Between The Warm And The Wild

Willis Eschenbach

When I was a kid on the cattle ranch, my stepdad worked in the surrounding forest as what’s called a “timber feller”. The fellers are the ones who actually fell the trees, and it’s a dangerous job. As a result, they are the aristocracy of the logging crew, and by all accounts, he was a good one. One of the things he was best at was finding baby animals whose parents had been killed and bringing them home for us kids to raise. My mom used to find them too as she was working around the ranch. At various times we had a baby horned owl named Dr. Simpson, a baby flying squirrel that could really fly, and of all things, a tiny baby skunk. Named The Skunk. We also had a dog named Puppy until it died of old age, and a cat named Kitty. The Skunk was always and ever just called “The Skunk”, in capital letters like that.

Dr. Simpson was the most amazing baby bird. She used to ride around on my mom’s shoulder. Her head could do that crazy owl trick of going almost all of the way around and then snapping back to the other side so fast it looked like her head was going in circles. Us kids loved to walk around her. She liked to take showers in the sink. We’d turn on the faucet, and she’d hop in under it, and preen her feathers, and make her funny owl sound.

We never kept them in pens or cages or anything, they just lived in the house. The squirrel liked to glide from the upper bunk bed to the floor, with us kids cheering her on.

We never mistook the owl and the squirrel for domestic animals, though. And when they got older, they seemed to recognize that. We made no attempt to send them back to the wild, but at some point when they got old enough they started spending more and more time outside, and then taking forays away from the house, and longer forays, but always returning at nightfall and sleeping in their old beds. Then after a while, first the flying squirrel and then the owl was just gone, and we never saw either of them again.

The Skunk 2

The Skunk was different from the start. There’s no mistaking a skunk for a domestic animal. When they are tiny babies like The Skunk was, they hardly have any skunk smell at all. Their squirt guns don’t even develop until they are a few months old. But even then it’s clear that they are wild.

Now you can get skunks de-scented, but when we first asked about it The Skunk was too young … and then the days ran on, and ran on some more, The Skunk was still around, ranch life went on, dog, cat, kids, horses, chickens, pigs, a whole raft of cattle, and the odd skunk … and one evening we were all getting dressed up to go to town. Going into town from the ranch was a big deal, seven miles of bad dirt road, it was always a notable occasion. And this time it was the school fair, involving bobbing for apples and the like, a night for kids instead of grownups. There were about twenty kids in our grade school, and seven of them were me and my brothers and cousins. My oldest cousin, she would have been maybe eleven, I was about seven. We were all excited to go. And that night, my oldest cousin walked out on the porch, where she managed to startle The Skunk. He turned, and did that funny dang half-handstand thing that they do, lifted his hind end in the air, and gave my cousin the full head-to-toe treatment.

The Skunk

I’d never realized until that day that smells could be contagious, but that skunk smell was more catching than Ebola, and at least forty percent as lethal. My cousin came running back in the house, she was a very unhappy young lady … and when we laughed at her and said “P.U.”, that strange acronym from my childhood that meant she smelled really really bad, she understandably lost the plot entirely and tackled us and punched us around … by the time mom and my aunt came in from the back, every one of us had caught the smell. We didn’t just smell of skunk, however. We reeked of skunk; we radiated skunk; we were the source and very fount of skunk. It was one of those smells that seem to make the air around you shimmer like a heat mirage.

The Skunk was still on the porch, no telling what he thought of the result of his first foray into the perfume business.

All seven of us were unceremoniously dumped into the bathtub, the shower was turned on, and we were instructed to start scrubbing. Nowadays people talk about using tomato juice to get rid of the smell, but where the heck were we going to get ten gallons of tomato juice? Fels Naptha soap was what we used, and it does a dang poor job with skunk, too.

We finally got scrubbed up, and we got in the car, and we went to the school fair. We were not exactly pariahs, but people did tend to maintain a respectful distance from the entire tribe of us … and for weeks afterwards I’d turn a corner in the house and there that smell would be again …

The Skunk lived with us for some months after that. We didn’t hold that evening against him, we just kept more distance and moved kinda slow around him. And as he came of age he too started to travel further and further from home.

But curiously, he didn’t disappear entirely one day the way that Dr. Simpson and the flying squirrel had. Instead, he came home less and less often. He started by staying out overnight one night at a time. But the next day he’d come back to eat the dog food out of the bowl with Puppy. They were great friends, they’d chow down together. He’d stay a day or four, then he’d disappear for another day. Then his absences grew longer and longer, his stays with us shorter and shorter … and one day he stopped coming back to eat at all.

And that would have been the end of it … except that there was a green grassy hillside across from the ranch house, on the far side of the barn in the picture below, with Latour Butte in the background behind the tall firs growing on the slope of that hill.


And late one afternoon, with the golden sunlight slanting far and low across the fields, we saw The Skunk sitting out on that hillside, just sitting at the top of the field and looking at the ranch house. We all went out to see if it really was him, and it was. He was dignified in his greeting, skunks are great on their dignity. But he kept a bit of distance, he didn’t want us to get close to him. We weren’t too enthusiastic in that regard either. But he didn’t run away. We sat with him for a while, looking back at the ranch house. And when mom called us for dinner and we left to return to the ranch house, we tried to get him to come for dinner … but instead, he stayed and watched us walk back. We waved goodbye to him.

And that would have been the end of it too, just like with Dr. Simpson the owl, and the flying squirrel … but for the next couple years, a few times every year, always in the early evening, I would see The Skunk come to that favorite spot of his on the hillside, where he would sit, and look just across the little valley to the where the ranch house lights shone out through the windows. From there he could hear the shouts of us kids, and see the people come and go in the evening. He’d just sit there and watch us for a while, and then the next time I looked up, he’d be gone. I don’t recall ever seeing him arriving at that spot or leaving that spot, I’d just look up one evening and he’d be there, and I’d watch him sit there. I always loved to see him, and then after a while, I’d look up and he’d be gone.

Even as a kid I always wondered what it was that brought The Skunk back to revisit the scenes of his childhood … and more than that, what he was feeling when he watched the evening lights come on, what he felt when mom would call us kids in from outside for dinner, a dinner that he used to share with us. I wondered, why didn’t he come and have dinner with us like he used to? He knew my mom’s dinner call of old, he used to show up just like the rest of us kids at mealtimes. He would come in from wherever he was playing and he would eat next to Puppy out of the dog dish.

What did The Skunk feel, I wondered, when he saw mom once again framed in the front door with the light behind her, hearing the siren song of food and friendship from that warm ranch house in the gloaming, with the call of our mother, the only loving mother he’d ever really known, ringing out across the hillside … and ringing back from behind him the pulsing dance of the wilderness, the rise and dark loom of the forest, and the songs all of his ancestors echoing from the hills? What does a halfling skunk feel then, a child of two worlds, pulled from both sides by the endless and intricate bonds of blood and adventure and wilderness and kinship?

As a man who loves to solve puzzles, I rejoice in the fact that this astounding planet provides a cornucopia of mysteries that I will never solve, questions that I will never answer … and as a stranger from my birth, I can only have compassion for The Skunk, for I too have spent a lifetime pulled between the warm and the wild.

And I have no option. I have to have compassion for The Skunk and his choice, because over the years I’ve basically blown all of my opportunities to live a proper domesticated existence. At this late date, about all that’s left for me is to keep on making the choice The Skunk made … don’t forget the warm, but keep living the wild adventure out on the edge of the world.

Because when the bell tolls and the ride is over, you don’t want to be sitting around recounting how many warm dinners you had …


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February 9, 2013 3:48 pm

Great tale

February 9, 2013 3:49 pm

I was driving down Piceance Creek road one afternoon and came upon a mama skunk and her baby meandering down the centerline. The mama ran off when she heard me coming, the baby continued to walk down the centerline of the road. Awkwardly though, due to its young age. I drove up next the young skunk to wonder at its sight. Little b@$tard sprayed the tire on my vehicle. Nuf said.

February 9, 2013 3:54 pm

Ah, skunks. Long ago I lived in a old farm house where skunks could get in under the floor, and now and then a couple would get into a fight, make a racket, and strong odors would waft up through the floor boards. Really strong odors, they would make your throat sore. One morning it was so bad that my girlfriend, brother, and myself all headed off to the university about 4:00 AM. I remember walking around a corner in a hall later that morning, wearing my coat of many smells, and almost at once someone way down at the other end turned around to see where the smell was coming from. I didn’t even realize that it was that strong, my nose had adapted.
Eventually we got a live trap, trapped a whole bunch of skunks, drowned them, and plugged up the holes they used to get under the house. I felt a bit bad about the drowning, but it did solve the problem.

