skunk

Skunk saga reaches a conclusion... we hope!

Skunks have been a constant in my life the last three months. I want to say right up front that NO skunks were harmed in the making of this debacle. There were no babies or adults or corpses under the house when I finally crawled under there with my respirator on. None at all.

The story continued with another horrific spraying and a landlord who, after three months, finally showed up with a little guy named Buddy. I think Buddy is his real name. The landlord needed the littlest guy because the hole under the house was (before recent enlargement) only about 20 inches wide, recessed in a flower bed, and 18 inches high. The space under the house which I can personally attest is filled with black widow spiders and other crawling critters, is not much larger. Buddy was drafted to crawl under the house and look for skunks.  He saw none. He even stated, "it smells worse in the house than it does under here!" After crawling under there myself, I have to argue with that one, but Buddy has spent his formative years working as a painter, and the toxic fumes may well have addled his smeller. And likely also his brain as he and the landlord decided that dumping multiple boxes of naphthalene mothballs under the house was a good idea. After calling poison control, I had to convince him that they weren't a good idea and Buddy had to crawl back under the house to retrieve them.

The smell continued and I started looking for a new rental. Then my sister and brother-in-law had series of brilliant ideas.  Call the skunk expert. Vent the underside of the house. We bought a fan and the skunk expert (there is a guy who has trapped over 800 skunks and continues to play with the little stripey kitties--god bless him in every way) concurred that this was the best way to rid the house of smell.  I had the landlord cancel the also-toxic ozone treatment he was planning and last evening my most excellent brother-in-law installed this fan in the previously ugly hole at the side of the house.

I can't tell you how much better it smells in here. I can't smell naphthalene and I can't smell skunk. It is a revelation.

Prior skunk stories can be read HERE (The Cask of Amontillado) and HERE (Why Skunks are not smarter than I am).

The Cask of Amontillado

I grew up with a father who loves the likes of Robert Service, Garrison Keillor, and Edgar Allan Poe. While other kids were watching Sesame Street and the Electric Company, I did not have the pleasure of a television to rot my brain away, but instead listened to my father making up stories (he is especially good at ghost stories), quoting The Cremation of Sam McGee (by Robert Service: Alaska has a special mystery to the Mezoffs), or reading the likes of The Pit and the Pendulum or The Telltale Heart (Poe of course).

So you can get some of the flavor of my upbringing, here is part of Robert Service's The Cremation of Sam McGee:

  There are strange things done in the midnight sun
        By the men who moil for gold;
    The Arctic trails have their secret tales
        That would make your blood run cold;
    The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
        But the queerest they ever did see
    Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
        I cremated Sam McGee. 

I can't remember the multitude of Bible verses I was required to memorize in the conservative Christian elementary school I attended, but I could recite this verse in my sleep. Good stuff. Thanks Dad.

One particular sequence of events in the last month reminds me of the Poe tale, The Cask of Amontillado. If you don't remember the tale from when your father read it to you, it is a typically gruesome tale of retribution, wine, and catacombs:

No answer still. I thrust a torch through the remaining aperture and let it fall within. There came forth in return only a jingling of the bells. My heart grew sick - on account of the dampness of the catacombs. I hastened to make an end of my labor. I forced the last stone into its position ; I plastered it up. Against the new masonry I re-erected the old rampart of bones. For the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them. 

This particular story comes to mind due to some recent work I did in the backyard involving a certain skunk hole:

This is the hole that has plagued my life of late--the most popular entrance to the space under the house where the skunks seem to want to set up permanent residence.  This hole needed to be plugged... which I proposed to do, though I had never worked with it before, with the use of this material which I found in my landlord's junky and luckily for me, unlockable shed:

...with this material I planned to make it impossible for the skunks to access the space under my house and to wake me up with their cloying, neurology-impairing stench. And the gradual cementing of the access hole is what brought to mind The Cask of Amontillado in which Fortunato meets an unfortunate end behind a brick wall.

Yes, I learned to mix concrete... and built the base of an impenetrable skunk barrier (skunks turn out to be right good little diggers when given the impetus--see the LAST skunk post if you dare HERE).

