Aug 26 2010
I work at my desk on summer evenings, under a large open window that admits breezes and mosquitoes in roughly equal measure. And for as long as I can manage to sit still, that window is my only eye on the outside world. It is also my ears and my nose. The small sounds of the night enter unmuted, and an ever-changing medley of subtle smells drifts in from every point on the compass.
Lately the sounds have been dominated by a gentle, persistent scraping, interrupted from time to time by soft grunts. It didn’t take me long to identify the source: a pair of young skunks, striped tails waving proudly, foraging for grubs and seeds under the lilacs that grow near my window. I’m pretty sure they’re siblings, and I’ve sometimes glimpsed a larger skunk keeping what I can only presume to be a motherly eye on her two offspring. In any case, the trio have the unmistakable air of a family group, and their relations are invariably cordial, though the two younger skunks’ animal spirits manifest themselves in a lively roughhouse every now and then. These friendly bouts usually begin with a playful shove or head-butt and end minutes later in a brief, if rather frenzied, tumble. But it’s all in good fun. The erstwhile combatants soon return to the real business of the evening, padding patiently along, side by side, stopping only to dig up a tasty morsel. And soon they’re on their way back to their home in the surrounding woods.
But they almost always leave me something to remember them by. A not unpleasant hint of musk, perhaps, or one or two tangible reminders that all animals are really nothing more than highly elaborat tubes, so that what goes in one end must sooner or later emerge at the other. And since—for reasons I can’t begin to guess at—”skunk scat” is one of the most frequent search terms bringing new readers to this site, I figured I ought to give the questors what they’re looking for, at least now and then. So here it is: the real thing, guaranteed fresh and totally organic…
It has a certain viscid elegance, I admit, though I probably won’t be framing the photo to hang over my desk. But I will be listening again tonight, hoping to catch the first faint sound of claws tearing at the earth in search of something good to eat. I’ve always liked picnics, whatever the time of day.