Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Close Encounters of the Skunk Kind

Try as I might I could not find who owns this photo. I did see it used on multiple sites with no attribution. Therefore, I invoke "Fair Use."
Alright, maybe it is "Skunk Week" here at the Chant du Départ. Monday was about skunks, Tuesday the same and here it is Wednesday, with more skunks. (I don't think that I have any other skunk stories beyond today's tale. So it could be a very short Skunk Week.)

Growing up in the hills of Vermont and New Hampshire I had ample opportunities to interact with Mephitis mephitis, aka the Striped Skunk. I was never sprayed. For that I am truly thankful. As you might recall from yesterday, my cat Tommy did tangle with a skunk once. Just once. He never did it again.

My maternal grandmother's dogs, Tippie and Bimmie did, however, tangle with these striped members of the weasel family multiple times. It's not that the dogs weren't smart, it's just that they were determined to best this small animal. Eventually. They did not tolerate other non-canine, non-feline, non-bovine, non-equine animals down on the farm.

Tippie and Bimmie were Hell on woodchucks (aka groundhog, whistle-pig or land-beaver). Someday I will tell you that story, but not today. Not in the middle of Skunk Week. Heaven forbid!

I have met skunks in many venues, always at night. They are nocturnal beasties, should you see one out and about during the daylight hours, beware. There is a good chance the animal has rabies. (Good skunk articles here and here. No need to thank me, I try to educate folks as a public service. It's free and nearly always fairly accurate. Nearly.)

So other than the time my Dad and I waited in ambush for the skunk that was helping himself to my cat's food, what other exciting skunk tales do I have?

There I was*, driving around with a couple of buddies before I went into the Air Force, Tim and Skip. Skip spots a couple of furry things in the middle of a backcountry road.

"Tim stop the car! There are two cats procreating in the middle of the road!"

(In the spirit of full disclosure, Skip did not say "procreating". He used an old Anglo-Saxon term that rhymes with trucking.)

Tim firmly applied the brakes and the car stopped right next to the two "cats." Country boy that I was I quickly realized that what we were dealing with were most definitely not cats.

"Tim! Get us out of here! Those are skunks!!!!"

As Tim continued to eyeball the passionate pair of polecats, they realized that they were not alone. Their romantic interlude was being intruded upon by a great metal beast containing three young human males.

Mr. and Mrs. Skunk started to do a little dance. That's when the word "skunk" finally hit Tim's brain.

Rubber was left upon the road as Tim set a new world's record (for the time) at rapidly departing the scene. (No, I don't know if the skunk couple ever consummated their relationship.)

Now in that particular story, I came up on the skunks. In this next tale, a skunk came up on me!

Bear in mind this was back in the day when I was still smoking. In those days I spent a lot of time outdoors. The smoke not being healthy for the progeny (sorry Nuke, it just slipped out) and The Missus Herself (being an ex-smoker) not wanting to inhale my second hand smoke either. (Truth be told, once I got used to the idea, smoking outside was my preferred venue. Too stinky to do inside.)

Now we've just moved to Little Rhody, it being about two months since I retired from the Air Force. My new employer put us in a very nice apartment just over the hill from Naval Station Newport and the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC). This was also not far from the piers where the USS IOWA (BB-61), USS FORRESTAL (CV-59) and USS SARATOGA (CV-60) were tied up"in ordinary", so to speak**. Truly a magnificent sight. All three are gone now, SARATOGA left just a couple of weeks ago as of the date of this post.


I miss them. Before we get back to our striped critter story, how about some warship pictures? (I thought you might like that.)

USS FORRESTAL (CV-59) Public Domain Photo

USS IOWA (BB-61) Public Domain Photo
USS SARATOGA(CV-60) Public Domain Photo

(Yes, yes I know. Back to the skunks!)

So, we're staying in this nice apartment on the ground floor, close to the street.

It's a lovely evening in late August and I'm out on the patio enjoying a smoke. As I survey my surroundings, pondering where I had been at the same time the previous year (Germany) I spied an odd creature trundling up the road.

"Hhmm," I thought, "that cat seems to be limping."

Upon further inspection as the animal approached within hailing distance, I noticed that the waddling, rather chubby denizen of the outdoors was mostly black, with what appeared to be racing stripes. (Yes, I actually thought that.)

Oh shit, oh dear! That's a skunk. Said skunk having detected me but not having figured me out yet had apparently decided to close the range.

My cigarette was hurriedly crushed out and I put my helm over and called for flank speed. Charging into the kitchen / living room my family all wondered what was amiss.

All I could do was pant "Skunk! There was a skunk!" It may have been The WSO who said, "Dad, it was a skunk, not a Bengal tiger!" Oh, to be so mocked by the fruit of my loins! (Sorry Nuke and WSO. I know you don't like being called that either. It just slipped out.)

Of course, everyone rushed to the patio door for to gaze upon the ferocious wee beastie. Naturally the skunk was long gone. No doubt as I was thinking "skunk," the skunk was thinking "human"! Not being cornered and having ample maneuvering room, the skunk set a reciprocal course to my own and was no doubt deep into the woods by the time the family unit looked outside.

So. A close call? Not really, we scared the crap out of each other and went our separate ways.

The next skunk story took place at Chez Sarge. Again it is evening, late summer. Not quite full dark but somewhat past nautical twilight.