February 9, 2013 3:55 pm

Please write that book. What a treat!

David L. Hagen
February 9, 2013 4:00 pm

Well traveled.
Robert Frost The Road Not Taken

. . .Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

February 9, 2013 4:05 pm

Skunks are pretty amazing. I like how you described The Skunk as dignified. Skunks really do have great dignity.

William H
February 9, 2013 4:11 pm

You did it again, Willis. Just great story-telling, with a flair that makes one not want to put it down. I hope I am still in possession of my faculties when you finally publish your book.

spangled drongo
February 9, 2013 4:13 pm

Thanks Willis for that insight into the way wild animals think. Some are a lot like humans. They are naturally gregarious and enjoy the company of other species. I often find myself talking to wild birds and animals with sometimes great results.

Craig Moore
February 9, 2013 4:20 pm

Willis, I envision a collection of stories similar to Under the Chinook Arch. I bring it to your attention because it might help you to remember your cowboy beginnings. I knew Dr. Gustafson. In fact some of his family was featured praying around the dinner table in the Dodge Ram Superbowl commercial.

February 9, 2013 4:23 pm

I love this tale. Beautiful – and your sentiments are true. I have lived “feral” out bush with no house, no running water and no electricity on tap – no sewage system, either – for nearly five years. Coming out of a city and living like that in nature, with all the wilderness and dangers around, taught me confidence and independence on a level I had never experienced before. I wouldn’t swap those years for anything. Funnily enough, I could never go back to city living, I couldn’t stand it. That’s also when I stopped watching television and stopped listening to the radio – I can’t return to those, either. I touched nature and found something within that will remain mine and special forever. And I know you know what I’m talking about. I reckon you’ve been there, too. Thanks, Willis. 🙂

February 9, 2013 4:34 pm

With your permission, I would like to tell that to my 4 year old grandson as a bedtime story. I will shorten the end a little bit, if you don’t mind. I think you have the makings of a childrens book in you Willis, don’t waste your sense of wonder on us fuddy duddy adults!

February 9, 2013 4:36 pm

Enjoyed your sharing that part of your life—————-I have had some experience with skunks
having lived in the “boondocks “of southern York Cty for 44 years (left in 2004).
Sometime in about 1998 we had an experience with skunkmotherhood———-where I become aware (from my dogfriend) that we had a new “squater” on our remote 30 acres. Since I too had
become aware of “skunkmace” in past——— I made an effort to “save our space”.
Tying my dog friend———I bribed my wife to stand in back of pick-up truck with a powerful
spotlight and light up the meadow where our skunk spent early evening hours grazing. She still
refers to that night as “the killing field” There turned out to be 4 young ones ———who went down —–one by one ——to my lethal .22 magum. When finished we both went back to house and repented——but knew it had to be done.
In the early daylight——I went to the meadow to bury the remains———–Surprise—-
Mother skunk had returned and carried off all evidence of the massacre!

February 9, 2013 4:37 pm

Bits and pieces is fine. I’m sure someone will eventually gather them all together for “The best of Willis Eschenbach”.

February 9, 2013 4:41 pm

I wish to add to that. This IS a childrens book. An illustrator can add the animals, and the especially funny skunk scene applying the skunky ‘perfume’. Kids in baths, friends at school going P U.. Skunk on hill looking down on the house with lights, maybe with its own little ones, explainiing how that place was a very amazing ‘home’.. with dog, cat, owl, and tall things with two legs.
I would buy it in an instant!
ps: copyright it.

February 9, 2013 4:43 pm

This is a lovely lovely account of life and living. You writing always has a warmth, but this one especially so. I especially liked the way you rounded your narrative back to what it is to be human
I am especially interested in this thing between what it is to be human, and how it relates to how it is to be an animal. This difference is at the centre of the mystery of Art, and why we make art. One of the few lines between humans and animals is that humans make figurative art, but no animals try to make images of themselves, but chimps do abstract art. Then we humans do science and religion.
Please write your book. Make it an e-book, or put a collection of your writing on a special website blog.

February 9, 2013 4:43 pm

Oh wow. That was a beautiful story.

Craig Moore
February 9, 2013 4:52 pm

Just thinking about your skunk gives me the Will E’s.
When I was a teenager, my brother and a couple of friends of ours and me went duck hunting. We came upon a pond loaded with Mallards. I was dropped at one end and they went to the opposite side. I crawled through the weeds and reeds to get as close as possible before they flushed. At one point I parted the greenery to be confronted by the business end of a skunk about 3 feet away. His tail was up. I rolled to my right just as he/she released a juicy kiss. It missed but the commotion scared the ducks. I didn’t care in the slightest as I was thankful that I didn’t take the perfume in my eyes.

February 9, 2013 4:57 pm

More to the above: A childrens book that will enthrall children of ages 4 to 8 as bedtiime stories. Volume 1 above. Volume 2 is Willis on an ocean voyage, in a small boat,(illustration) and he sees what appears to be a dragon on the horizon.. (illustrations.. then as per your previous tale, with illustrrations of the baby porpoise peeking out from under its mom as it swam under the bow, looking up at Willis(illustration).. wondering what that trange creature is, etc
I would buy it in an instant!

February 9, 2013 5:02 pm

Wow, what a nice wonderful story. I believe that animals and people have to coexist. We went initially into their world and now we all have to live together. I do have to say that I think that Chris and Ron are absolute jerks and one of the worst offerings of people.

February 9, 2013 5:08 pm

Piecemeal is good. I’ll treasure every chapter!

February 9, 2013 5:21 pm

Willis, you can email me via AW. If needed, I will invest $$$ into a “Willis Adventures” childrens book(s) It would be an adventure!

Jeff Alberts
February 9, 2013 5:34 pm

I think The Skunk found a girl who didn’t care for the in-laws.

bruce ryan
February 9, 2013 5:42 pm

so what you’re saying is you are a skunk? never no mind, will keep an eye out for more cause its good stuff.

February 9, 2013 5:44 pm

I remember the story of my dad who while cutting hay came across a brood of skunks he had apparently killed the mother with the tractor he came up to the house and got a box brought them into the garage and then had to find someone to take em cause mom wouldn’t let him keep any of them. luckily he knew a man not to far away that descented skunks and gave the babies to him. thank you Willis for bringing back another memory of my father 🙂

Gary Murphy
February 9, 2013 5:49 pm

When I have a house… as I sometime may…
I’ll suit my fancy in every way.
I’ll fill it with things that have caught my eye
In drifting from Iceland to Molokai…….
‘Vagabond’s House’ Don Blanding 1928

February 9, 2013 5:50 pm

I like the photos as well as the story. Isn’t it amazing how they always look like they came straight from the groomers with their fur all fluffed up?

Luther Wu
February 9, 2013 5:51 pm

Willis Eschenbach says:
February 9, 2013 at 4:36 pm
S.Meyer says:
February 9, 2013 at 3:55 pm
Please write that book. What a treat!
That’s what I’m doing … just piecemeal.
S.Meyer and Dr. Roy Spencer and others are right.
We are having a lot of fun with the serial episodes, though.
Many thanks!

February 9, 2013 5:54 pm

Briana says:
February 9, 2013 at 5:02 pm
would you call me a jerk for killing the skunks that are preying on my chickens that I use to feed my family? I note Ron did not mention why he killed the skunks just that it needed done, and Chris did what had to be done too, could he have done it differently? yes and he noted that he regretted how it was done but the facts are once a skunk gets in under a house they will not leave unless the die or are transported a very large distance away and most people can’t transport them so most people are left with one option it doesn’t make them jerks any more than your rush to judgment makes you a jerk.

McComber Boy
February 9, 2013 5:56 pm

Another great story Willis.
Oh, the call of dinner ringing through the woods and Mom, silhouetted by the light of the kerosene lamp, standing in the doorway to welcome us in from a hundred adventures on the ranch. Our skunk, though, didn’t fare as well as yours. Tubby was a wise old spaniel and king was a young, upstart, german shepherd. I still remember the night of the grand skunk fight. The commotions was so great that dad rushed out into the night with the shotgun, imagining worse than what he found. The flashlight showed that the dogs had caught a skunk and with great fanfare were each pulling on the end of the skunk closest to them. You guessed it. Wise old Tubby had the head, and young energetic King had ahold of the business end. He wasn’t fit to be around for a couple of weeks and still smelled like skunk for months when he got wet. P.U. Thanks for your memory and the memory it stirred for me.

