Saturday, July 14, 2012

Skunk Buddies

I have been enjoying nights at home after a packed academic year of evening rehearsals for two orchestras, meetings of the Sierra Club and Adirondack Mountain Club, and regular overnights at my parents' house in Saratoga, as well as an occasional night out with Bill or weekend trips to see our kids.  Summer is a time for reading and I look forward to heading out to our screened-in back porch along about 9:00 most evenings.

Our cat, Ally, follows me wherever I go and joins me on the porch.  For a while, she watches bugs inside, birds and squirrels outside, and then, exhausted by such high-demand activity, falls asleep on the cedar chest next to my seat in the lounge.  Often a cool breeze, as darkness arrives, adds to a sense of complete relaxation. This week I have had the opportunity to be home every night.

Last Sunday, at just about 9:20, I heard a great scuffling just on the other side of the screen.  Ally perked right up.  I spotted a white stripe and a white tail-tip in the darkness.  As my eyes adjusted, I saw a skunk digging in the dirt and scattering leaves.  Ally and I remained very still, watching.  Often, when various critters come around, Ally makes noise, chattering or taking an aggressive stance, but not this time.  I welcomed her quiet behavior with surprise and relief--no scaring this guy, please.

The skunk wandered across the lawn, checked out tidbits under the bird feeder, dug a little in the parched lawn and meandered farther back behind the garage.  Ally fell asleep and I went back to my book, but in about a half-hour, the skunk returned making a steady stride for the front yard, out of my sight.

Over the years, we have occasionally seen skunks, and even more often, we have smelled them.  I remember a time when I always turned on all the lights or carried a flashlight on trips to the garage--no point in surprising our nocturnal neighbors!  Mrs. Mendleson, next door, still talks about the time a skunk went through with her four little kittens, all tumbling over each other in play. Far less appealing, a skunk sprayed our porch this past winter. The stench made my eyes water even as I stood inside the kitchen behind closed doors.  It took weeks for the smell to go away.

I thought little about my summer visitor until the second night, when he came again at just about 9:20.  Ally and I watched quietly, as we had the night before.  And, in about a half-hour, he scampered back through, but this time with a friend! The new skunk was a little smaller, his girlfriend perhaps? She had a lot to say.  Clearly, she was lacing the guy out for something.  Her voice sounded raspy and accusing. 

By the third night, I was ready.  I took my place in the chair with my book and had the garage light on for better viewing.  Both skunks arrived, although a little late, about 9:35.  Apparently, they were a little slow getting out of their house, or had to discuss something first, or wanted to make sure they were both on the same page with this outing.

Despite their delay in appearing, they ambled through quietly until they decided to play.  Rolling over, jumping up, bounding on top of one another, they appeared to be in good humor.  The only part of their antics that alarmed me were their erect tails.  I hoped their fun didn't turn into an argument!  I leaned down closer to the back of the porch to get a better view.  Ally, finding the novelty of me on the floor more fascinating than skunks in the yard, rubbed my face with a loud purr. 

Eventually the smaller skunk headed behind the garage while the larger one sniffed along the driveway right under the outside light.  I had a great view.  Then  he, too, moved on.

A few minutes later, breaking the silent night with a huge bang, a neighbor set off a fire cracker.  Surely, this shocking sound would set off the skunks, but no foul aroma floated my way.

In about a half-hour, they scampered through alongside the porch just as they had each night before. This time I wanted to see where they went.  I went out the front door and turned on the light.  No skunks in sight.  Suddenly, two doors down, a motion-activated light came on. Two skunks bolted across the end of our dead-end street, through a gap in the fence, and into the field beyond.

Now it has been six nights.  Ally and I are getting bored.  When Bill decided that he should watch for the skunks, Ally just flopped on the floor in disinterest.

Although I'm finally making headway in my summer reading, I still like to see if the skunks keep up their routine.  Sure enough, between 9:15 and 9:40, one or both of them shows up.  At the scuffling alongside the porch, I take my eyes from my book but I no longer crawl on hands and knees for a closer look.  Ally barely turns her head. 

We have accepted their nightly long as they're well-behaved.