By John Gladden
This week, I am going to take a break from politics and write about skunks instead. Hopefully, readers will notice the difference.
As Rubeus Hagrid — the larger-than-life gamekeeper in “Harry Potter” — might say: “Seriously misunderstood creatures, skunks are.”
Skunks do good deeds, it’s true, but there’s one thing we do understand: They smell bad. That goes without saying, but if I stopped saying things that go without saying, I’d be out of a job.
What does skunk odor smell like?
Like rotten fish cooking in a pot of burning rubber on a smoldering pile of sweaty socks in a junior high boys locker room while a million gallons of sludge is being spread on a nearby field by a farmer smoking a cheap cigar after enjoying a big lunch of beans and cabbage boiled in sulfur water.
That’s what skunk smells like.
I know this because our 179-year-old house has been home to many of God’s creatures, besides ourselves. It’s a porous structure, as many old farmhouses are, which allows me to sleep comfortably knowing we will never die in the night from carbon monoxide poisoning. The wind that blows freely through the cracks around our old windows and doors means we are never lacking for fresh air.
However, it also means small chinks sometimes appear in our house’s eaves, slate roof and sandstone foundation. These are like little welcome centers that invite all manner of creeping, crawling, flying and walking things in from the cold to stay with us a while. In the 10 years we’ve lived here, we’ve shared our home with bats, wasps and hornets, birds, snakes, field mice, lost dogs, groundhogs, cats, and a boy and a girl, now 14 and 10, respectively.
If there’s anything else living in this house that I don’t know about, I don’t want to know about it.
Then, this winter, Pepe Le Pew joined the party.
There’s a crawlspace under part of our old house, where the foundation is made of small, flat pieces of sandstone layered one on top of the other like … well, almost like a foundation, you could say.
One year, the aforementioned groundhog excavated a little doorway by removing a few loose stones. I caught him — why do I always refer to wild animals as male? — with a box trap. First I caught a sleepy raccoon that wandered by in the night and followed his nose to the leftover salad I put in as bait. I patched up the hole, but not well enough.
One recent night, we awoke to the smell of skunk wafting into the house on the breeze. We know we have skunks in the neighborhood because we’ve seen their handiwork digging up and eating nests of ground bees, which I appreciate, having been stung more than once while mowing the grass. Skunks are romantically active in late-winter, so it’s not unusual to smell one as he is out looking for love.
The odor always goes away quickly … except this time it didn’t. Not after one day. Not after two days. Not when I opened all the windows in sub-freezing temperatures. I soon realized Pepe had managed to re-open the entry point made by the groundhog and build his own little love nest under the corner of our house.
The surprising thing about skunk smell is it makes everything else smell like skunk smell. I’d smell coffee brewing in the morning — normally a great smell. It smelled like skunk to me. I’d walk into the steamy bathroom after someone had showered with fragrant soap and shampoo. Smelled like skunk. We’d all get in the car to go to church and we’d look at one another and sniff our noses. Is that skunk?
There are various methods of skunk eviction. I wasn’t anxious to use the live trap this time. I didn’t want to use poison. I didn’t want to take up a sniper post with a .22 and start blasting the neighborhood when Pepe emerged for the night. So I did a little research.
Proving there is justice, or that God has a sense of humor, or both, guess what skunks don’t like?
Powerful odors. Go figure.
I stuffed some leaves in Pepe’s doorway so I’d know when he was out carousing for the night. Before bed, I doused an old T-shirt with ammonia — lemon-scented ammonia, which I figured would really annoy him — and stuffed it into the hole in the foundation.
Next morning, the stinky T-shirt was still blocking the hole and there were some peeved-looking scratch marks in the dirt around it. I repeated the process on successive nights, dousing the whole area with ammonia. Pepe seems to have gotten the hint.
So have I. This time, I intend to plug that hole with cement. Barbed wire. A framed photo of Sarah Palin posing with a shotgun.
If all that doesn’t work, I will find a copy of Wile E. Coyote’s Acme Co. catalog and place an order. Some dehydrated boulders or invisible paint would do the trick. But I draw the line at TNT. I’ve seen enough Warner Bros. cartoons to know that never ends well.