Friday, June 29, 2012

Eau de Force

I've written about some of the joys of rural living, peaceful morning walks on less traveled roads and abundant wildlife among them.There is, however, a downside to the country lifestyle . And that would be the abundant wildlife that decides to take up residence.

The barn swallows swooping around at dusk are aeronautic wonders. Nonetheless they can be a bit messy and the little ones sometimes fledge a day or two early and need rescuing from the ostensibly prescription-food-only resident barn cats. And the spring peepers and crickets are often so loud it's difficult to sleep with the windows open.

Racoons in the barn are a feng shui disaster. Anything loose will be strewn about. Anything  not loose will be similarly strewn about but only after a thorough pawing and gnawing.

(Courtesy of
Oppossums are singularly unattractive in an abundantly-fanged, prehistoric sort of way. I've managed to avoid close contact with a live specimen but the fact that barn cats back away, even from days-old wiggly youngsters, suggests a significant personal hygiene issue even if they haven't been flat on the road for three days.

However, the critter least appreciated in the immediate vicinity is the skunk. This has been a breaking news event at my house for about three weeks, which is how long we've been gingerly approaching our mailbox across the street. They were kinda cute the first time we saw them, mom with three black and white bundles of fluff toddling after her. That was when we thought they were just passing through. Our assessment of cute changed as it became apparent they intended to be permanent residents. Our lack of enthusiasm for the odiferous occupants dwindled even further when they began regular visits into the yard. Now they're circumnavigating the entire house and we are seriously not pleased.

So, 'What to do? What to do?' we wondered.
Repelling them with scent came to mind but given the odor of magnitude with which they live that seemed unlikely to succeed and potentially disasterous for other resident mammals, like us. Did I really want to endure the odor of something so bad that skunks fled?

A client offered the information that skunks don't like moth balls. This would have been a viable option but for the illegality and moral dilemma of spreading toxic chemicals around the yard.

We are a dedicated gun-free zone so that left trapping and relocation or direct intimidation as options. In the interests of barn peace and horse health, we've trapped and "re-homed" an assortment of critters to the other side of the river. However, the logistics of trapping and transporting four skunks seemed daunting, and there may be a small but significant DNR-type legal issue there too.

Direct intimidation it was to be.

Here I should note that my dismay at resident skunks and somewhat academic interest in encouraging their departure is vastly superceded by my husband's distress and dedication to establishing an extensive skunk free zone.

The not-so-little-anymore skunks had taken to investigating the lawn for grub snacks at all hours of the day and night. Somewhat fortified by the belief that immature skunks are not fully armed in the scent department he approached and shouted something in English, his native language I should note, while waving his arms in a firmly suggestive shooing motion. This resulted in the skunk lifting his nose and tail from the ground and peering up at him. Neither of them apparently perceived a significant threat because the skunk went back to nosing the ground and my husband, obviously emboldened by the immediate lack of spraying, closed in a bit.

Raising his hands over his head like a Hollywood zombie and frantically hopping from side to side he began a high-volume, decidedly non-English, somewhat crazed growl no doubt meant to scare the skunk but simultaneously sending my daughter and me into paroxyms of laughter. (Ever equipped with her trusty smart phone and needing virtually no encouragement from me to hurry before he stopped, she has the scene on video for posterity and future bargaining power. I may see a car in her future...) We were further amused from the safety of the house when, in true contrary adolescent fashion, the juvenile skunk once again looked up at the peculiarly berzerk human, near-sightedly squinted, and ambled closer for a better look.

Skunk two, human zero.

We did offer unofficial points for entertainment value but clearly the minimal degree of difficulty was costing the home team.

Feeling a bit sorry for his lack of success and apparent dejection and really relieved that he hadn't returned to the house smelling of skunk I offered the thought that I'd considered spraying them with the garden hose. He was a man rejuvenated, which is why he spent several days and nights this week armed with about 150 feet of hose chasing the skunk family around the yard and back across the street. I'm not sure our version of homeland security is any match for a skunk's version of biological warfare but fortunately they don't seem inclined to spray at intermittant but doggedly horizontal "rain."

His efforts so far, while mildly reminiscent of Caddyshack, haven't yet reached single-minded-anihilation intensity. I'm hoping they decide to relocate on their own, particularly in view of the fact that a recent check revealed baby skunk scent glands mature at about four weeks of age and they have an approximate range of 15 feet, which is more than the distance from driveway to front door...


  1. this was too funny.......hope the spraying hose has made your yard a "skunk-free" zone by now. They ARE stubborn little critters!

    1. Hi Caren. We were hopeful when we didn't see the skunk family for a day but they reappeared the next evening. Interestingly, they now head in the other direction when my husband picks up the hose so they can't be all that near-sighted. The other possibility is that they're impressed by Peaches the intrepid barn cat who has taken to accompanying his human on the skunk sorties, albeit always in a rear flank position...