And then I spread some flour (gluten free!) over the concrete and I waited. I got up at night and I checked that flour. I put down more flour to make sure I wasn't missing tracks.

And nothing happened. For nights and nights, which was of course making me cranky as I hate being woken up in the middle of the night and that skunk just wasn't cooperating.  Then one night, I saw this:

There were tracks heading out of the hole.  And from there I sprang into action.

I closed up the hole with rocks.  Very heavy rocks.  Rocks weighing more than skunks... even if they were working as a team and had their own block and tackle. They were not moving these rocks. And I added wire mesh through which a skunk of average size could not fit.


























And then I concreted the rocks in place and covered them with gravel which skunks clearly don't like to dig through.  And I thought that I had won.


But a few weeks later, I found that I had not. In the middle of the night I woke to a noxious smell and a sinking feeling in my heart. The skunk was back. Unbelievably, the skunk was back. I couldn't find the entrance and I have been forced to believe that I walled a skunk under there that has been subsisting on mice (yes, we have those too) and perhaps water from the washer which drains into the yard and more mice... and that perhaps that skunk had died under there and I was in for a long unpleasant smelling experience. The holes are all plugged, but the smell continues. Actually, it sounds kind of like the ending of an Edgar Allan Poe tale after all. Poor Fortunato.  In pace requiescat !

Why skunks are not smarter than I am...

I am only supposing that skunks don't have the cognitive capacity of your average human due to the number I pass dead on the road every day. Sadly, I am not able to get close enough to one to complete a mini mental to test this theory.

Unfortunately, my particular skunk made a reappearance last night. I spent the day making pilgrimage to my storage locker. I promised Emily I would keep my phone in my pocket in case something heavy fell on top of me, but all that happened was that some guy called me twice from a "private" number and said, "Hey (deep silence)". Twice. I hope it was a wrong number.  Anyway, I did manage to find my dye sample book which was the chief reason for driving to Taos today as well as a list of other items plucked from various boxes including the reed I need to warp the LeClerc.

Cassy happy I left room for her in the car between the loom bench, boxes of yarn, and the rolls of cartoon paper and mylar
As I was relaxing last evening with a great new book about tapestry (Tapestry Weaving: Design and Technique by Joanne Soroka--and yes, my copy came from the Brits as it isn't published in the US yet and sometimes you just can't wait especially when it is free shipping from the UK), I heard some suspicious scrabbling at the wall behind the couch--the "back door" hole so to speak. And when my skunk-loving dog Cassy wanted to go out, she was way too happy about the back yard. Her insistent sniffing in the area of the "front door" hole-turned-big-pile-of-rocks (see this post) made my heart sink. I retrieved a flashlight and confirmed a new hole and very recent skunk activity judging by the excitement of one elderly labrador. Whoever said that skunks are lazy and don't like to dig too far hasn't met my high-achieving skunk. She just started digging at the edge of the rocks and busted her way in.

The "back door" hole attempt which apparently was quickly given up on as the skunk moved on to the "front door" hole.

That rock she moved is bigger than a grapefruit and probably weighs half of what the skunk does.

I wonder whether heavy construction, a wheelbarrow of cement, or a meet-and-greet should be my next approach. I do feel that I need to be prepared for the inevitable skunk-meets-dog encounter. This will involve a trip to town to get large quantities of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and dish soap. When these three things are mixed, the glop goes a long way to neutralize the noxious odor. But THIS time I am going to be prepared with a garden hose, elbow-level rubber gloves, and preferably a hazmat suit. I wonder if I can find one of those at my local feed store.

The skunk in the night.

There have been a few issues with this new rental house. By far the most distressing (after I realized propane was not going to cost me $40 a day but a much more reasonable amount) was this one:
(Note: I did not take this photo. Our yard is completely brown, and also, though I almost always have a camera with me, I did not have one at the moment described below when I was trying to keep my dog from getting sprayed at 11pm in my yard.) Apparently this is a common San Luis Valley problem. Emily's first night here (I was finishing up work in Cortez), she heard a horrible screeching and then smelled THE SKUNK BOMB. Apparently it was bad. So bad it probably temporarily addled her smeller because later that day she made the FedEx lady come in and sniff to see if it still smelled. "Yep, pretty bad skunkin'" was the FedEx report. We tried to get someone to come and trap the thing. Our landlord even rented a trap for a night, but we didn't catch it and he took the trap away and "plugged the hole" in this manner:
Now my landlord is a nice enough guy.  He is a laid-back New York Jew who somehow ended up in the wilds of southern Colorado. I'm not all up on my skunk etiquette, but I am pretty sure that this is not a good way to plug a skunk hole.  I could hear the skunks laughing when they saw those baking pans and other yard junk shoved in around that old electrical conduit.