Mike Hebb
February 9, 2013 5:56 pm

I’ve disposed of a lot of mice in my time but last winter I set a box trap because some noises had been coming from the ceiling for some time. In the morning I had a flying squirrel and took the trouble to drive it a couple miles away to release it. Then I reset the trap.
In the morning there was another one which I drove off with too and reset the trap. Well after 25 flying squirrels the noises stopped. Several friends were picking them up to populate their properties and some nights I caught 2 at once in the trap.

February 9, 2013 5:59 pm

That’s a nice story. Anyone wno lives in the country pretty quickly becomes familiar with their three most numerous neighbors – opossums, raccoons and skunks. My grandmother had a colony of barn cats that picked up a skunk for about three years. She called it Petunia because it always came out to eat when she would take the scraps out to feed the barn cats, broad daylight or no. However, she always kept a wary eye on it because skunks are the critter most prone to carrying rabies in the American wild.

McComber Boy
February 9, 2013 6:14 pm

Briana said, “absolute jerks”.
You tell ’em, city girl, but your asphalt and air conditioning are showing to an extreme. Sometimes you can live with a skunk. Sometimes skunks are pests. We trap rats. We trap mice. We put out poison for cockroaches. Or maybe we can just go back to the dark ages and live with the rats and the fleas and the bubonic plague.
When I was in high school we had two skunks move in under our house because it was warmer and nicer than their own place in the woods. Now I suppose we could have moved out. Pitched a tent in the woods and let them have our house. But that’s not how it works. And the weeks of wearing clothes to school that reeked of skunk was plenty of incentive to end things when they wouldn’t take the hint and stay away the first chance that they got. There was no second chance.
Jerks? No. Just surviving in the best way we could under the circumstances. Maybe you need to cut Chris and Ron a break. I’ve eaten food that tasted like skunk because the very air we were breathing tasted like skunk. In the end, sometimes, it comes down to you or the skunk.

February 9, 2013 6:19 pm

A few years ago my wife and I discovered we had a family of skunks under our garden shed. Well, Mom and either 13 or 14 kits – we could never get a good count. May have been 15. They were very busy and never stopped moving, so counting them was tricky.
Mama would lead them out in the early morning and again in the early evening to the nearby creek to drink, then they’d disappear for a while. Went on for weeks. We got a few fuzzy pics because we didn’t have a good camera then. The wife went out to take a picture and 3-4 of them did that little stamping dance and lifted their tails at her, but the had no scent at the time.
Then one day the they all just disappeared. The kits were about half-grown the last time we saw them. Two of them were spotted rather than striped, a few were more white than black, and no two were very much alike in looks.
We thought maybe Mama would return to breed again, but she never did. Rabbits live in the burrow now. Ah, well. They sure were interesting when they were here.

February 9, 2013 6:25 pm

Thanks Willis. Repaired the finish on a Steinway model B in SF today and the young fourth grader was fascinated at the process and asked me for details all the way. Thought to myself he’ll never be bored with that inquisitive, full of wonder mind of his. Hopefully, a little Willis in the making. Thank you for the stories. Today’s reminded me how immortal our childhoods are.

Melody Harpole
February 9, 2013 6:30 pm

Today, the story would have ended with the state sending armed men out to shoot the skunk and squirrel. Then your parents would be sent off to jail and you to foster care for interfering with the kings wild animals. I like your ending better.

Dennis Nikols
February 9, 2013 6:36 pm

Thanks Willis. These are the kind of experiences more if not all urban kids will simply never had. I fortunately when my children were young we lived in northern Ontario communities. The have a few memories not unlike your story. I think experiences like this give us humans a measure of humanity we can not acquire in any other way.

February 9, 2013 6:38 pm

I’m reminded of Robert Ruark’s “The Old Man and the Boy” which was a compendium of stories about his childhood he had written in a column for Field and Stream. One of my favorite books, though I’m neither a hunter or fisherman. I hope to see yours published someday.

Theo Goodwin
February 9, 2013 6:51 pm

Excellent story, Willis. It has a powerful puzzle at its center.
My favorites of your stories are the boat stories. I especially like the one that you posted here some years ago about retrieving a boat from Alaska and the troubles you had negotiating the waves as you neared port. Totally memorable. The best sign of a good story and good writing.
All your boat stories are heroic. Sometimes you are a very young man sailing down the coast. Sometimes you are off to another island to repair a boat. Those stories inspired me to call your life heroic. Your work in climate science is no less heroic. Taking first hand experience and building testable hypotheses about such things as global temperature, and doing it in the face of mainstream climate science, is downright heroic.

Mike Jowsey
February 9, 2013 6:51 pm

You, Willis, have a prosaic gift. It does one’s heart good to read such stirring tales.

…hearing the siren song of food and friendship from that warm ranch house in the gloaming, with the call of the only mother he’d ever known ringing out across the hillside … and ringing back from behind him the pulsing dance of the wilderness, the rise and dark loom of the forest, and the songs all of his ancestors echoing from the hills

Big D in TX
February 9, 2013 7:17 pm

I like the smell of skunk juice. From a distance. It’s kind of homey.
Fun fact: skunks are one of the few creatures out there that can manipulate a tent zipper. And they like a warm place to cuddle up and sleep as much as the next… backpacker.
I believe that story writes itself, I won’t bother elaborating 🙂

February 9, 2013 7:19 pm

I find it interesting that commenters say this is children’s book; to me it is about age. When I read Willis’ prose I am constantly aware that there is nothing rushed in his writing, and every sentence is weighed for its meaning and context. to my way of reading these are memories that have lived inside somebody, and created a personality that knows the world and loves humanity (however ugly people appears to be on the surface).
Yes, for children too. I sent a copy of his piece about the Solomon Islands to a father who has a precocious nine year old daughter, because I I imagined he would want to read it to her. But that is not because this is writing for children, it is because their is real wisdom behind the stories, and all children should be exposed to wisdom and all children will soak it up. Aesop’s fables are enjoyed by children, but I believe it is the adults who see the meaning strongest.
After reading the piece about the Solomon Islands, and the girl who entertained men in the bar during the day and lived in a slum with her picture of Jesus, I had this powerful memory myself. It rolled in my head for days after and is still there. I think the image of the skunk that watches from the hill is also lodging itself in my memory bank.
I wonder Willis. I wonder if these memories have molded you after the events, how much stronger the feelings are now than when you experienced them in real life. This is my experience, we can go through our lives not noticing, not remembering, not learning and not soaking up each other’s wisdom. It is the disease of our age, and why I, an artist visit this blog everyday. I do not come for the science, I come because when I read the pieces I am always aware that on this forum their is a sense of anger at the hurt global alarmism is causing. It is not fake, people here are sticking their necks out, breaking with the consensus which they see is wrong and hurting the most deserving (back to the Solomon Islands).
When I read this writing I imagine the writer knows that these memories taught him precious lessons that changed his personality into something that makes him feel good about himself. One thing that it teaches is that none of us can live as an island, we are actually all part of one continent. I find this writing very relevant to this blog, and the spirit behind the quest not to stay quiet when things are wrong around us. Well done Anthony, your blog attracts millions of readers because your blog is about so much more than just climate science.

February 9, 2013 7:23 pm

Cool story. And you know that they are WILD animals, although that part of the story is easy to overlook. I am afraid that there are too many people who have watched too many Disney movies.
Like this woman:
FWIW, I believe that interfering with a raptor is now a federal crime. $10,000 fine for just having an eagle feather??
Steamboat Jack
(Jon Jewett’s evil twin)

February 9, 2013 7:44 pm

Willis, in case the need again rises for de-skunkifying:.
Tea Tree oil diluted in soapy water takes it out pronto, gone.

Pamela Gray
February 9, 2013 7:44 pm

We just shot em. They ate chickens and made the dogs stink.

Pamela Gray
February 9, 2013 7:46 pm

Steamboat! How the hell are ya?

February 9, 2013 7:47 pm

Growing up on a ranch myself, I was and still am a feeder of birds. One of the fun things was to get the wild bids used to you so they would eat from your hand. Had a Female Oriole trained that way- then she taught her little ones the same… But they would only eat out my hand..
Great story Willis…

February 9, 2013 8:00 pm

Nice story, Willis, and thanks for pointing out what a lot of city people who think that Disney cartoons are documentaries do not understand – that some animals are always wild, even if they live in our homes.
In Australia, brush-tail possums love moving into the roof space of people’s houses, and will happily eat any food that we provide. But, they never, ever become domesticated. What’s more, while they are nothing like as whiffy as skunks, their urine is eye-wateringly smelly, consisting apparently of pure ammonia with a touch of ripe roadkill. Your house can end up smelling like you are a hoarder with 87 indoor cats.
There are millions of them, and they thrive in all sorts of places, but thanks to inner-city greenies and sentimental animal-lovers, we are banned by law from killing them, or even relocating them. It is, like many stupid laws, more honoured in the breach than the observance.

