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Critter Story: Baby Skunk Is Evicted
by Pete Stokely, November 1, 2003

How do you rid your house of a baby skunk who has moved in behind your washer and dryer and has no thoughts of leaving?

As recounted in a previous tale, Baby Skunk, Ms. Skunk's errant son, became dissatisfied with drainpipe life after the New Mexico monsoon rains set in. For several days now, he had decided a cozy spot behind the dryer was his home. Our family Department of Homeland Security convened to review the situation.

It was deteriorating. Tiny claw-marks appeared in the woodwork overnight, behind neat piles of droppings. All the screen doors now had skunk-sized holes in them.

Nor, as Celeste delicately pointed out, was everything ideal from the olfactory standpoint. Happily, we had not yet had a major, er, Aromatic Event. But our utility room is usually a cheerful place where wafting breezes are rich in the scent of fresh lavender from the garden, mixed with the slightest highlights of fabric softener. No longer. As Celeste put it, there was just a wee bit -- just a few molecules -- of Baby Skunk's heritage in the air. She found the results unacceptably dank.

For my part, I was losing patience with the Skunk Family Reunions. Each night Baby Skunk received a visit from his parents.

Ms. Skunk, as ever, was gorgeous and displayed impeccable manners. I'd have been proud to have given her away at a High Church wedding.

But alas, she had married far below her station. Her consort slouched behind her like a disreputable uncle. He was shifty-eyed and seedy looking. His coat was indifferently groomed and his scraggly tail was droopy and splattered with mud. He ate like a pig. It was now blindingly clear from which side of the family Baby Skunk's shiftless side had come.

Each night, the two adults, once they had eaten their fill of cat food, wandered back to the dryer to huddle with their son. I could never figure out what they discussed. But it didn't seem to be Baby Skunk's departure. They always left without him.

Meetings of our Homeland Security Department were getting edgy. Laundry was piling up. The place stank. There were more skunks than people in the house most evenings. Baby Skunk had to be banished, and soon. But how? We made some ground rules.

First, no rough stuff. Baby Skunk had gone badly astray, but we would not see him hurt if at all possible.

Second, no surprises. The little critter had so far been, like his mother, a calm and poised animal. Best to keep him that way, especially while he was inside our house. That ruled out brilliant approaches like putting marbles in the dryer and turning it on.

Finally, I had a bright idea. I called it the Skunk Vigil. It was simplicity itself.

First, we would remove all traces of cat food from the kitchen floor. Wet food, dry food -- everything. Then, when dusk approached, we would firmly shut all doors except the cat door, which, by now, Baby Skunk knew so very well.

Then we would conduct an all-night watch over the cat door. After darkness fell, my theory went, Baby Skunk would get hungry. Try as he might, he would not find anything to eat indoors. So he would have to leave through the cat door to forage outside. Ever watchful, we would spring up and lock the door behind him. Problem solved.

I would get hero points for this. Celeste would admire my quiet confidence and skill at facing down wild animals that menaced our very home and hearth. Well, at least menaced our laundry. In a small way, it would be a shining moment in the annals of How the West was Won.

So I volunteered for the first watch. Around dusk I arranged a comfortable chair where I could see anything that happened near the cat door, the kitchen and the laundry room. I got a good book, made some coffee, and settled in for the long wait. Things were quiet for about an hour.

Then Baby Skunk shuffled out from behind the dryer. This was great! My plan was working!

But -- naturally -- there was a hitch. Baby Skunk simply marched across the utility room to a big spare sack of Cat Chow standing in the corner. I'd forgotten it!

As if he did this every night -- which in fact he obviously did -- he scrambled up top and lowered himself into the sack until only the white-rimmed tip of his tail protruded. Then he chomped away happily for five or ten minutes. Satisfied, he extricated himself, went straight back behind his dryer, and went back to sleep.

Since he had already satisfied his hunger, the Skunk Vigil was a flop for the night. I waited until the early hours of the morning for something to happen, but nothing did. I went to bed.

But -- hurrah! -- the next night's Vigil went exactly according to plan. Well, sort of.

This time I remembered to move the Cat Chow bag up to a high shelf; this time there would not be a speck of cat food for Baby Skunk to find. The cat door was open, every other door was firmly shut. I set up my chair, with fresh coffee and book handy beside it. There was nothing to do but wait.

"Don't fall asleep," suggested Celeste. I stiffly replied that such a thing was impossible. Sentries who fall asleep on watch are summarily shot, and deservedly so. I, on the other hand, was made of sterner stuff. She nodded knowingly and retired. I took up my book and began to wait.

Baby Skunk emerged shortly after dark, sniffed about, but could find no food anyplace indoors. At length he trip-tripped across the tiles to the cat door and stood before it.

Yes! Perfect! The Great Skunk Vigil was finally working! I felt supremely clever. I encouraged him in non-threatening tones. "Just open the the door, little fella. There are lots of yummy roots and berries just outside!" I was just seconds from shutting the door behind him and collecting my hero points.

But Baby Skunk just stood there, looking confused. He sat down. He stared fuzzily at the cat door. He turned to stare at me. His eyes were, as always, reproachful. Behind them, big questions turned slowly in whatever passed for his mind. After many minutes, he got up and shook his head. Then he turned around, trip-tripped back to his spot behind the dryer, and went back to sleep.

Arrrrgh! This would take longer than I thought. I poured myself another cup of coffee. I took up my book again. I must stay alert. I must...

A sunbeam hit me in the eye. The night had passed, the coffee was cold and my book was lying on the floor. I felt surly. My eyes were gritty, my back hurt. And the Skunk Vigil had flopped again.

Or had it? I checked behind the dryer. No Baby Skunk. He seemed to be gone.

Celeste woke up, and I gave her the good news. "I think he's gone," I told her.

"What do you mean you THINK?" she asked. Celeste does have a way of getting to the point.

"Er, I fell asleep, but I can't find him this morning."

"You can't find him," she observed. "Oh, greeeat." I deflated. Any chance of hero points for me had just vanished.

A few days have passed, the long-deferred Laundry Day is here, and all is well.

Appliances are whirring. The air is once again light with the fresh pungence of garden lavender and just the slightest highlight of fabric softener. No skunkish molecules at all, Celeste tells me.

Baby Skunk is indeed gone. I've no idea where he is, but he's not inside the house. The Great Skunk Vigil, somehow, actually worked. I wish Baby Skunk well, and hope he is finally learning - perhaps from his Mom -- how to do the skunk business right.

Reflecting on all this, my mood is improving. Who needs hero points anyhow? The Wild West was won in small steps. Having clean socks again is actually pretty cool, right?


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