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121 MARCH 2009
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STORY

Smell ya later

Nils Ling

The other night I went out to the shed to load in some firewood for my stoves. As I opened the door that joins the shed to our old farmhouse, I came face-to-face with an intruder. Normally, you don't want to come face-to-face with an intruder in a big old farmhouse out in the country. But in this case, I have to say it was a relief.

I was face-to-face with a skunk.

(There are worse configurations to find yourself in with a skunk than “face-to-face". The one that leaps most readily to mind is “face-to-butt". Unless, of course, it is the skunk's face and your own butt. In which case, you'd be headed in the opposite direction, which is a perfectly appropriate course of action when confronted by a skunk.)

This isn't the first time I have encountered a skunk around our property. Every few months, it seems, some skunk decides that our outbuildings are the perfect place to set up camp. So they find nooks or crevices and burrow or tunnel or chew their way into what they see as a comfortable hovel, then start poaching my cable and internet signal.

Okay, they might not do that, but they do start searching around for garbage to get into, tearing open bags and scattering trash all over the place. Skunks are like teenaged boys. They're up all night, eat anything they can lay their paws on, and are utterly oblivious to how their sleeping quarters look and smell.

I normally adopt a “live-and-let-live" policy where it comes to wildlife. But I draw the line at skunks. It's not so much what they are as what they do when the inevitable happens – an encounter with Roxy.

Roxy is our dog. She's big, boisterous, energetic, curious, and has the long-term memory of a cucumber. She has encountered skunks before, and she – and we – have paid the price in tomato-juice baths and banishment from the main house. And yet she has been unable to make the connection between rushing madly up to a small, furry, black-and-white creature and getting a faceful of Eau de Oh My God.

So I wasn't happy to have discovered our new resident, although I was relieved that I had found him before Roxy. (For the purposes of this narrative, I am going to refer to this skunk as a “him". He may, in fact, be a “her". There is probably a way to tell. I am less curious about this than you might think.)

Drawing on years of experience watching “Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom", I employed a sure-fire skunk repelling strategy. I said, “Shoo!"

Well, thank you so much, Marlon Perkins. It had precisely no effect at all. Except the skunk ambled a couple of steps closer to me. I say “ambled". In fact, he didn't so much “amble" as “hop". He was clearly favouring his left front paw, never touching it down. He looked directly at me, all big, dark, sad eyes, holding that paw out as if to say, “It hurts. Help me. Please."

Either that, or, “I may look wounded. But one step closer and I will make you wish your parents hadn't owned a car with a back seat". Hard to tell, with a skunk.

I backed up, closed the door and called my wife. Because I quite enjoy surprising her, I did not tell her what was behind Door Number One. I just asked her to look for herself. I know there are sometimes consequences attached to doing things like this. But almost always, they're worth it. She cracked the door, peeked in, then slammed the door and rounded on me furiously. “That's a skunk!" she said. “You rotten ..."

"Look again," I said. And she did, because she retains as well as Roxy. You could see the moment when she realized he was injured.

"Awww. What are we going to do with him?"

"We?"

"Well, you."

So for the past couple of days I've been trying to catch a skunk. On purpose. It turns out that for all the fact skunks are fairly slow moving – and this one more so than the average – they're canny and crafty. So far he has spurned my humane skunk trap, turning his pointy little nose up at the peanut butter sandwiches I planted as bait. But I'm still hopeful.

If and when I do capture the little guy, I've lined up some animal rescue people who have agreed to take him in. So with any luck, Pepe Le Pew will be gone soon and life can get back to normal. I sure hope so. I need that woodshed. If I keep surprising my wife like that, it'll come in handy having a dry place to sleep.

This feature: From Nils Ling's book Truths and Half Truths. A collection of some of his most memorable and hilarious columns. Send a cheque or money order for $25.00 (taxes, postage and handling included) to RR #9, 747 Brackley Point Road, Charlottetown, PE, C1E 1Z3

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