A skunk, by any other name

If you haven’t made any new year’s resolutions yet, now is the time. And a real good resolution for 2008 would be to stay away from skunks. Despite what the animal rights people would probably tell you, skunks are bad. They carry rabies, terrorize innocent people, and hardly ever contribute anything useful to society. For instance, skunks seldom donate art to museums, or create foundations to benefit the illiterate, or shoot lawyers. Skunks just don’t seem to care about the rest of us. And then there’s that smell thing. In ‘The Chronicle of Young Satan,’ Mark Twain wrote, ‘While a polecat is undoubtedly a comely and graceful animal to look at, none but an angel can get any real joy out of its company.’ I can vouch for that personally, since I had to get 14 rabies vaccinations when I was a kid because of a skunk. And those shots hurt. They use a needle the size of a sewer pipe, and push the serum in real slow, and by the time they’re done you wonder if rabies could have possibly been worse. On the other hand, skunk encounters provide us with a lot of humor, as long as the skunk in question has the encounter in question with someone else. People who get personal with polecats never really get over the experience, and even though they sometimes relate their tales to others in a jocular manner, you can tell they are still traumatized. The smell finally goes away, but the pain lasts forever. Some friends recently told me about a hunting trip they took to Colorado once. They were camping in a large, canvas wall tent, and hadn’t secured the edges like they were supposed to. And one night, while everyone was asleep, the biggest skunk any of them had ever seen nosed his way under the tent wall and went wandering around in there looking for something to eat. Most of the guys first learned about the visitor when one fellow said, ‘Something’s walking on my sleeping bag.’ Another guy turned on a flashlight, and the true depth of the situation became clear. No one knew what to do. One of the guys, a fellow in his fifties, poked his head out of his bag to see what the commotion was, and came face to face, so to speak, with the business end of the infiltrator. The skunk’s tail was at full salute, and the muzzle of his weapon was about six inches from this man’s nose. The other guys said his head turtled back into the sleeping bag much quicker than it had come out. One of them opened a tent flap and they all tried to gently impress upon their visitor the benefits of being somewhere else. He finally got out the same way he got in, and everyone went back to bed. But the skunk came back later that night and terrorized the group again. Luckily he never sprayed, and the next day the tent walls were securely fastened to the ground. Almost everyone has a skunk story or two. Everyone who lives in a rural area has at least one skunk/dog story. For some reason a country dog has to learn the hard way to leave polekitties alone, and some never get the message. But most dogs will at least quit bothering a particular skunk once it sprays them between the eyes. Not so with a dog that belonged to a woman who lives several miles outside of Mason. The dog often barked at nocturnal intruders, but one night it barked for a long time, and wouldn’t quit. The lady went out to see what was going on, and found the dog chasing a skunk around in her backyard. The dog had already received a dose of antisocial in the face, but didn’t take the hint. He chased the skunk all over the backyard, through the breezeway between the house and garage (where it sprayed again), around the front yard, and into the backyard again (where it sprayed some more). The lady finally got a back gate open and the skunk got out, but the dog caught it just outside the yard. The odor was strong enough to kill a water buffalo, but not, evidently, a stupid dog. By that time the lady had gone back for a gun, and caught up with the party at the yard gate. She shot the skunk. And then she shot the dog. Which you would have done, too, even if your name is Ingrid Newkirk. Loyalty goes only so far. Abraham Lincoln once said, ‘What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself.’ I think this story proves that Abe wasn’t the president of the auto club for nothing. There are good skunks, sure. And then there are live ones. Good luck staying away from both kinds in 2008′ ‘Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist who never met a skunk he wouldn’t like to shoot. Write to him at P.O. Box 1600, Mason, Tex. 76856 or jeep@verizon.net.

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