Theo Goodwin
February 9, 2013 8:05 pm

Julian in Wales says:
February 9, 2013 at 7:19 pm
Very well said. Yes, a huge part of reading this blog is taking in the humanity of Willis, Anthony, and others. A rich personality is something one does not find often these days.

February 9, 2013 8:41 pm

My parents in law had a white female German Sheperd that had a thing about skunks. During certain seasons the she would be pink from the tomato juice treatments. Sometimes people would comment that it was cruel to dye a dog. It was suggested to them that they go up close and smell the perfume on her. They would always walk away looking foolish.

Luther Wu
February 9, 2013 8:47 pm

Theo Goodwin says:
February 9, 2013 at 8:05 pm
Julian in Wales says:
February 9, 2013 at 7:19 pm
Very well said. Yes, a huge part of reading this blog is taking in the humanity of Willis, Anthony, and others. A rich personality is something one does not find often these days.
Also, the commentary from readers is a treasure trove, witness: this thread.

Neil Jordan
February 9, 2013 9:15 pm

Thank you, Willis, for another beautiful tale. Let me offer a technical suggestion in your second paragraph where you describe your stepfather’s occupation as “timber feller”. Logging terminology is very regional, but I believe that the words would be “timber faller”. “Woods Words” by Dean Walter F. McCulloch, School of Forestry, Oregon State [University], Oregon Historical Society, 1958, 1977, provides a lexicon of woods-related words.
“Feller” is defined as “A dictionary word for faller”. “Felling” is “The business of cutting down trees”. “Fallers” are “Men who fall timber”. “Fall” is “To cut timber; this is the woods word for ‘to fell.’ About the only use of fell now is applied as felled and bucked timber, meaning down timber cut into logs.” Finally, be careful about using “lumberjack”: “A genteel term used by fiction writers who should have said logger if they mean a man working in the western woods.”

February 9, 2013 9:35 pm

Interesting comments on regional terms for people who chop down trees for a living. In many parts of Australia, they are simply and literally called “timber-getters”.

February 9, 2013 9:39 pm

Just a beautiful story Willis – I enjoyed it very much. Yes, from my childhood rural experience, skunks are irredeemably wild as are squirrels, racoons, possums, and a number of other seemingly cuddly, charismatic mammals. They are simply not domestic animals – but beautiful and interesting to observe in their innocence – often best to observe from a safe distance. Nature has crafted the skunk as something quite pleasing to the eye – I find their gait particularly charming and they do have a bearing that is dare we say, “aristocratic”? And those tails…
Wild skunks under the house? Sorry, they have to be rid of. Family, domestic animals, and property comes first. Shall we consider bed-bugs and scorpions for special safe transport?
Anyhow, wild animals, and wild places are cool. Willis, you the man!

Neil Jordan
February 9, 2013 9:55 pm

Willis, thank you for clarifying the usage and confirming the author’s preface: “…Also meanings were different in different places. What was dead right in one region might be dead wrong in the next. There are regional differences in terms, too, as between the Redwood Country, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia…Because the words have been picked up everywhere from loggers for over a third of a century, and because the only authority for them is memory, likely there are mistakes here and there.”

Joe Prins
February 9, 2013 10:34 pm

Great tale Willis. Born, bred and raised in the CITY, such experiences were not part of my childhood. Do I miss those type of country incidents? NO. After all, do you miss Not living and growing up in the city? Without gps I am normally lost about 15 miles outside the city limit. On the other hand, almost any city feels like home.
Just a different perspective.

February 9, 2013 10:59 pm

Great writing – once again….. You really have a tallent for writing, and if you do not put this to a good use (like writing a book) – then you will have missed a great opportunity in life…..

February 9, 2013 11:05 pm

one night i rounded a corner and startled a litle skunk. we saw each others’ eyes and he drew in a little breath. i could hear it clearly, and then he turned and ran, just like me.

John F. Hultquist
February 9, 2013 11:23 pm

I’ve found skunks have an attitude. Seems to be about doing their own thing on their own schedule and maybe you shouldn’t bother me right now. Not threatening or aggressive, just you mind your business and I’ll mind mine.

February 9, 2013 11:30 pm

The attribution of human characteristics or behavior to a god, animal, or object.
Pure BS.

February 9, 2013 11:36 pm

Willis, Thanks.

Ron Richey
February 9, 2013 11:39 pm

Good; One more story,one more chapter. I have said before, I’ll buy the first 12 or so when the book is available. I have many similar stories from my cildhood in Oregon at “Cedar Tree Ranch” where we (6 kids and usually an orphan or 2) lived during the summers of the 60’s about 30 miles NW of Eugene.And some even better stories growing up in the deserts on the outskirts of Las Vegas in the 50’s. Keep those chapters coming.

David Schofield
February 9, 2013 11:48 pm

There is only one name to give a pet skunk – ‘Pepe’.

February 10, 2013 12:01 am

Out east maybe they are called lumberjacks, but in these parts they are called fellers.
Where I grew up, we would raise baby antelopes and mule deer. After a certain amount of physical maturity, they all left except one mule deer who was a freak – a doe with antlers who stayed at our cattle ranch and died there of old age.
Tried raising two baby skunks, and they were nice and cute, UNTIL they grew older and figured out how to enter the chicken coup and kill my chickens. Darn smart they were. So I shotgunned them. Hated to do it and I was sad about it. But it had to be done. Even if I was aware of city-slickers like Briana with their holier-than-thou philosophy, I would have done it.
“We went initially into their world…” Spoken as if we are a detestable invasive species. No Briana, it is called evolution. There are no seniority rights.

Jason Calley
February 10, 2013 12:09 am

@ Willis
The term “feller” may not be current usage (I honestly do not know) but was certainly used during the 19th Century in the same sense which you father used.
And Willis, your writing, your story telling — as someone who has done some (professional) writing myself, let me just say that you are wonderful. I am proud to be human when I run across people with gifts and insights such as yours. Thank you!

John V. Wright
February 10, 2013 12:28 am

Lovely stuff, Willis, thank you. And Anthony, thank you for running writing like this on your wonderful blog. Thanks also to the responses from the contributors, particularly Julian in Wales whose comments I completely agree with.
I grew up in rural Lincolnshire, surrounded by small farms, and our family household over the years included a goat, several ducks, a jackdaw and a wild rabbit. The rabbit, found as a baby apparently abandoned in the countryside, was brought home by my dad. We named her Mrs Parker and she lived with us for many years in and out of the house. Remarkably, she chummed up with our old cat, Thomas, and the two would lie together sleeping by the fire.
Like Willis and his family, we never made the mistake of treating the wild animals as domestic pets – they could come and go as they wanted.

February 10, 2013 12:48 am

Was that an unused script from The Waltons.

February 10, 2013 1:10 am

Wonderful story. Reminded me of a fox I used to feed by hand when I was kid…

Mike M.
February 10, 2013 1:15 am

my otherwise wonderful, inside, oversize lap-dog, Ted has a love for all things skunk. If anyone has road killed one within half a mile, he will bring it home after rolling in it and laying on it. when the winter turns wet and cold, it is a daunting task to keep him remotely ‘unscented’.

James Allison
February 10, 2013 1:35 am

Willis says: ….. but keep living the wild adventure, because when the bell tolls and the ride is over, you don’t want to be sitting around recounting how many warm dinners you had …
I also liked your earlier comment something about skating on the under side of ice. In turn I have described proper living as sliding sideways through life then finally tipping over into your coffin.

anna v
February 10, 2013 1:52 am

Hi Willis, thanks for a moving read.
And I have no option, I have to have compassion for The Skunk and his choice, because over the years I’ve basically blown all of my opportunities to live a proper domesticated existence, and at this late date about all that’s left for me is to keep on making the choice The Skunk made … don’t forget the warm, but keep living the wild adventure, because when the bell tolls and the ride is over, you don’t want to be sitting around recounting how many warm dinners you had …
This is not for children; for adults nearing the great divide very pertinent, though the wild adventure may be different for each of us.

Steve C
February 10, 2013 2:03 am

Willis, thank you. Sitting here quietly reading your story, with a morning coffee, has made a most refreshing and relaxing start to my Sunday. Amen to all the paeans of praise above, not least that of Julian of Wales.
Your answer to Melanie above, that you write “to memorialize another era”, allows us all to feel grateful for that earlier era’s civilising influence. I see so little evidence in the world of today of an ambience which might encourage either the easy clarity with which you write or the reflective appreciation of reality behind the words, and I mourn that fact. It’s not the past which is “another country” – writing like this reminds us that not so very long ago we had a humanity and connection with the world which makes current reality look sadly coarse and brutal by comparison. The present is the foreign place, and one which urgently needs to re-acquire a few of the past’s values.
What a site this is.

