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.

skunk tracks in thin snow

skunk tracks in thin snow

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.

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  • ruralway Said,

    One of the first books we bought after moving to the wilds of Upstate NY was ‘Scats and tracks of the Northeast’. I have to admit though, that even with the book in my hand, standing staring down at the track or the scat rarely do I get it right. Husband of course always gets 100%!. Funny about dogs and wild things. Our beloved Mocha, he of the Aussie blue merle breed once went head to head with a raccoon. His maniacal barking soon turned to shrieks and howls of pain once the racoon attached itself to his lower jaw. Husband played whack-a-mole with the raccoon until the raccoon gave up and ran into the woods. You would think he might have learned something from that-not so. Next year was the beaver incident. Oy.

  • leslie Said,

    with you 100 % on the husband, RW, though I figure his history – he ran a trap line in his distant youth – goes a long way to explain it.

    as for the dog, sounds just like a dog.

  • Anna Iredale Said,

    In the past few years I have come to realize that I love the smell of skunk! It reminds me that wild things still try to find a home in my suburban neighborhood.

  • leslie Said,

    Anna, you have something in common with Bill ( my husband) – he loves skunk smell too. In view of the comment from RW I’m starting to think this is his special post… who knew?

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