THE TERRACE – A pleasant evening here at my lake house in Varicose Valley – the setting sun, the pink clouds, the boats on the water. OK, it’s 107 degrees, another record breaker, so I concentrate on the wildlife which is in abundance: deer, armadillos, possums, a fox or two, skunk, more deer, a…SKUNK!!
Gad. There it is, its black and white fur so fluffy and pretty, it would make a nice cap for Davy Crockett, but you don’t have to be a Crockett scientist to know it is definitely trouble. To paraphrase Gen. Philip Sheridan on Indians, the only good skunk is a dead skunk. I don’t want to kill it, just go away.
As I dash inside and slam the door, I contemplate my predicament. I could put up a sign with a picture of the animal with a big, red slash across it. Or hang out a banner: “This Is a Skunk-Free Zone.” I could call the Taste Police who terrify and intimidate Varicose Valley. For example, they demand I mow the grass, paint the outhouse and they say I can only have two cars up on blocks in my front yard. As with any living problem, be it killer rabbits, angry stockholders or the NRA, there is a protective group looking out for skunks. It is the Compassionate Action Institute, aka Tree Huggers. It proclaims, “Occasional skunk sightings in a neighborhood doesn’t necessarily mean there is a problem.” The organization recommends building a little one-way door over the skunk’s burrow so when it leaves, it can’t come home again. No doubt the next step is buying little cans of deodorant.
What’s its natural enemy? Deer have wolves, antelope have lions, Obama has Boehner and Boehner has sunscreen. No dog is going to attack a skunk. No lion would, not if it wants to lie down with the lamb. Maybe porcupines. No one gets close to porcupines, anyway, so they could smell like a locker room at halftime and nobody would know.
There are rat catchers, pest controllers, poachers and termite eradicators. For enough money, you can hire people to knock off a business competitor or a cheating spouse. I look in the Yellow Pages under “Skunk Busters.” Nothing. Nor is there anything listed under “Busters, Skunks.”
In Texas we have high school teams named the Hutto Hippos and the Hamlin Pied Pipers, but no football team is called the Fightin’ Skunks, although the University of North Dakota is opposing an NCAA ruling that the school drop its nickname, the Sioux Warriors. Maybe they would settle for Skunk Warriors. What do you call a baby skunk? A kit. Or a group of them? Bees go in swarms, owls hang together in parliaments, goats go in trips and a group of skunks is called a surfeit. Actually, one skunk is surfeit.
It is now the next night. The deer and the antelope are playing. I’ve got the usual suspects in the yard, but no skunk. Maybe it had the night off. The Noble Brotherhood of Skunks Local 347 is on strike for a better reputation. Perhaps like toxic dumps, pirates and the Houston Astros, skunks are not really bad, only suffering from a bad press. That’s it. Like almost everyone else, when in trouble, blame the press. Works every time, as I was telling Newt.
Charles Darwin wrote in “Voyage of the Beagle,” “We saw also a couple of Zorrillos, or skunks — odious animals, which are far from uncommon.” Darwin went on to note: “Whatever is once polluted by it, is for ever useless.”
Right now a number of you are thinking, “I’d really like to have a pet skunk, if only I knew more about them.” As usual, I have done the heavy lifting for you. First and foremost, of course, we know the animal can fire off a really awful odor. Learned skunkologists – using their most scientific terminology — describe the smell as a combination of the odors of rotten eggs, garlic and burnt rubber.
Pepe Le Pew has muscles which allow him to squirt his stink up to 10 feet with great accuracy. The stench can be smelled as far as a mile away downwind. We have all been in a car merrily going down a highway when we suddenly inhale a waft of worst. That road kill was el skunko.
How you get rid of skunks? There is a product called Electronic Yard Repellent Pro which emits a high-pitched sound that deters skunks. However, it also keeps out deer, dogs, cats, rabbits, raccoons, opossums, armadillos, bats, rodents and Yankees. Ten out of 11 ain’t bad. Then there is Shake Away, a powder to repel only skunks. But how smelly does it have to be to repulse skunks? The cure could be worse than the curse.
How do you get rid of the skunk smell? We turn to the experts who opine: “The scent is persistent and difficult to remove. Diluted solutions of vinegar or tomato juice may be used to eliminate most of the odor from people, pets, or clothing.” Then we have happy ending: “These methods are not effective.”
What do skunks eat? Anything they want. Who’s going to stop them? Actually, they are omnivorous, eating both plant and animal material — insects, larvae, earthworms, small rodents, lizards, salamanders, frogs, snakes, birds, moles and eggs. Here’s something you might want to know before clearing out the old dog house for your new pet: The Centers for Disease Control recorded 1,494 cases of rabies in skunks in the U.S. in 2006. That’s about 21.5 percent of reported cases in all species. All of this moot anyway, for you pet lovers. It is illegal to keep a pet skunk in Texas, although I am told they are delicious.
An aside: Some of you may be familiar with the term, Skunk Works or Skonk Works. The works appeared in Al Capp’s cartoon strip, Li’l Abner, and were in a dilapidated factory that smelled terrible. Later, the name was given to a secret, unconvenetional program run by Lockheed Martin that developed the U-2, Blackbird, Nighthawk and several other cutting-edge aircraft. Today Skunk Works can apply to any maverick, usually secret, progam within a larger operation, run by screwballs, eccentrics and/or geniuses, like the Tea Party.
It is now the next night. There is the setting sun, the pink clouds, the boats, deer, armadillos, etc. What’s worse than a skunk in your yard? Two skunks. Where is Davy Crockett when you need him?
Ashby is fuzzy and adorable at email@example.com