Brother skunk (I)
Mephitis mephitis is God’e2’80’99s creature, too:
a story in two parts
For the third time in four years, this winter the King residence has been host to skunks. You know the skunk, don’t you? Mostly from the small dark heap by the side of the road that makes your eyes water for a mile or so. They’e2’80’99re adorable creatures, elegantly black-and-white with astonishingly enormous plumes of tails, paws as clever as hands, and a delicate face with shiny black eyes that melt the hardest heart.
Unfortunately, they stink. No, stink is not sufficient. In fact, no word in the thesaurus is adequate to describe the active defense mechanism of mephitis mephitis. And you’e2’80’99re nodding your head knowingly, thinking that you’e2’80’99ve smelled the creature.
But you haven’e2’80’99t. Not unless you’e2’80’99ve been in the immediate vicinity of a truly angry skunk have you had the full treatment.
You see, the skunk has two, as it were, gears. The one is the sharp reek you get along the road or when a neighbor’e2’80’99s dog has made the mistake of its life: a warning shot. But the other, the souped-up, overdrive, extra-added-value version, takes that sharp reek and piles it on top of a harsh, throat-clenching miasma very like that of burning tires. It seizes your every pore, it fills your lungs, throat, head, it coats your hair and makes your clothing an offense.
And twice last January–a year ago–I had it permeate my house, when the gigantic male that had taken up residence in the heating ducts under my house let fly.
I am told that skunk spray is chemically similar to the mustard gas of the Great War; going by its effects on my system, I can believe it. For the next six months, my throat suffered a variety of weird symptoms, culminating in a charming habit of just closing down every so often. They call them laryngeal spasms, the same thing that sent the pope to the hospital recently, and as a form of entertainment, I really can’t recommend them. The throat closes, you count slowly to ten, or fifteen, and just before you pass out a harsh wheeze comes trickling down your tubes and the lungs cry out with joy. This makes life interesting enough when you’re standing alone in the kitchen waiting for the kettle to come to a boil, but rather disconcerting to anyone who happens to be in the vicinity, since frankly it looks like you’re dying, and of course you can’t very well reassure them, “It’ll be all right in a moment,” because speaking requires the passage of breath. As this was also the period when I was at Left Coast Crime and then on tour for The Game, it made life awkward, to say the least. I got in the habit of telling my escorts and the bookstore staff that if I went red in the face and began to make alarming noises, not to call an ambulance, because it passed, and I wasn’t going to die. Probably.
I live in the countryside by choice. I am not one of those who grows irate upon discovering that the landscape outside the windows is not as sanitized as a shopping mall. I bring in our cats at night so they don’e2’80’99t become snacks for our local coyotes and bobcats, I arrange my planting around the paths and preferences of the deer, and I bang around with the shovel before moving into an area of the hillside where the rattlesnakes like to bask. They were here first, I figure, so I’e2’80’99m happy to share.
I don’e2’80’99t even mind skunks’e2’80’94outside. They’e2’80’99re welcome to live in the fallen oaks and under the sheds, welcome to dot the landscape with reeking notifications of their presence, but as close neighbors, as the people downstairs, they are not good. They ravage the mucous membranes of my throat and rip up the ductwork under the house.
So I found a charming gentleman (looking himself rather as if he might live in a fallen oak) who cheerfully placed his humane traps in my house’e2’80’99s crawl space and carried their occupants away to a place where they could live out their long and fragrant lives in the wild. Three of them. We breathed a (clean) sigh of relief, filled the hole they seemed to be coming in through, and replaced the shredded heating ducts. My throat ceased to spasm; life was good.
And then last month came the ominous sounds of ripping in the ducts, the eye-tingling aroma arising from the vents.
They were back.
(to be continued…)