In the coolness of early morning, the aroma was earthy, with self-assured woodsy top notes and a confident musky undertone. It was clear evidence, especially backed up by the marks of fresh digging beside the bush by the front door, that a skunk had been in our front yard.
Being a person who used to know eleventeen verses of "Kumbaya" and who tries to be tolerant and inclusive, I have no personal animosity toward skunks. From an appropriate distance, they're even kind of cute. And it's hard not to have a little sympathy for a critter whose Latin name, Mephitis mephitis, translates as "noxious vapor noxious vapor." Surely just once would have gotten the point across. Repeating it seems a little rude.
All of that peace, love, and tolerance, however, does not mean I want a skunk living in my yard. The morning after I smelled it, I saw it for the first time, rippling its way across the back yard. After several more sightings over the next few days, I had figured out that it was living under a wood pile just a few feet from the garage door.
I called the animal control number. Sorry, the man told me—not sounding sorry at all—but they didn't do skunks. He offered to rent us a live trap for a mere $10 a week, but said, "Once you catch it, you're on your own."
Hmmm, let's think about this. Which is worse, a skunk living in the back yard, minding its own business, or a seriously irritated skunk in a live trap?
Even though we have a one-acre lot in a neighborhood that feels somewhat rural, we're in the city limits. I'm sure shooting a skunk with a .22 would be frowned upon, even if I were a good shot, which I'm not. My partner, who is a good shot, was out of town. Of course, accurate shooting might not be strictly necessary, since the skunk's cozy little home was right next to the propane tank, though the potential for collateral damage would be a bit high.
About now I remembered a story my father told a long time ago. He and several neighbors were working together, shelling corn. At that time, corn was harvested with a machine that left the ears intact. It was stored in bins and then later run through a corn sheller that stripped the kernels off the cobs. The men were shoveling corn into a conveyer that moved the ears up into the machine. All at once a skunk ran out from under the grain bin and made a dash for a quieter neighborhood. As it ran along the row of men, each one stepped back to let it go by. Except the last guy in line, who jumped on the skunk and stomped it to death.
Thinking about that particular piece of gratuitous idiocy made me feel somewhat kinder toward the critter in our back yard, though I still wasn't happy about having it there. It didn't help when my sweetheart got back from his trip. His contribution to solving the problem was to name the skunk Priscilla.
The next evening, I saw Pris—er, the skunk again. With the air of someone on important business, it was trotting toward the ravine at the back of our lot. I haven't seen it since. Maybe, all this time, while I was thinking unkind thoughts about our unwelcome lodger, it had been thinking unkind thoughts about the lack of privacy in our woodpile and the poor quality of the table scraps in our compost pile. Maybe it had decided to move on.
Then last night, just after I went to bed, the cool breeze coming through the bedroom window brought with it an unmistakable aroma—earthy, with a musky undertone.
Drat. My only hope now is that one of the neighbors has a really stupid dog.