held her so the skunk could get away.  That was a close call.

Fast forward to 2014.  We had been on a mission for 18 months prior and were getting settled into our home again.  Then one day about mid-June, Gaye and I both noticed a strong smell of skunk around our house.  That had happened in the past when a skunk had wandered into our yard, but it quickly dissipated as the interloper wandered away looking for something to eat.  This time, however, the smell remained for several days.  There were even places inside the house that had a very strong smell, particularly in the furnace room and in the crawl space under the living room.  We searched the house carefully, expecting but hoping to not find a skunk.  We found nothing, not even any evidence of fur or digging or even a focal point of the odor.

The smell persisted for many weeks.  It would fade, but come back strongly on a hot day.  Last week (now it is mid-November) I went into the furnace room and the odor was unusually strong.  There had to be a skunk somewhere!  I opened the door to the crawl space, where I noticed that one of the lights was out.  Gaye theorized that leaving a light on would keep a skunk away, so she wanted me to replace the burned-out bulb. I suspect she also hangs up garlic to keep away evil spirits, but that is another discussion.

I climbed up on the dirt shelf and replaced the bulb, and that is when I noticed the pile of scruffy black and white hair.  Yep!  There was a dead skunk in our crawl space!  

That was when I also noticed that a cover to one of the vents had been torn and that is how the critter had entered the basement.  
The vent is a few feet above the dirt floor, so it had no way to get out.  It had actually gone to a corner and tried to dig its way out, but ran into the cement footing. 

I slid the carcass and the old insulation it was on into a garbage bag and took it out to the trash.  Three days later the mess was hauled off to the garbage dump.

So when you smell a skunk, trust your nose.  They are pretty hard to hide. And remember to never kick a skunk.