Sunday, June 21, 2009

Please Pass the Gas Mask...

When we first moved in here, we had no idea how close we lived to wildlife. Then I saw tiny birds... birds are good! Later, a squirrel being chased along the top of our back fence by some larger birds. Large wildbirds and squirrels, yay for future slap-stick entertainment in our own back yard!
And then, the first night I spent in the house. I slept heavy but badly and woke up just as the sun was lightening the skies. Hubs and I shuffled around, freezing in our skivvies and bare feet across frozen ceramic tiles in a house whose heater was deemed so fickle as to be unusable. The water had been shut off by some jerkoff from SMUD (who waited.. outside.. in his truck.. for us to LEAVE for the day to turn off the damn water that we'd paid to transfer.. -mutter-) the day before. So there we were, hopping from foot to foot, sloshing bottled water into a tiny pot to make some crap-as-free freezedried coffee, when I glanced out our beautifully large - and at the time broken and half-covered with cardboard - kitchen window.

"oooo. Lookit, we have a visitor!"
" that a skunk? Tell me that's a cat."
"It IS a skunk! HOW COOL! We have a SKUNK! In our back yard!" (bouncebouncebounce)
"No, it's not cool.. it's a skunk. We can't have GRIM around a skunk."
"Oh, pff. It's too early for any of us to be out there and besides, the house has been empty for a while. It probably got used to coming through here because no one lived here."

With that, the subject was (mostly) dropped, aside from my eagerness to tell all and sundry "We had a GUEST!" that morning. Most of those who heard about it know me well enough to accept the childlike eagerness/abandon and simply rolled their eyes or made laughing comments about how glad they were that it was OUR guest, not theirs.

Then... we got the pool. And the first time we went for a midnight soak with a friend, I saw a tail peeking up behind our lawn mower. Nevermind that someone had left out the lawn mower. I'm sure there's a reason it's still sitting in the grass days later. But, seeing just the tip of the tail waving back and forth, I thought it was one of the neighborhood cats. They were also being seen a lot, that first week. A big orange puffball liked to sun on the porch of the playhouse, a siamese mix kept sauntering up to the Clear Out The Hastily Vacated House trash pile, and a sleek orange marmalade had been known to make his skulking way across our back yard.
Shortly after getting Piper and Blue's attention, I realized it wasn't a cat. We both sank deep into the water, chins perched on the inflate-a-ring top of the pool, and whispered under our breath about it. Was it trouble? Was it the same one? Did we want to breathe and risk scaring it into spraying something? It looked so small and adorable, glossy and sleek. It's tail was huge, so fluffy and wispy that I just wished I could reach out and stroke it like a cat.
To be sure, we were on the far end of the yard from it, nearly the width of the whole house away. Plus, we were zippered up inside a screened gazebo and the only light on was over the skunk. But it might hear us and it might spook. No one wanted to take the chance that beating a hasty retreat into the house. More accurately, no one wanted to wash whatever got sprayed if it DID take offense. And so we just held very still, watching it's excursion and eventual disappearance into the brush behind the shed. This is where the first "visitor" had disappeared, so I took the moment to remind Blue of that fact - partly as a further reasoning why we should weedwhack the entire viney overgrowth on that side of the yard and 'reclaim' the space, or at least buzz it all down and make it start over.
After the night was over, we didn't really talk about it, much. We live within walking distance of a large school field, a large park, several natural creeks, and a runoff. Two sightings since April didn't seem like that big a deal. The next night, though..
Piper came back over for another twilight soak and we all hopped in. Right around midnight, I started smacking Blue's arm while he was busy talking to Pipes. He freaked, thinking it was a bee (I'm allergic), a vagrant (unlikely) or something equally unsavoury. Considering we were all skinnydipping, something as simple as his mom deciding to come for a visit would have been quite a problem. Still, it was very late and our back gate was latched.

[loud, somewhat frantic whisper]
"What what what?!"
"We have a visitor!"
"Where?! What the hell are you ta-- shit."
"It came BACK!" [sloshing water]
"Damn. Well at least we know where to set up the trap."

This time, emboldened by past experience with this cool customer, we talked a little louder. We watched it closely while we talked of traps, of how it might have got in, how it was making the same circuit of the yard as it had the night before. Eventually, it disappeared into the same vines, and we all climbed out and went into the house.
The next night, another appearance, just as we're getting ready to get out. This time, Piper stayed home and it was just the two of us. By now, we've begun to speculate quite a bit. We're all more comfortable around each other, as it can clearly hear us and doesn't seem in the least bothered. Chins perched on the side of the pool, we chat about it's ease around us. Living so close to human habitation, it surely must have adjusted to the sounds of people and feels safe enough to come into the fenced off yards that don't have pets without feeling overly threatened. It definitely doesn't act rabid. All of this is interspersed with many a quiet cry of how cute it is and how tiny. Now, this skunk is decidedly laid back. Not only does it cruise through habitated yards at midnight, there isn't the tiniest bit of "skunk" on the air. I've seen skunks before that reek within a twenty foot radius. I've been told it's a sign that the skunk is easy to agitate, as it's sprayed often enough to have musky fur. This one, though, is as fresh as a daisy.
Blue starts talking (jokingly, mind) about finding the perfect spot to set up a lookout, inside the play house maybe, with a shotgun. The funny thing is, the more he talks.. the more the skunk seems to zero in on us. His meandering takes on a different shape from the previous nights. This time, as Blue goes on about plans to "take it down" and whatnot, it heads straight for us. Not in a 'gonna getcha' charge, but in the meandering root for bugs way it's been foraging through the yard when it wasn't being talked about. Blue eventually gets just a bit concerned that maybe it can understand words like "shotgun" and starts up a quietly laughing mantra of "oh shit, it's headed right for us.."
Giggling, we backed into the pool and watched it head under the play house and over to Half-Booshy Boosh. Whereas I was all eager to have it there before, I'm now territorial.

"It's going to get into my garden, isn't it? That little shit is going to dig up all my stuff!"
" don't have a garden, yet."
"I'll have one next year and it's going to tear everything up looking for grubs! Dammit."
Laughing, Blue finally decided it was as far away as it was going to get; we covered the pool back up and went scrambling for the door.

Tonight, he's off to bed early and I'm washing my hands in the guest bathroom. I catch a whiff of skunk.
"Oh, no.."
Sniff sniff.
Out in the hallway, one step and opening the bedroom door. He's in the middle of climbing off the bed to come find me.
"Did you piss off the skunk?"
"No.. I thought you did."
"I got a blast of it through the window."
"Me, too. Someone must ha-- maybe the neighbor's dog?"
"Or it got run over."

So I run to the back yard, flick on the lights. He says it doesn't smell like it's coming from out there, more like it's from the front. I head out the front door, walking lightly and staring hard at everything in our covered walkway.
Definitely from the front yard.
And there goes the sleek marmalade, walking hastily by on the other side of the street. No sign of skunk in the street, but I'm NOT going out the gate to look.

Now, warm as it is in here, I'm not opening the windows tonight. The bedroom and bathroom windows are shut. It still reeks.

So.. got any wildlife in YOUR yard?


  1. We caught a skunk last year in the Hav-a-Hart trap we use for trapping armadillos. Getting rid of him was touchy business, but DH managed not to get sprayed.

  2. LOL Nice going, NellJean! Congrats on getting him out without getting a "dose". It looks like ours hasn't been back since his freakout that night.
    It has me wondering if someone else didn't set a trap... hmm. lol