About a week and a half later at the end of my parent's baby-staycation, we had another skunk visitor.  I suppose the laughter at the baking pan "plug" to his entrance should have awakened me, but no, it was the smell. First your nose burns a little bit and then you get this horrible nauseous feeling in your stomach and you wonder if you are going to throw up, and if so, will you make it down the flight of stairs and through the bedroom my parents were sleeping in to the only bathroom in the house before you lose it... or will you have to go barf in the yard with the skunk. Figuring there was absolutely nothing I could do at 2am, I pulled the covers over my head and tried to breathe through my mouth.  Amazingly the next morning all my Mom said was, I thought I smelled skunk! It was bad, but not, according to Emily, as bad as the first time (we suspect that first event was a mating/courtship sort of thing--apparently male skunks tend to spray during coitus... or perhaps it is just foreplay).

Our landlord was, by then, in Australia for an undetermined amount of time and we knew we had to take maters into our own hands. We were unable to get anyone to come and trap it and take it away. One Fish and Wildlife-type person said they could trap it for us but that the skunk would either have to be released on our property or killed. I don't need that kind of bad skunk karma and I didn't want to come that close to the little kitty. 

There was some new snow, so we smoothed it all out and waited. The first night... nothing.  The second night I didn't wake up until 3am. I put on my skunk-hunting pajamas and my coat (the valley is colder than Antarctica in July) and peeked at the hole.  There were tons of tracks.
And I didn't know what to do. If the skunk came out earlier and already went back in again, I didn't want to plug him up in the hole. And what if there were multiple skunks? What else could I do? I left the hole open, exchanged my skunk-hunting pajamas for regular pajamas, and went back to bed.

Emily gussied up the hole making the entrance nice and available with a sweet rock walkway, threw out all the yard trash from the last tenants, and smoothed more snow around the hole so we could tell when our visitors returned (or left whichever the case may be). Nothing. For days.

So we filled the hole in. With big rocks. And railroad ties. If I could have put one of the hulking rusted pieces of farm machinery from the lot out back on top of the boards, I would have.  Hopefully the wire and rock combination will deter any digging at this particular hole in the foundation.

A few nights after plugging the hole, I smelled skunk strongly in the bedroom on the east side of the house. I was sure we'd either trapped one underneath the house or he'd found another hole that I had somehow missed in my obsessive compulsive searching for ruptures in the armory. Coincidentally, at that moment Emily let Cassy my yellow lab and avowed skunk-lover out the back door. I screamed SKUNK!, Cassy shot out the door barking, and frantic pleading from both of us with promises of really good treats brought her back before she got sprayed. I did not want a repeat of the last dog skunking which lingered for literally 6 months (even after the peroxide/baking soda/dish soap bath which does work amazingly well--unfortunately I also ended up smelling like skunk and was completely drenched from the garden hose to boot).

The hole is now plugged. The skunks will need to find another entrance to visit this particularly warm spot under the heater in this house with no floor insulation.  I'm sure it was a nice spot for a skunk--except perhaps for the fact that I'm pretty sure the water from the washing machine was draining under the house. My awesome brother-in-law fixed that a few days ago as the Australia-visitin' landlord hadn't yet sent his "guys" over to fix the obviously frozen drain pipe for the washing machine, and it was unclear whether that would ever happen. It is so nice to have a relative that can fix absolutely anything. And it only took him about 10 minutes. (He is on my "beer-for-life" program... I am not taking new applications.)
Our skunk is apparently still visiting at times. These tracks were running along the dirt road at the side of the house this morning. But so far we haven't had any more under-the-house visitors.