Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Skunks Are Back

The skunks are back at Enema U.  I’m not referring to the two-legged variety that have been absent since the end of the last semester, and only manage to stagger into the building at the start of the next semester—no, the faculty are not the polecats I’m referring to. 

No—the skunks in question are the four-legged variety that seems to be living in every drain pipe, basement, and crawl space on campus.  They have been missing since the snows fell in December, but now that the weather is back to normal, they can be seen on campus again.  Since there is rarely a showdown between any of the students and the skunks, these critters are much smarter than I had imagined.  And while I wouldn’t say they are domesticated, they seem to be at least as tame as the feral administrators.

If you want to see the wildlife of Enema U, you have to hang around the buildings until about midnight.  (Alternately, you could go to a faculty meeting.)  Then suddenly, out from under metal gratings and from all the other hidey holes around the aging buildings emerge skunks, feral cats, and an astonishing number of field mice.  I don’t blame them for living here—the university is a large, beautiful park, with manicured trees, well-watered lawns, and enough food to be found in the assorted trash cans to provide easy banquets.  Their only natural enemies are the occasional hawk or owl, and a few pet dogs that learn the hard way not to examine the interesting smells coming from drain pipes.

Has Southern New Mexico always had this many skunks, or is this yet another animal that has seemed to increase in number as the human population has increased?  Supposedly, the state has more coyotes and politicians than ever before, so I suppose that skunk population could behave similarly.   Certainly there is less incentive to shoot the four-legged polecats than there seems to be to eradicate the other two pests.

Skunks have long been a part of the family history.  Almost half a century ago, I took my wife, The Doc (then a pre-Doc), on a long walk in the countryside.  As we approached an old building, for some reason I warned my wife that this was good skunk country.  (I’m still not sure exactly why—perhaps I smelled something?).  Despite the warning, a few minutes later I looked back at my wife, who was standing on tiptoe to look through the window of what was left of the old building.  Standing directly beneath her, was a skunk. 

“Don’t move!” I yelled.

Of course, she moved.  And the skunk did what skunks do best (Besides running for Congress...).  You cannot believe how angry she was when I made her sit in the back of pickup on the way home.  Actually, to this day, The Doc still gets angry whenever I mention this incident, and I’ve noticed that over the years, her version of the story has gradually changed.  I believe that currently, as she tells it, I threw the skunk at her while her back was turned.

Several years ago, we took our sons, What’s-His-Name and The-Other-One, camping at a state park.  The boys got the tent, while The Doc and I slept in the back of the truck.  Somewhere after midnight, I heard the sound of a small voice coming from the tent.

“Nice kitty,” he said.  “You’re a good cat.”

I sat up and watched my youngest son, The-Other-One, feeding leftover fried chicken to a small pack of skunks.  (What is the proper collective word for skunks?  A "stench" of skunks?  A "noseful"?  A "phew" skunks?)

Watching your son feeding skunks produces a whole series of mixed emotions.  If I try to rescue him, I’ll probably only succeed in getting us both sprayed.  Is there a potential problem with rabies?  Probably not: the boy is old enough to stop biting.  In the long run, I just went back to sleep.  Milliorn’s Rule of Child Raising:  Children have a right to be eaten by bears.  Or in this case, skunks.

The next morning, the boys were fine, the skunks were gone, and so was all the leftover chicken.

I’ve had my own run-ins with skunks, too.  The Doc and I own a small cabin up in the mountains.  Now when people tell you they have a cabin, it usually turns out that they have a condo or an apartment in one of the Instant Ghettos that are springing up inside the city limits of every community located anywhere near the mountains.  That is not what we own.  Ours is a ramshackle cabin located in what is technically called ‘Dumbfuck, Nowhere”.  It was built by drunks—I know, I was one of them.

One day, there was a plumbing problem under the kitchen sink that required me to crawl under the cabin, on my back, into the narrow space under the kitchen floor.  The spider infested crawl space was cramped, tight, and almost impossible to move as I lay on my back working with a wrench above my head on a stubborn pipe.  After a few exhausting minutes of work, I laid the wrench down, and took a rest.  As I turned my head to the right….there was a skunk about two feet away from my face, staring intently at me.

