Off North Road
On a roll in summertime
This week, one early evening, Mary Ann and I rolled into our driveway and noticed how much the roadside greenery encroached on our car's way home. Ahead at the curve, I made a face at my sign as it laid askew on its pole after last winter's snow plow up-ended it. I had hung it the best I could, not well.
"What the heck is all that?" I asked my wife. We sat speechless for a moment looking at a boiling mass of fur, all black and white. "SKUNKS!" we shouted together. "One, two, three, four, five six, no, seven," I whispered.
"There goes Momma," Mary Ann said under her breath. I wondered for a minute whether I should back out to the tar road and go around by the South Road. It would be another half hour getting into the house and we wouldn't know where these guys would go. As we lost the touch of hysteria that had gripped us, we realized these cute little fur balls were toddlers having a ball, as most kittens do. (What do you call these baby skunks? Puppies? Kits? Cubs? Skinks? Skunkies? Stinkers? I like the last).
What we called them didn't matter a sous. All I could see ahead in the neighborhood would be the disaster when seven small skunks had matured, could spray their noxious body fluid at will, using a more efficient and revolting defense system than anyone had devised since World War II. Skunks would be invulnerable to our small stock of bad smelling chemicals. Our dog Ticker would surely try something and come out the worse for wear. Where would we let Ticker sleep? Outside in the rain or down at the beach where she could rinse off and dilute the stink for herself, at least. She usually sleeps on both the living room couches depending on which one lies within the path of the nearest electric fan. Not on my bed will she sleep, I thought to myself
Mary Ann was anxious to get to the house. I think she was afraid one or all seven would let go with a blast. Later, Walter Wlodycka told us there was nothing we could do about them for the time being. "They're in their gypsy phase, run everywhere, won't settle down for a while. Usually the biggest of the litter takes over the lead. That's why you see them parading along in a line with a big male leading the pack.
"The babies don't often spray," Walter says, "They try to conserve the energy it takes and it is their only defense against predators."
Eventually Mom abandons them, tired of feeding that large crew. Each little stinker must find his own pad or cave or burrow, or horn in on a lonesome mole, enlarge the quarters and settle in for a good forage spot for left-out garbage and lawn slugs, and for sleeping. They don't really hibernate in winter but become less active so we all have to be careful year-round how we leave our leavings, Hungry enough, they'll come out in the snow.
I started the car and raced the engine a couple of times to see if the "kids" were readying an attack. They continued to tumble over each other and turn over and over; none of the group ever left its little circumscribed circle of about a foot and a half in diameter. I curbed my enthusiasm for their frolic while Mary Ann already was giving voice to my previous thoughts of disaster with Ticker.
Walter is a fount of animal knowledge, particularly skunks and raccoons, the collection of which is his business, as everyone up-Island knows. "The skunks are way down in number this year," he said. We both nodded, realizing we haven't seen anywhere near the number as in previous years. "The raccoons are taking over, clearing out the food supply before the skunks can get to it. They're also bigger and stronger and quicker than the skunks. The coons kill the little skunks and eat them." I gagged quietly, not sure I had heard Walter correctly. So much for wild life, the term is appropriate. I eased the car toward the house and we emerged quietly with our eyes on the spot of play until we were safely up the back steps. Ticker, our Springer, was madly sniffing about on the grass, having picked up something that remained beyond the range of our own nostrils and brain radar. We closed the door on all the play and went to bed with visions of black and white fur balls dancing in our heads.