I have been keeping up with my writing of creative non-fiction by editing a few stories I wrote a few years ago. Here is the first of several. I hope you enjoy it.
I learned many things about skunks the day I found one in a deep hole near our house. I had used a post hole digger, a tool with two small-facing shovels, to dig holes as wide as my shoulders and forty inches deep into the ground right next to our sidewalk in preparation for a privacy fence. I covered the holes with plywood squares for the night, marking them with a big sign “CAUTION DEEP HOLE DANGER WATCH YOUR STEP,” and staked yellow caution flagging around them. My wife and I had only recently moved from a farm on west coast and wanted to avoid creating a bad impression by killing or maiming our neighbors in this small college town.
The next morning I uncovered a piece of plywood and found that a relative of Pepe Le Pew had fallen in overnight. (Skunk fact #1 – Skunks are very nearsighted). I jumped back. I leaned forward cautiously. I looked down and blinked, he/she looked up and blinked. I backed off slowly. I never stare long at skunks. My usual reaction is to turn quickly and walk away. More was obviously needed here. I found a six foot 2×4 lowered it slowly and carefully over the skunk’s head to the bottom of the hole.. I then went to eat breakfast and inform my wife. Country life had taught us that critters who got into something could generally get out with minimal help.
On the farm we learned it is mostly domesticated critters like dogs that seems to have lost just enough of their wild intelligence to create problems. I recalled I had purchased industrial quantities of tomato juice for our German shepherd-collie mix when we though he had had a close encounter of the worst kind. It turned out he really like the smell of fish fertilizer and had chewed through a plastic gallon container of the stuff in order to roll in the contents.
I came back after breakfast to find nothing had changed. I pulled out the 2×4, wrapped it in climbable fabric and gently lowered it again. After another few hours and no change I called Bob – a name I got from the city sanitation department after a discussion of where city property ended and my property began. I learned later Bob was the only person in our small town who takes these kinds of calls.
He was eating when I asked about the skunk. He asked me to describe Pepe and the dimensions involved with the hole. He calmly gave me the news. “Your skunk can’t climb” he chewed calmly explaining the board was at too steep an angle and it was the wrong kind of skunk. (Skunk fact #2 – striped skunks can’t climb). He then suggested a horrible idea. “Just grab it by the tail and pull it out”
I didn’t know Bob so I didn’t tell him he was insane but it may have come through in my “I don’t think so!”
“Oh it won’t spray,” Bob chewed, “Skunks rarely spray unless they are defending their young or threatened” (Skunk fact #3). Being trapped by my fence post hole then grabbed by the tail seemed to me to be pretty threatening but skunks weren’t my field of study. “Ok then can you come over at do this?” I asked. We went back and forth for a while. I let him know the seventy-five dollar price for his services would save me a hundred dollars worth of tomato juice. He kept claiming the job was simply too easy to bother with. After several exchanges I recognized the ploy. Small town service contractors hate to say no as reputations can be ruined with one refusal to help a neighbor. He finally confessed he was on his way to his nieces first birthday party and couldn’t come that day. He had me. Critical family events trump everything except hospitalization or death.
I got down to business. I clarified that, with the depth of the hole past three feet, I would be reaching all the way in with my arms, head, and upper body fully committed. I am not overweight but my shoulders and head would block most of the light in the skunk cave. There was no guarantee I could even see the tail as I fumbled around in the dark. We both agreed that a creature trapped in a small space with giant hand groping for them could spark extreme measures of self defense.
“Do you have something you can grab it with?” Bob asked, staying with me.
We discussed various types of grabbing tools I had available including scoops, salad tongs, and chop sticks. Then I mentioned the post hole digger – that shovel-to-shovel, long handled tool I had used to help create the problem in the first place.
“.That’ll do the trick,” Bob chuckled and abruptly the line went dead. His reputation as the town critter solver had been saved. I was left with the niceties of figuring out exactly how to extract a soft-bodied, one pound skunk with a unwieldy, twenty-pound tool.
Meanwhile, in the past few hours the “skunk in the hole the new neighbors made” had aroused many mixed emotions in our liberal college town neighborhood. Most people passing by cautiously looked down with sympathy for the “poor creature”. Pepe looked up from the victim position, apparently forgetting he had chosen to ignore our caution tape and crawl under a clearly marked scrap of plywood. Passerby solutions had ranged from construction of a skunk elevator from the engineering department down the street to the expedient “well you’re going to fill it with cement anyway aren’t you?”
After a quick trip to the big box supermarket where I picked up enough tomato juice to fill my bathtub, I picked up the post hole digger mentally rehearsed every move I would have to make.
Pepe looked very fragile and the post hole digger very crude. Steel jaws hinged around these long wooden handles vs the skunks beautiful striped body, shiny coat and delicate paws. With great care not to crush that tiny head nor only pull a few hairs from that large tail, I sandwiched the skunks body between the post hole blades and, with a quick lift, flipped him out of the hole. (Skunk fact #4 – you can remove a skunk from a hole with a post hole digger).
We both ran opposite directions. He dashed to the neighbors across the street and ducked under their porch. I ran to the other side of my house with only a glance back to make sure I wasn’t followed.
A little too proud I began telling the story to all my neighbors. It was a bonding moment with most of them. However I noticed my neighbor across the street didn’t laugh when I told him the skunk was last scene streaking under his porch. He told me he had been trying to get rid of that skunk in his basement for months. (Skunk fact # 5 – skunks are not welcome everywhere).