Monday, July 28, 2008

Skunked again. (Well, not quite.)

I complained Saturday that our yard at the Writer's Lair on Lake Superior was Grand Central for a variety of animals, but in the dark. Almost as if to answer that, the cabin property has become a daytime Penn Station for skunks. All that is missing are little fedoras and little briefcases as the critters commute back and forth in their little black and white office suits.

The folks in town told us the other day that there has been a skunk population explosion in the last couple of years, but there's nothing one can do except keep garage and shed doors closed and a weather eye out for the creatures. One friend of ours captured a particularly chummy specimen in a Havahart humane trap and took it for a ride deep into the woods. (If the trap is small enough the skunk can't lift its tail to spray.)

Last evening we were sitting on the backyard deck with aperitifs and canapes when a skunk ambled around the corner of the cabin. Quickly we shooed Hogan the yellow half-Lab inside before he could spot it and charge. The skunk trotted on and disappeared into the woods. A few minutes later he re-emerged, heading straight for us, and after a quick grabshot with the camera (at right) we shooed ourselves into the cabin until the skunk disappeared into the other side of the woods.

The skunk probably never saw us; we simply had occupied the space he was heading for. Their eyesight is very poor, although their hearing and noses are acute.

Living with skunks is not difficult, if you give them plenty of space and keep the dog on a leash. Whenever we go outside, we make like base runners taking a long lead off second, keeping our heads on a swivel, watching for that subtle flash of black and white out of the corners of our eyes.

We also prepare for the worst. The old remedy is a gallon or so of tomato juice (we once used two small cans of V-8 on a skunked dog, and it worked) but the modern medicine consists of a mixture of of a quart of hydrogen peroxide, one-third of a cup of baking soda, and a teaspoon of dish detergent. You mix and use the stuff on the spot, leaving it on the dog (or yourself, if you were so unlucky) for five minutes. If if you try to keep the potion, it'll explode like liquid Semtex. So far we haven't had occasion to use it, but you never know.

Once in a while we'll get a whiff of skunk, but always from a distance, often from roadkill. They don't fire the artillery until they are mortally threatened.

In a sense living in the woods with skunks is like living in the city with diversity. One might grumble at the habits of exotic peoples but one learns to tolerate them -- and hope that they'll tolerate us, too.

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