I was again outside, sitting on the back steps of my deck partaking of a Marlboro. As I gazed aloft at the twilight's last gleaming (no, no, you don't have to stand, I'm not going to do the whole National Anthem, and if I was, I would start at the beginning, not in the middle. What's that you say? Oh yes. Why this is a digression, innit? Sorry.)

So, let me see, gazing aloft...

Ah yes. As I was gazing aloft, noting that the stars were starting to appear, I noticed something moving down by my left foot.

"Hhmm, I've never seen this cat before." I muttered to myself. (Yes, I know! Why do I always assume they're cats? I suppose it's like hearing hoof beats, ya think horses, not zebras. I see small furry animals, I think "cat," not "skunk.")

As I looked closer I realized that a skunk was sniffing the toe of my left shoe. No doubt trying to figure out what the heck I was. This time I'm sure the reactions were simultaneous.



Again, reciprocal courses, flank speed, hands aloft to make more sail. Etc., etc.

My last encounter, perhaps I should say most recent encounter was a couple of years ago.

Now you have to understand that under the fine and lovely lawn at Chez Sarge there exist (from time to time) grubs. Grubs for whom my grass is a delicacy worthy of a five-star restaurant's menu. If grubs have such things as restaurants. I doubt it.

You also must understand that a grub is to a skunk as a chunk of chocolate is to Yours' Truly. A morsel to be savored and devoured while saying, "Why thank you! I will have another."

So one fine evening I look into the backyard through a downstairs window, having sensed motion, and spotted "something" in the backyard.

Engaging the flood lights in the back of the house reveals a skunk. I immediately thought "skunk" this time. Probably because I was inside and the beastie was outside.

I thought this little exhibition of the wildlife in Little Rhody was most interesting. I also realized that The Missus Herself had never actually seen a live skunk. (The dead ones are ubiquitous in the summer along the roadways of New England.) So I called to her, "Honey, would you like to see a skunk?" (Ah, it's such a romantic I am.)

She came to the bathroom window and was immediately fascinated by the creature. What does she do?

She opens the bathroom window.

Which makes a loud noise and which startles the skunk.

Who immediately begins a little dance.

I quickly slam the window closed, draw the blinds and extinguish the floodlights. No doubt I also would have ordered "rig for silent running" had I kept my wits about me. (The kids weren't home anyway and such goofballery would no doubt have been lost upon my beloved bride.)

The Missus Herself asked me what that was all about. It was then that I explained the preliminary maneuvers a skunk employs prior to lifting his or her tail and firing at will. They will stomp their little feet on the ground then present their rear aspect and...

Well, you can guess the rest.

Thankfully the skunk did not unleash his spray and went back to de-grubbing the lawn.

Haven't seen one since.

But know this, when a skunk starts to dance...

Get thee gone and in one big hurry.

Unless you wish to experience eau de mouffette.


I didn't think so.

*See damn near any of Juvat's posts for the meaning of this turn of phrase.

** naval matters, vessels "in ordinary" (from the 18th century) are those out of service for repair or maintenance, a meaning coming over time to cover a reserve fleet or "mothballed" ships.  Wikipedia


  1. That picture belongs to me! You will soon be hearing from my lawyer

    Monsieur Pepe LePew!

    1. Sacré bleu, nom du chien! Ils ne passeront pas.

      You have excited my inner Frenchman.

  2. My neighbors dog tangled with a skunk last year...he lost! I don't see them, but often get a whiff when the window is open at night so I know they are there. Sometimes I blame skunks when they are not around. Mrs. C doesn't buy it though.

    1. I note from your blog (and the comments you leave here) that Mrs Cranky doesn't miss much.

  3. Kind of ticked off about Saratoga going down before I caught wind of it. I'd been planning a flight up for a photo op. Dammit.

    Joining you in the skunk motif though.

    1. Yeah, I had heard no word of Sara leaving otherwise I would have driven down to the pier for one last look.

      Cool as to you joining in on the skunk motif. Have Murphy or Belle ever encountered one?

    2. So far they have not, at least as far as I know. But I cannot imagine either of them just ignoring one, especially Murphy.

      And had I known about Sara leaving and been able to fly up, you'd have been invited along. Would have been cool. But alas, I only saw the news the next day.

      Anything else of note still tied up there?

    3. No, Sara was the last. On rare occasions there might be a destroyer tied up at one of the piers. They used to come up nearly weekly from Norfolk to support officer training on the base (Surface Warfare Officer School and Department Head School). But I haven't seen one in a while. We used to get at least a frigate up every Fourth of July, sometimes a destroyer. But budget cuts curtailed these no doubt.

      Once upon a time I actually saw a cruiser tied up out there. But not in a long while.

      I don't get out that way much anymore since I quit smoking and SECNAV mandated that cigs on the base will cost the same as cigs off the base, I don't have a need(?) to go to the base for cheap cigarettes anymore.

      Long story short. Nothing in that area other than USCG buoy tenders.

  4. Alright, maybe it is "Skunk Week" here ...

    So... has The Discovery Channel called yet?

    1. I swear I haven't used any of their material!

      No, not yet. Maybe they're talking to my agent?

  5. I hate to say it, but I'm all out of Skunk Stories and it's only Wednesday. What ARE we going to do?

    1. Me too. But as tomorrow is an anniversary, I had something planned for that already.

  6. Drove by Melville housing a couple months ago on our way out of town. Didn't think to stop by the Destroyer piers and check out the carriers. There were none there when I was young.

    1. And now they're all gone. IOWA is in Philly (I think), FORRESTAL and SARATOGA are off to the scrap yard.

      It looks very empty down there.


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