The other morning Glen and I were going into town together and drove through a lingering patch of skunk funk. That’s all too common here from about mid-February to mid-May. Skunks are mating in February and March, then raising their young, and all this activity evidently creates many opportunities for them to spray. Forcing the non-skunks among us to avoid breathing as much as possible for those three months. Because even in our climate-controlled houses, we can’t escape the stench that hurtles miles across country on the evening breeze. In our cars, we try not to drive over the still-pungent black-and-white-striped pelts flattened on the asphalt. (So many bodies!) If we’re lucky, that’s as personal as our skunk interactions get.* Some of us, however, are less fortunate.
Thirty years ago, Glen and I were living in a tiny South Texas town. It was our 5th wedding anniversary, the evening of Valentine’s Day. (Yes, we got married on Valentine’s Day; it seemed like a good idea at the time. But once we were a couple of anniversaries in, we realized going out to celebrate on that day was too foolish to attempt and the food at even the nice restaurants was sub-par and available only from a prix fixe menu. Prime New York Strip? Not hardly.) The Daughter was a toddler, not quite a year old yet. The date was meaningful to us, but otherwise it was an ordinary weeknight. We had no special plans. Just quiet time at home watching a little TV, then bed.
Dinner was over and cleared away, and Glen had settled down in his easy chair in the family room with a big bowl of popcorn. I was on the sofa nearby, and Katie and the cats and the Chow Chow Kodi were amusing each other at floor level. So far so good on the quiet part of the evening. Until all at once a horrendous sound—a hissing, shrieking, scrabbling sound—filled the room. It wasn’t the TV. It came from an air conditioning vent set high in the wall above Glen’s head.
We leaped from our seats and turned to look up at the vent. In our confusion and surprise, we couldn’t quite believe what happened next: A cloud of fine mist sprayed from the vent and settled on everything within a 6- or 8-foot range. And the room—no, the whole house—filled up with skunk stench.
That moment is seared into my memory. The aftermath, though, is kind of a blur. I can’t recall what happened to Glen’s popcorn, what the animals did, if we burned the clothes we had on, how we managed to get to sleep, or what Katie’s reaction was to it all. (Knowing Katie, she barfed. She’s always been an Olympic class barfer, that girl.) I do remember that we hired an AC service to come out the next morning. Turns out a partially exposed metal duct low on the exterior of the house had holes rusted in it, and that’s where the skunk crawled in. After wandering around in the ductwork for awhile he came upon the family room vent and decided we needed some excitement. Then, like Elvis, he left the building. The AC people did a thorough cleaning of the ducts and found no skunk in residence.
It was indescribably foul in that house for a time, but after a few weeks—thanks to the ductwork cleaning, continuously opened windows, air sprays, etc.—the worst of it faded. About 18 months later, we moved back to Austin.
We couldn’t leave skunks behind, though. One spring night eleven or twelve years after the skunk-in-the-duct, Glen’s Akita Zori encountered one. (Supposedly, Zori was one of the two family dogs, but we all knew who she’d swim through quicksand for.) Then she came to the back door to be let in. And Glen—failing to notice the reek because a sharp blow to the head had sheared off his olfactory nerves a year or two before—obliged. He somehow overlooked her copious drooling, too, even though his eyes are perfectly fine. Luckily, I was nearby, so I hustled her back outside before she could spread the fumes everywhere. Then Glen and I washed her together.
Apparently she learned nothing from the experience, because a few weeks later, she was sprayed again. And this time, in a stroke of good fortune for him, Glen was out of town. So there I was, hosing down “our” dog on the patio at midnight with V-8 juice and carpet shampoo. (I probably should have been prepared with something more effective, but who knew the dog would do it again?)
Happily, all’s been calm on the skunk front for years now. I was afraid we’d see an uptick in activity after moving to the country, but we haven’t. Our Australian Shepherd Lucy won’t approach them, and has strong feelings about other animals to avoid, too. Because of that, we’ve recently started calling her “Snake Dog.” Lucy’s barked alerts could give Lassie’s some competition. Sure, “Come quick! Timmy’s fallen in the well!” sounds impressive, but Glen and I think it’s nothing compared to “Look out! There’s a rattlesnake behind you!”
*Fun fact: While most sensible predators avoid skunks for the same reason we do, the Great Horned Owl actually snacks on them. Go Owls!