February 10, 2013 2:32 am

[snip . . indeed, post on Tips and Notes, thanks . . mod]

February 10, 2013 2:53 am

people who chop down trees in the region where I live are called criminals

Lesley McKay
February 10, 2013 3:10 am

@ Jim south London says:
“Was that an unused script from The Waltons.”
There is always some. Why? Nobody knows, but they also like pulling off wings of flies.
Can’t you enjoy a good story for what it is?

February 10, 2013 3:24 am

The last skunk story/encounter I had was a few months ago. Middle of the night and I went over by the dumpster to “take a leak” and while doing so a critter that I thought was a stray cat came around the corner so I “hosed it down” so to speak. When it got into the light I saw it was a skunk! Man won that round!

February 10, 2013 3:44 am

Joe Prins says:
February 9, 2013 at 10:34 pm
Great tale Willis. Born, bred and raised in the CITY, such experiences were not part of my childhood. Do I miss those type of country incidents? NO. After all, do you miss Not living and growing up in the city? Without gps I am normally lost about 15 miles outside the city limit. On the other hand, almost any city feels like home.
Just a different perspective.
“Just a different perspective.” You got my attention with that. While outside the city pay attention to which way the water flows and the mountains run. Watch the flow/direction of the high level clouds. Remember the sun and the moon is not at all times in the same place. The big dipper is your friend.
Now with regards to the city and a GPS, never trust a GPS in a city but sometimes it’s better than flipping a coin. Shopping centers all look the same. One hour in city driving can be 2 miles whereas it can be 50 in the wild.
It’s all in the perspective

February 10, 2013 3:47 am

One more thing to add to my comment above. I’ve never “needed” my .357 in the wild but it was necessary a couple of times in the city.

Claude Harvey
February 10, 2013 4:06 am

Re: Willis Eschenbach says:
February 10, 2013 at 3:12 am
“… so what was it that brought him back to that spot?”
To laugh at the humans so slavishly bound to “the warm”?
To see if young Willis was yet ready to join him in the “wild”? (Maybe he knew Willis was “different”)

Ed Hadcock
February 10, 2013 4:07 am

Is this a joke? It reads like every Gorenecdote from AIT.

February 10, 2013 4:14 am

Ah Willis. A lovely story and reading it gives me a pang of loss as I think of my life as a youngster. A life similar to yours but with the differences that there are with being on the other side of the world.
I grew up poor, but had no idea of that until I was in my teens, and even then it was only a realization that if I wanted anything I needed to go out and do some work and earn some money to get it.
My father owned some mountain country. Hard, wild, timbered and beautiful and he tried to raise cattle there, with us kids as free labour as we grew old enough. He had cattle, but in retrospect I realize he also had too many horses and dogs, and he probably liked them better than the cattle. And better than the kids. We learnt a lot early about life and death with animals and wildlife around us every day.
It took an hour and half to ride up to the plateau, so we were often riding home in the dark, usually cold and sometimes wet (no expensive jackets for us!), and on clear evenings I’d see the lights of farmhouses in the valleys on the other side, two thousand feet below us and looking warm and cosy. And I’d think of the families in there eating and talking, and likely viewing their television sets. We didn’t have a television, so I remember that last one as an envious thought. I remember sometimes feeling very cut off from the world on those lonely rides, usually with a silent sibling along, or perhaps my even more silent father. I looked forward to a time where I’d be qualified (in something!), and wealthy and jetting about the world.
My father eventually was forced to sell most of the land, and he and my brother moved onto work as timber cutters and loggers, initially cutting fenceposts then moving more and more into mill timber. I sometimes joined in, but I felt I struggled with big chainsaws and felling trees on steep slopes. My brother and father were big men, both of them about sixteen stone to my ten stone, and I felt like a weakling next to them. Eventually university and the hope of good jobs and salaries drew me away, but there I found that for cash I still gravitated to laboring jobs. Even when I was supposed to be in lectures I’d often be working in the sun and sweating, as a builders labourer, a brickies labourer, a concrete labourer and I was in my early twenties before I finally realized I could outwork and outlast most normal men on most jobs.
Well, I’m long since qualified and now do all those things I had wanted then, but I sometimes think I’d give almost anything to have again that long sold little private piece of mountain and to raise a few cattle, and gaze down without envy on the ‘normal’ people in the valleys below. But I know I’d need to be much wealthier than I am now to sustain myself in that once so basic lifestyle.

February 10, 2013 4:34 am

I, too had wild pets as a kid. My favorite was a groundhog. Max was lovable and very clean and loved a good wrestling match with feints, growls and charges, but not once did he ever bite. Mom said however it was time for him to go and we found an abandoned groundhog hole and turned him loose. He Loved his new digs. For a year I could call him out with his favorite treat…ice cream.
Then one day while visiting an elderly neighbor he confided that his wife had cooked him up a groundhog over the weekend. Yep…it was Max. I never said a word to him as doing so would have come to no good.
Thanks for bringing that back, Willis!

Steve Keohane
February 10, 2013 4:44 am

Thanks for another great story Willis. Reminds me of many things. Taking down 75′ trees with a cross-buck saw, and reducing them to fire wood with that saw, a wedge and a sledgehammer. My dad bought his first chainsaw when I left home at sixteen. My wife and I adopted a wolf from a rescue a dozen years ago. I’ve had dogs all my life, but Isabel is a special personality, and definitely not a dog. Never cottoned much to men, took two years before she would come up to me on her own. Even though she was two when we took her in, I’ve never seen a more devoted canine than she is to my wife.
I agree with you on the anthropomorphism issue. I suspect what separates us from animals is is thinking we are different, and being unwilling to accept the negative projections we make on animals. It takes one to recognize one as it were. Over dinner with some neighbors the other night, I noted how odd it is that we live where there are no street lights, where 20′ off any given road other than a couple of highways, a human is just another piece of ambulatory meat. Yet we feel far safer than venturing into a city day or night.

February 10, 2013 4:53 am

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the reasons this is the most popular science blog on the internet. It isn’t THE reason or even the major reason but it certainly is one that adds to the rich experience that WUWT offers and delivers.
*golf claps* Willis, what fun.

February 10, 2013 4:59 am

We had six baby skunks under the barn at our Childcare last spring. We never saw the mother, and they were only around for about a week. One day three popped out to play in the sun, the next day four, then five, and finally six, with the smallest and weakest appearing last. Then they were gone; I suppose the mother led them off.
The State of New Hampshire was alarmed, and said if any child touched one they needed to go to the doctor for a rabies shot, and they were going to send someone to gather the baby skunks up (and do what? I’m not sure.) However the skunks skipped town before the authorities arrived.
They were adorable. We did them no harm, and they did us no harm. I never took the chance to see if it is true baby skunks can’t spray.
The one animal that chows down on skunks is Great Horned Owls. Sometimes you can smell the reek of skunk from up a tree over your head, and that tree likely has an owl snoozing the day away in a hollow place.
So perhaps it is lucky “Dr. Suess” wasn’t living in your ranch house at the same time as “Skunk.”
Anyone who spends time with beasts knows they do sometimes act like humans. Anyone who spends time with humans knows they do sometimes act like beasts.

February 10, 2013 5:27 am

Another well written piece Willis. It’s interesting to note that except for a couple, most of the trolls are silent. Maybe they’re just rolling their eyes and snorting, but I don’t think so. I think that Willis’ prose skills totally intimidate them. The best part is that Willis doesn’t care, doesn’t write for them, he writes to share. Like many others here, I’ve lived in the country, in small towns on the Great Plains, in big cities in California, and “offshore” in Europe. Willis stories seem to bring back the best memories, for this I thank him a lot!

February 10, 2013 5:40 am

Here I sit in quiet comfort drinking coffee and looking out the window at the snowy landscape in my yard, and then Willis brings me back to reality by reminding me of skunks… well one skunk in particular, which currently is hibernating under my deck. After at least half a dozen encounters between my dogs and skunks, I have no fond memories of them. Darn you Willis for ruining my morning 🙂

February 10, 2013 5:42 am

My experience w/”wild” animals is similar to yours, Willis. One of the water turtles in my stream “knows” me, and comes to the bank when I’m feeding the fish. She comes out on the bank & stretches her neck out for a feed. Chicken skin is her favorite.
With just alittle practice, I could get the blue-gills & brown trout in the stream to jump 6 inches out of the water for a dangling piece of chicken skin/fat.