Looking back on this, he was just curious, almost catlike.  He was giving me a look that said, “Hey, hand me the wrench and let me try that.”

At the time, however, the feeling of being trapped under the floor with a skunk was terrifying.  To this day I can’t believe that I didn’t make a basement door right through that kitchen floor.  What I actually did was ever so slowly, inch my way out from under the basement floor as carefully and quietly as I could.  Once free, I shook like a leaf, about as furious as I have ever been.  Fetching a rifle from the cabin, I searched unsuccessfully for that skunk for an hour.  I would have shot that damn skunk even if it had been sitting atop the propane tank.  Of course, the worst part of the story is that I eventually had to crawl back under that damn cabin to finish the fixing plumbing.  Thankfully, I never saw the curious polecat again.

Last spring, the weather was wonderful, and we had a backyard barbecue as the sun set.  As we enjoyed the wine and a beautiful New Mexico sunset, suddenly four baby skunks came bouncing out from under the deck, heading in a parade more or less straight for us.  While they were undeniably cute—tiny little black and white balls of fluff making preposterous leaps through the grass—we still didn’t want to share our dinner with them. 

This, of course, was not really an immediate problem, since the skunks were so small that crossing the yard would take them a while—and just how risky are baby skunks, anyway?  Can they even spray at that age?  (As I found out later, yes they can.)

Occasionally, doves nest in the backyard trees over the patio table and cause a small inconvenience to our eating in the backyard.  The Doc disapproves of me shooting them and making impromptu additions to the menu, so to please her, I had just purchased an air horn—you know, those devices that one normally finds at hockey games, on ski boats, and at other similarly cultured activities of high society.  All I had to do was use the air horn to scare off the skunks, right?

I’m still not sure what went wrong.  Did you know that air horns actually attract skunks?  Neither did I.  Or maybe they just wanted to share our fried chicken.

A few months later, I successfully trapped one of the parents of the skunklings.  Using a raw egg as bait inside a Havahart trap, the adult skunk was safely enclosed in the rectangular wire box trap.  Safe, but really pissed off, and I had no idea what to do with the critter.  Luckily, the County government has a Wildlife Control Division, and they sent a young man who promised to take the trap far out into the desert, safely release it, and return my trap. 

 “How are you going to do this without getting sprayed?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s not hard if you are an expert,” he answered.

I stood way back in order to safely watch an expert at work.  Thank God he knew what he was doing, otherwise the EPA might have designated my house as a Superfund site.  As it was, that skunk only sprayed the expert, the trap, my garden shed, and his pickup.  


  1. Exactly right! After you trap a skunk, call your locall Animal control officer. You will find that they love to hear from you! (In your dreams) I trapped 3 skunks last year, and I am ready for another season. My dog, Walter, has discovered a if he growls at the skunk, face to face, he can avoid the spray.

  2. Actually, that's the benefit of living in the south part of the state. Over the years, they have hauled off at least a dozen of the pesky critters after I catch one. The guy now approaches the trap holding a large plastic tarp in front of him. I've learned that raw egg is the best bait for skunks, but I till occasionally catch a feral cat.

  3. My trapping was confined to 5 racoons, a possums and about 18 squirrels in one season. The squirrels were cutting a door in the walls of the house by Lake Palestine and building cute little condos overlooking the lake. I paddled them cage and all across the lake to a little island along the west side of the lake and released them there. I tried to find out if the island had a name. It did not (at least on the geological survey maps) so I named the place Squirrel-catraz and left many angry bushy-tailed rodents to their own devices on the oak infested island. Never had any of them manage the 20 minute swim back to my yard. I only had to shoot one of them - a black squirrel with a Mohawk hair-style who used to stand at the back door and swear at me if the bird feeder was empty. He knocked a knothole out of the cedar siding and took up residence in my walls. I could hear him scratching on the sheetrock so I had to take him out. I caught him in the top of an 80 foot loblolly pine tree and took him out with one shot with my Chinese made 22 caliber pellet gun standing flat-footed on the ground. It was a magnificent shot. He was dead when he hit the ground. I never could brag about it, though. I felt too guilt-ridden for murdering him, even though he was a pest and a terrorist.