Skunk Tracks in the Snow
greeted us when we woke this morning —
no mistaking ‘em; skunks’ short legs and long bushy tail create a unique undulating line, stuttering in light snow, smooth as a Japanese brushstroke in deep powder, either way a perfect shadow of their endearing waddle.
I know, I know, a lot of people don’t like them – especially people with dogs. But the problem there is simply that too many dogs don’t know how to back down. Unless you’re threatening the babies or cutting off the line of retreat or otherwise driving the poor thing into a defensive corner a skunk is the most peaceable of creatures.
There have been generations of them under the house in Maine, a cellar-free zone open to the world. (The house is on pillars). They come with the territory as reliably as the phoebes in the eves.
And very glad I’ve been about it, too. Striped skunks are a gardener’s friends, voracious consumers of rats, mice, ground-dwelling wasps and turf destroying grubs… the little divots of turned up soil that indicate grub removal are far less harmful than the grubs themselves.
Admittedly, being weasels, skunks also eat earthworms, bird’s eggs, berries and an occasional toad, also any meaty or sweet garbage you happen to leave accessible. They often get blamed for eating chickens – a polecat did it! – but that’s frequently a bum rap. The culprit is just as likely to be a fox, raccoon, smaller weasel or, if the chicken is near water, a mink.
Where was I going with this? They’re beautiful, I guess, and special. Secure in the armor of their odor they are quite willing to coexist. I know this first hand from the many nights I’ve been walking along the narrow path that links our garden to Lois’ and there in front of me, headed my way, is you-know who.
Because my mind is often elsewhere, y.k.w. is often only a couple of feet away. Invariably, both of us stop. And then I slowly back up, not looking it straight in the eye. In 25 years of these encounters I’ve never even been threatened, much less sprayed, and the same is true of Bill, even in the dog owning early days when he threw rocks at them.
skunk photo courtesy Leffler27, on flickr’s creative commons.