John Norris
February 10, 2013 5:49 am

Wow! Whether it is a rant on climate science or a life experience your posts are always enjoyable to read. They all have such a unique perspective and conversational style. Keep writing Willis,we’ll keep reading.

John Norris
February 10, 2013 5:54 am

re: “… It obviously wasn’t food, or sex, or territory, or any of the things we normally think drive animals, it was just a barren hillside … so what was it that brought him back to that spot?
I am sure we can attribute it to climate change.

February 10, 2013 6:11 am

Hummingbirds can be “trained” rather easily if you have a feeder. Just get close to the feeder for them to get used to you. Eventually I take the feeder off the hook & place it in my lap sitting in a chair. With only alittle hesitation, they’re on the feeder, eying me a bit suspiciously, but soon comfortable w/it, and the boldest hovering near my face, and even gently probing my hair & ears.

Goode 'nuff
February 10, 2013 6:22 am

Mike Hebb talking about the 25 flying squirrels in the attic… you need to keep them out. The flying squirrel is a fire hazard because of their fondness for chewing insulation on wires. Believe me I learned all about it. Not the hard way, thankfully my home didn’t burn down, they never got in that I could tell. But they ate the insulation off everything outside. My boat trailer, farm trailer, TV & radio antennas, etc.
It was all myself to blame. Feeding birds attracted them and when I discovered the cute little buggers I put stuff out especially for them. Got a night vision monocular to see all our night critters. At dusk they would glide in. I had them eating peanuts out of my hands.
It started with a dozen flying squirrels, then two dozen and that became probably a hundred plus. They would eat the lids off my deer feeders and get trapped inside and couldn’t get out. I’d do the repairs and next night they’ve done it again until I had to remove the feeders. I had to remove the bird feeders at night because they began chewing them up. Even the hummingbirds feeder.
In fact they only quit destruction when the bad winters and poor mast crops of solar minimum/VEI 4’s forced them to move on to lower elevations.
Thanks for your stories, Willis. Bill Dance was a beagle who had a passion for dancing with skunks. It was like a beautifully coreographed dance. He knew the exact moves and distances involved that provokes skunks into this display. Never a spray (after the first one) and absolutely hilarious. I do miss him so.
Bears have carried off a couple of bird feeders and I actually called the game wardens for advice on a bobcats problem. So I learned my lessons on wildlife feeding and now limit it to birds and a few apples and carrots for the deer that raise their young on my place. Minerals blocks at greenup for them because pregnant does and sprouting bucks need them so. Feeding too much only leads to eventually problems that can get out of hand.

Gail Combs
February 10, 2013 6:24 am

As others have said Skunks have dignity.
I had an apartment neighbor in NH who used his 1/2 of the garage as a place to dump garbage. It attracted a skunk who had no problem walking up to me, saying hello in a dignified way and then leaving whenever I opened the garage door. She never offered to spray.
Bats are another critter that has no problem human watching. I have had a bat follow me when prussiking (rope climbing) out of a cave trying to figure out what the heck I was doing.
I have a red fox who sits in the driveway waiting for us to come home. She has even walked up and sat on the porch with the cats. One day I opened the door and she started to walk into the house – sure slammed that door fast.
None of these animals are tame or babies they are just here.

February 10, 2013 6:26 am

Thank you again Willis!I just knew you were collecting your storys.
A thousand ” I’m sorry ” for my posts yesterday. [: ….
BTW ,I hear tomato juice is good for Skunk oder…don’t quote me.
Thanks again.

ron sinclair
February 10, 2013 6:42 am

Seems lots of folks have a skunk story.
One of mine is about the time some relatives left their white standard poodle with us while they travelled somewhere. Fine looking dog, all trimmed, since it was a “momma’s dog”. One night about 10 pm there was a load of barking on the front lawn and we soon learned the dog had bumped into a small skunk. The skunk nailed the dog and the dog killed the skunk. Now what? It was right at the freezing point outside. As Willis mentions, I was able to get two or three large cans of tomato juice and gave the dog a bath on the driveway. The treatment worked well enough that we were able to bring the dog inside to the basement for the night.
However, that white dog was pink for the next month or so!

February 10, 2013 6:54 am says Thank you so very much for sharing the sweetness of what’s out
there around us. Thank you,
Richard J. Phelps , Lover of God’s wild around us.

February 10, 2013 6:59 am

That is a wonderful story Willis. I have had my Sunday afternoon treat reading it; absolutely magical. I love your writing. Thank you. Annie

Steve (Paris)
February 10, 2013 7:00 am

You wouldn’t be the first to write a great book piecemeal
I’m looking out for your’s, good sir.

Frumious Bandersnatch
February 10, 2013 7:00 am

I recommend getting Michael Marchenko as your illustrator.

G P Hanner
February 10, 2013 7:02 am

And now. You know why we leave skunks alone. My daughter had an Ausrtralian Shepherd that had a night time encounter with a skunk. Being a quick study, he stayed well away from them after that.

February 10, 2013 7:33 am

Evocative and moving storytelling. I loved this.

Ed MacAulay
February 10, 2013 7:42 am

Tomato juice has long since been replaced by vinegar for skunk odor clean up, doesn’t leave a pink dog, and only needs a mild rinse.
An older product was nilodor, but my wife hates it ever since I used it after getting sprayed in the eye and face while desenting a skunk. The directions for nilodor say use 1 drop, so I used a bottle full for shampoo and body wash. The wife says that nilodor smelled far worse than the skunk.

Luther Wu
February 10, 2013 7:59 am

February 10, 2013 8:16 am

The best anti-skunk agent I’ve seen/used is a mixture of baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. It does have a tendency to bleach dark fur and you have to be careful not to get it in an animals eyes… but it is very effective. I don’t remember the exact mixture but it’s easy to find on the Internet.

February 10, 2013 8:17 am

@Big D in TX
Yes, from a distance.

February 10, 2013 8:30 am

I grew up in a small town in Colorado. There were several times the skunks appeared to outnumber the citizens. On those occasions the Sheriffs Department and Posse were called out to control the skunk population. During the night, the armed members would walk the streets and alleys looking for skunks and firing their weapons. And maybe kill fifty in a night. If you were unlucky, the skunk would be killed under your window. This was a long time ago, long before friendly traps.

Mike H
February 10, 2013 8:41 am

Reminds me of a time at university. We had raccoons living in the attic immediately above my roommates closet. We’d pestered the landlord to get rid of them for the longest time. Of course one night, the tangled with a skunk. All my roommates clothes were sent to the land fill.
One criticism . . . “I’ve basically blown all of my opportunities to live a PROPER domesticated existence”
Get rid of the the word proper. It certainly sounds like your feet have followed your heart and mind while all the time respect the lives you’ve touched whether you agreed with them or not. IMHO, there is no other way to define proper life whether it is domesticated, nomadic, or whatever one freely chooses.
Enjoyed the TAIL.

Gary D.
February 10, 2013 8:51 am

I very much enjoy your stories, and my wife does too. She is the book reader much more so than me.
Is there any chance you could archive your piecemeal book writings on a separate page similar to the sea ice page?

February 10, 2013 8:54 am

Re the charge of anthropomorphism:
The problem with stating baldly that it is invalid for a human observer to ascribe a known sensation or motivation from his own experience to an indiviudual of another species is that exactly the same assertion can be made with respect to any other individual of his own species.
In other words, there is no way of knowing that when a human SEEMS to display sentiment and a skunk ALSO SEEMS to display sentiment that the human does and the skunk does not. The only difference is shared human experience, but as we cannot have skunk experience we cannot know anything about what the skunk does or does not reflect. Therefore we have only the outward cues of behaviour, which, if the same as those manifest in a human pose at the very least the adage: if it walks like sentiment, if it looks like sentiment, then it probably is sentiment.
The logical alternative is to assume that it is “auto-morphic” to ascribe to other humans what we as the only human whose experience we can access believe of our self. This is very dangerous. It leads to the gulags and to the death camps.
Willis, the word you seek I do not know, but it makes me think of “rat-o-morphism”, the term used to disparagingly indicate data obtained from rats applied to humans.
Your life has been so very different to mine it seems…until that last paragraph.

