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October 10, 2014

Skunkless in Seattle

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There is nothing as sweet as the calm after the source of anxiety has vacated the premises. In reference to my current situation, I believe the skunks have moved on. It was news to me that skunks could live in residential areas of a city when I first smelled them last spring. I came home from OK Chorale rehearsal to the unmistakable odor of skunk hanging around my front gate. I say unmistakable because I have no patience with people who say that skunk smells like pot. It doesn’t.

My only previous experience of skunks was when I was a child growing up in Olympia. My parents had just purchased their first new car, a Rambler three-on-a-tree. We left home early for Wednesday night prayer meeting at Tumwater Evangelical Free Church in order to take a little celebratory spin in the country. Sitting in the back seat and all of eight years old, I’m not clear about exactly what happened. There was an animal in the road and the car swerved. The new car smell was replaced by an ascending odor accompanied by my mother screaming hysterically. We trooped into church reeking of skunk and with an obvious prayer request.

The skunk odor around my gate last spring was mild. It was mild a few weeks ago when I started noticing it again. Then came the evening when I stepped out of the sun-room to get the cats in for the night and the odor was so powerful that if it was pot, there was an entire Grateful Dead audience in the cemetery storage lot on the other side of my fence. If that wasn’t cause enough for anxiety, there was Freud, my orange and white cat who still smells like Kitten, sitting atop the fence and far too interested in something in the lot below. Fortunately he stilled smelled like Kitten when I finally got him in a few hours later.

I assumed that the skunks had taken up residence in the cemetery. The next day I went up to talk to the caretaker. Skunks were news to him. He hadn’t seen any evidence of skunks. Rats, raccoons, opossums. No skunks. But then skunks are nocturnal and he tried to not be in the cemetery at night. Whether this was out of superstition or because like any of us, he preferred to not have to work overtime, he was a dead-end of information.

The next evening, George, another orange cat in the neighborhood got spooked and ran up to the top of a telephone pole where he nestled comfortably amongst the open wires. Julie, his person, knocked frantically on my door to ask if she could get some cat treats from me. I came out with little green fishes for George and some Paul Newmans for Chester, Julie and Cory’s little chihuahua-ish dog. George and Chester regularly take their passeggiatta down my street. George likes to climb a neighbor’s old dead tree and have a little cat meditation. While he’s doing that I sometimes chat with Julie and Cory and feed Chester.

Anyway the upshot of George’s race to the top is that a bunch of us sat out under the telephone pole until well after dark, at which time City Light showed up to cheerfully effect the rescue. The guy rode up in the little elevator and pried George away from the electric wires. Just as the box began to descend, George took a flying leap out of the man’s arms and attached three of his paws to the telephone pole. Gasps all around. The prying process was repeated and George was finally restored to safety.

It’s what Julie told me during our vigil that is pertinent to my skunk story. She told me that she had smelled skunk in the neighborhood.

“It smells like pot,” she said.

She also filled me in on a house across the alley from me, which belonged to a family of hoarders. I knew the couple vaguely. I knew they owned several beat up cars. I even let them park one of them on my parking strip for a period of months. I knew their yard was unkempt. I knew they owned a vicious dog that sometimes got loose, crapped in my yard and aggressed toward me when I tried to shoo it out. I occasionally ran into them at the grocery check-out. They were odd. They seemed wary of me in the way that kids who have just spilled their milk are wary of grown-ups.

Apparently they had moved and someone had bought the house for re-development. I don’t know how the couple decided what to take and what to leave behind but when the excavators arrive and started pulling the place down, it was still full of stuff, some of it in packed boxes taped up and ready to move.

I started thinking backwards. The skunks had not always been here. I’ve lived in my house for 17 years without ever suspecting there could be skunks in the city. So the skunks arrived, this couple moved. Was that the order? Maybe the couple moved and then the skunks arrived. Either way I suspect the skunks found shelter and a feast of garbage and dog food; they were in clover, so to speak, all summer.

Then the excavators arrived and paradise was invaded. The skunks started moving north in the direction of the cemetery and my house. The day the wrecking ball came I strolled over to talk to the guys. In answer to my query, one of them said he had smelled skunk.

“Naw, it was pot,” the other one said.

The noise of the house being pulled down has made my cats jumpy. I suspect it has dislocated quite a bit of urban wildlife. Significantly, the Grateful Dead concert appears to have moved on. But I am still sniffing the air obsessively when I gather the cats in at night.


Halloween, 1995

Halloween, 1995





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