Jeff Wood
February 10, 2013 8:55 am

Like John Wright, above, my rural childhood was a British one, specifically Scottish. We never had anything so exciting as a Skunk, but a succession of wild animals in and out the door.
Unlike you, Willis, I later became domesticated, and sometimes regret that. All the same, in wild places in Scotland, and now in Italy, I feel at home in a way I do not feel at home, so to speak.
An anecdote. As a boy in the 1920s, my Dad had a pet fox. somewhere in his cupboard is a grainy photograph of the animal under the kitchen table. The fox got to live in the house, the sheepdogs slept in the barn.
The fox would wander. One day the gamekeeper shot it. More, he boasted of it. My nine-year-old Dad stole my Grandpa’s shotgun, and stalked the gamekeeper. My Grannie saw the weapon was missing and alerted Grandpa, who quietly intercepted Dad, who had crept to within 50 yards of the Keeper.
Dad stayed on the farms apart from his service in the RAF, and was never sentimental about animals, and killed a lot of foxes as a shepherd. However, even now at over 90, his face darkens when he remembers that gamekeeper.

Gary Pearse
February 10, 2013 8:56 am

Beautiful visual prose that evokes memories. In 57, I was a chokerman in the B.C. west coast big woods to earn enough to go to university back home in Winnipeg. Probably contributed as bit to the large clear cut that was infamous for being visible from space. Someone stole a favorite pic of mine- me sitting inside the conky hollow of a yellow cedar about 12 feet through trying out my first chew of snoose (couldn’t keep the darn stuff in one place and ended up swallowing half of it – I was dizzy for an hour or two). The work was seasonal and I almost abandoned my university plans when the rigger (one who climbs the spar tree ~ 100-150′ and rigs up the bull block to pass the lines through for hauling the trees from the mountain side into a pile) suggested I join him in the off season working as a ranch hand in Alberta- fencing, rounding up cattle, branding – do they still do this stuff?. Willis you probably would have gone for it without a qualm.
I did end up somewhat on the wild side though, mapping geology in Canada and Africa where I met all manner of creatures big and small. Regarding skunks, I like the smell – not direct and concentrated of course and I’ve heard it alleviates the symptoms of asthma. Similarly I read that wasp/bee stings prevent arthritis in later life and along with snake poison can put arthritis and multiple sclerosis into remission. I’m fully vaccinated.

Theo Goodwin
February 10, 2013 9:10 am

Luther Wu says:
February 9, 2013 at 8:47 pm
“Also, the commentary from readers is a treasure trove, witness: this thread.”
Absolutely. Especially this thread. It is hard to find a collection of first person narratives about skunk encounters. 🙂

February 10, 2013 9:12 am

Ah yes. The wonderful skunk. As many say here,they have a certain dignity no other animal has (maybe they know what they possess?). When I was about 7,living in the sticks(little fishing village in New Brunswick),one summer night at dusk,a skunk wandered into our front yard,with a mayonnaisse bottle stuck over its head. Mom and I went towards it,but scared the heck out of me. Knew about wildlife even at that age. However,Mom went up,took the bottle,and started gently turning it and pulling. I was stunned. That skunk dug in its hind legs and started pulling in the other direction. After about 2 minutes,the bottle popped loose,and the skunk tumbled bass ackwards. Funny. It got up,looked at Mom,then quietly wandered away. Evey now and then,it would come back(I rememberd its pattern). Sure hate living in the city now. Get out every chance I have. But like they say,you can’t miss what you have never known.

February 10, 2013 9:18 am

@anna v: “This is not for children; for adults nearing the great divide very pertinent, though the wild adventure may be different for each of us.”
Why is this not for children? We teach our kids to fear death, or we instill so much “you must prepare for tomorrow!”, that we don’t teach them to live in the moment.
I find this to be a wonderful story, with a life affirming undercurrent. I will in fact be reading it to my granddaughters, in it’s entirety.

February 10, 2013 9:24 am

Dear Willis Eschenbach
Another story to treasure for ever and ever.
I print them and keep them in a folder, but I really look forward to being able to have them all in a book, and to be able to give the book to my grandchildren and to my friend’s grandchildren. And to my adult children and friends too.
You could publish your autobiography and your tales, one by one in Kindle ( you can do it directly through Amazon, with no need of editors ), and then, when you had enough stories published, you could collect them in one, or in several volumes. You would have all the major publishers queuing to try and get you as their author…
Thank you for a great sunday afternoon reading and commenting your tale at home.
Your Old Spanish Fan

February 10, 2013 9:32 am

Roger it’s a very sad world you live in where animals are nothing more than organic robots going about their programmed tasks with no hint of individuality or personality.

February 10, 2013 9:39 am

Very nice essay W.E.Thanks
I pity Mister Sowell for ignoring The Skunks ability to consider his own existence.
In Mister Sowell’s heaven there are no skunks. In our heaven Willis, there are.
Dicken’s “A tale Of Two Cities” , as well as other works of his, was written piecemeal ,as a serial.

Theo Goodwin
February 10, 2013 9:56 am

“And that would have been the end of it too … but for the next couple years, a few times every year, always in the early evening, I would see The Skunk come to that favorite spot of his on the hillside, where he would sit, and look just across the little valley to the where the ranch house lights shone out through the windows. From there he could hear the shouts of us kids, and see the people come and go in the evening. He’d just sit there and watch us for a while, and then the next time I looked up, he’d be gone. I don’t recall ever seeing him arriving at that spot or leaving that spot, I’d just look up one evening and he’d be there, and I’d watch him sit there, I always loved to see him, and then after a while I’d look up and he’d be gone.”
There is a lot more in Willis’ story than a skunk. Willis has a powerful sense of place; that is, the family house and its surroundings are deeply embedded in his emotions. I was fortunate enough to grow up on a farm that was a glorious place. If there had been in my experience a skunk that returned to the same place on occasion, a place that overlooks the farm house, I would have felt a powerful emotional resonance with that skunk.
The suburbs sometimes deprive children of that sense of place. Maybe there is something else that compensates for that lack.

February 10, 2013 10:10 am

I read that wasp/bee stings prevent arthritis in later life
Reminds me of the time a student making a study of bee development went one night to get a specimen from the cooler where the bees were kept, something she did on a schedule, and lo, there was a professor giving bee stings to a woman for arthritis. ISTR that the woman’s blouse was open or off, but I won’t attest to that in court.

Jim G
February 10, 2013 10:38 am

Great yarn! Had an English Setter that was a runt that no one wanted. Was the best bird dog I ever
had. Won lots of dog trial trophies with that 29 lb runt. It was also fearless to the point of insanity.
Would attack any threat including skunks. Came home one day with an orange spot on its side
the size of a golf ball. In spite of all the baths and deoderizers it smelled of skunk for three years
whenever it got wet. Old Lady was quite a dog and taught us that skunk spray is very similar to
radiation contamination in its ability to be spread and in its “half life”.

February 10, 2013 10:44 am

Yet another prose poem, Willis, beautiful story telling. Thank you for this gift.
Minor typo correction- “lifted her hind end in the air” HER should be HIS

February 10, 2013 11:58 am

I remember how nervous I was when I gently closed the car trunk on our crawl-space skunk in it’s live-capture cage. When I released it, it cheerfully bounded off into the brush. No problem. It must be nice to have few natural enemies to worry about.

February 10, 2013 12:04 pm

Bonding with an animal is, IMHO, a spiritual experience, and Willis captures some of this in his story. Those who havent done so are missing one of life’s great experiences. Here in the Boston suburbs, the country has come to the city. My wifle calls our place “Jurassic Park” as it seems from the abundance of wildlife that Noah has just disembarked his ark nearby. Moose, black bear, skunks, opossum, porcupines, deer, coyote, wild turkeys, fox, ground hogs, and probably some I am forgetting are seen with great regularity, and what a treat it is.

February 10, 2013 12:22 pm

It came upon one of the neighbor boys that he could make a few dollars of spending money by trapping. His older brother told him that if he should ever catch a skunk, he should sneak up on it and quickly grab it by the tail, and lift it off the ground. The strain of being suspended by the tail was supposed to immobilize the spray mechanism.
On a hilltop in the pasture field was an old wild apple tree with a hollow base. One of the traps was set in the hollow. One morning the trap held a skunk, and Robert did as instructed. When he got all four feet of the animal clear of the ground, he found that his brother had been stringing him along.
His mother and sister said they could smell him coming before they could see him. He was forced to disrobe in the woodshed attached to the back of the house, and bathe in a wash tub. His clothes were picked up on a pitch fork and buried behind the barn.
Happy memories of growing up many decades ago.

February 10, 2013 12:27 pm

spangled drongo says: “…the way wild animals think. Some are a lot like humans … ”
Don’t forget that humans are also animals!

February 10, 2013 12:31 pm

What a story!
Thanks Willis, thank you very much!

February 10, 2013 1:06 pm

My house on the St. Joseph River in Michigan was appropriated by a mother raccoon. She chewed a hole through the cedar shake eaves and took up residence with her little ones. It made a lot of noise, right over the kitchen sink. I had a fancy folding ladder and a garden hose, so I went up there and gave them all a good soaking from about 30 feet away. Later that night I saw Momma transporting her offspring to a new home, not anywhere near my house, one at a time. Of course, soaking down some skunks under your house would be more complicated…

Larry Wirth
February 10, 2013 1:24 pm

Can only wonder in which ‘city’ y’all have been living. About half my 68 yrs were spent in various parts of suburban LA, Monrovia, Westwood, Santa Monica, Playa del Rey, Manhattan Beach, etc. The other half in place like the Grand Canyou, Sedona (when it had two hundred people), the Santa Monica Mountains,Maui, Molokai, Berlin, Kentucky and rural Louisiana. And now in the open desert near Kitt Peak. And without exception, opossums, skunks and racoons were far more abundant in suburban settings than rural. So, pay attention people, they’re out there.
In high school (Monrovia, CA) my brother and I made our walking around money from skunks. A man up the street was a pet wholesaler and would pay $2 apiece for young skunks we brought him, so we caught them (not trapped, but caught). The technique is simple: one person fronts the skunk with a flashlight. Their response is to stamp the front feet a warning. The other person sneaks around in the dark behind the skunk and jerks it off the ground by the tail.
Skunks are very stern-heavy and once off the ground the spray nozzles are pinched by the anus and the animal cannot spray, nor can it “climb its own tail.” Don’t try this with any other wild animal unless you like stitches and rabies shots. Drop the animal in a cardboard box and off it goes to the vet or to a new home.
We soon exhausted the skunks in the 5 acre avacado grove across the street, but found that many of our neighbors had them living under their houses in crawl spaces. Needless to say, many of these people had been feeding the critters, but became disillusioned when mating season came around and the skunks would do what they do when excited.
Obviously shooting them was a bit iffy in suburbia, but grabbing them in the crawl spaces had little to recommend itself. So we became ambush predators. We’d locate the entry point to the crawl space, wait for the family to emerge, block their retreat and go back to plan “A” of grabbing them by the tail. Even better, the neighbors would pay up to $5 apiece to get rid of them and we could still sell them to our pet dealer friend!
Even with the best technique, we still got sprayed pretty often, including in the face and eyes. In my opinion, skunk spray smells worse at a distance. Directly in the face, it smells much like crushed geranium stems fading to burning tires at 100yds or so.
Inevitably, we wound up with a couple as pets. Once captured, skunks tame very quickly, within a day, they will sit quietly in your lap and eat just about anything out of your hand. They liked being petted and didn’t even mind the occasional bath. Ours had the run of the house and the aging cocker spanial just ignored them. The problem was that skunks are nocternal, so while you might want to play in the daytime, they’d be sleeping under a bathtub ore something where you couldn’t get them or even see them. After dinner, family and dog would hit the sack, but the skunks would be prowling the house, rummaging about and knocking things over all night. Oddly, while skunk have formidable claws (for digging) and impressive fangs (for killing chickens), ours never attempted to scratch or bite us.
And, alas, they only lived a couple of years in captivity. They were charming and tame visitors, but remained completely wild.

February 10, 2013 1:31 pm

Get an agent. I haven’t been this moved in quite a while. What a beautiful, funny, poignant telling of that skunk and your family. Let us know when the book is out. Have you considered a title yet? Ah! I imagine it’ll be “Between the Warm and the Wild.”

Larry Wirth
February 10, 2013 1:56 pm

Anymoose, our posts passed in cyberspace. I can assure you, your friend’s misfortune was a result of not being quick enough in getting brother skunk off the ground. What’s needed is a grab and snatch movement and this requires a partner to attract the animal’s attention. Sneaking up behind one alone is just asking for it.
Also, for those who might want to try this, it’s good to keep in mind that the animal can twist it’s butt sideways and hit someone almost directly in front of itself. Also, as Willis mentioned, that little handstand stamp lets it pull it’s tail down against its back as spray “over the top,” very useful for taller targets. As mentioned in the post above, I made about every mistake possible at one time or another. Eventually, you reach a point where the smell doesn’t bother you at all; I can think of many things that smell a lot worse.

February 10, 2013 2:58 pm

I might add that where I grew up a stray dog was as close there ever was to wildlife. At its lowest ebb, there were not even sparrows anymore. But Ive noticed they are making a come-back. I don’t know the details, but they were another victim of environmentalism. Something about unleaded petrol. So resonant was the dissapearance of the sparrow in England that merely exhibiting a stuffed one in the window of Tate Modern was held to be a potent metaphor of the oppressionof the English white underdog class.

February 10, 2013 3:04 pm

Pamela Gray says: February 9, 2013 at 7:46 pm Steamboat! How the hell are ya?
Doin’ pretty good, Ms. Pamela. The (step) daughter had a baby boy Friday and the Mrs is spending time over there. I volunteered to help, but, being just a guy, I’m not needed. So, I straightened out my sock drawer. The family from California are coming to visit stating next Friday, so that will be a hectic couple of weeks.
How are you and yours?
Steamboat Jack
(Jon Jewett’s evil twin)

stan stendera
February 10, 2013 8:24 pm

When I was 11 or 12 a friend had a pet skunk. We all assumed it was descented and used to play with it and rough house with it. You can see this coming! One day we were out on the lawn with the skunk and the wrong dog came after it. The skunk was NOT descented.

February 10, 2013 10:47 pm

We moved to a rural area 23 years ago and happily experienced many of these stories A springer spaniel after a meeting with a skunk and the following tomato bath looks wonderful and after all these years we still laugh out loud. We are still here and every day is a joy! Thanks for stirring up the memories Sir.

February 10, 2013 11:53 pm

Willis, you make my own happy childhood feel positively underprivileged.

February 11, 2013 8:23 am

Let me propose a hypothesis: your skunk was following a natural territoriality. At some point, his instincts said to leave the comfort of his family’s area and move on to claim his own. Most of us do the same. The pattern seems to reveal itself in other stories of wild critters that get raised around humans. The only part that is missing is his bringing his family back for a visit. Maybe he stayed a bachelor.

February 11, 2013 8:56 am

Years ago, our six-month-old kitten tried to make friends with the local skunk just outside our carport. We didn’t have any tomato juice so we just sliced a tomato and smushed it on his head (he had been hit right between the eyes). It did cut the smell but until he was hit by a car six month later, every time he got damp you could smell a hint of skunk.
My problem now is that I am actually allergic to skunk spray. If I even drive past a fresh spray my eyes start itching, and with more than about 30 seconds of exposure the whites actually swell/blister.
Our house right now doesn’t seem to have any skunks, though I’ll probably find out in a year or two when I get around to building the chicken run and getting a household flock. But we do have a young woodchuck who actually frolicks in the yard when he isn’t figuring out how to get through the fence to the garden.

February 11, 2013 9:12 am

Neat story Willis.
Obvious answer is that instinctively the skunk is a skunk, an animal whose nature is to live in the wild. Animals depend on instinct, humans have little.
But it learns, and was fed, so still had an attachment – though perhaps his memory was fading.
I’ve heard of deer doing the same – occasionally showing up at a human abode, not necessarily the one raised at. They must however have learned how to survive in the wild from watching other animals and of course are attracted to potential mates.
(The risk is that they do not know how to avoid hazards in the wild, the opinion of a veterarian who .
Population-increasers like those for the Vancouver Island variant of marmot are strict about the young animals they raise for release not getting familiar with humans – they are being raised to be wild and reproduce there.
Beware that animals such as squirrels, rabbits, and deer exposed to areas well outside the house are carriers of ticks which can infect humans with the plague, Lyme disease and other things. You can decide if that’s a worse risk than associating with some people – caution in both cases I suppose. 😉

February 11, 2013 1:41 pm

The tone and flow are reminiscent of “Dulce Domum” from Kenneth Grahame’s
“Wind in the Willows”… like the glow of the firelight from the windows, the words
evoke memories and feelings of a time gone by…
Simply because an animal is not human should not be reason
to deny it thoughts or feelings or perhaps the sentimental pang
of days or things gone by. Anthropomorphism doesn’t enter into it;
I’ve had dogs that were, er, colorful personalities, and other dogs
that would have spent their lives in jail had they been created as humans.
Perhaps they exist to remind us of how fortunate we are, and to
nudge us back to reality when we need it….

February 11, 2013 1:48 pm

Dulce Domum can be found here:

February 14, 2013 8:07 pm

Bit late to the party, but, Willis, this is the best thing you’ve ever written.

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