Saturday, November 7, 2015

Striped Skunk, my teacher

Striped Skunk     (mephitis mephitis)

The Striped Skunk, one of six species of skunk that roam North America, is so secure in its noxious defense, it roams almost anywhere without much caution.   I was on our deck one warm day at end of summer and saw a good sized one, digging around at the base of the support posts, below one of our bird feeders.  At first I was a bit alarmed, worried that it might be ill, but its behavior seemed calm, going about its business, digging into the earth, sniffing about as it went.   

I would see it come on other days, and then it seemed to have a friend, then two, then ….. four???!!!   Oh no!!!  I thought it must be a female, setting up house, attracting males, too, and was it going to live in our shed???  There was an abundance of feces in there.   Oh no!!!  So, panicking, I called in a live trapper, and within three days, he had caught and taken away six of them.  But on that last day I searched the internet for information, my heart breaking, and my nights tearful, regretful, and sleepless.  

When I learned what I could from a wonderful woman’s webpage
I stopped the trapping.   I cannot go back and undo the damage I have done, the innocent lives, sadly snuffed out.  But I committed myself then and there to help educate my friends and neighbors about these little creatures.

That lack of caution I introduced this article with….. that may be why skunks are one of the animals most frequently killed on highways.  But they are intelligent and learn quickly too.  Omnivorous, their diet is composed mainly of insects and their larvae (which is probably why that skunk was digging in our sunflower shell enriched soil), as well as fruits, veggies, and wild berries.  In spring they also eat mice, fledglings, and eggs.  They help clean up carrion, and their dens are on the ground, often under buildings or in abandoned burrows of other mammals.

In the fall they fatten up, and with as many as ten together in a den, hunker down in the coldest parts of winter, not hibernating but living off their fat.   At the end of February, the males wander in search of females, and a couple months after mating, the young are born, usually four or five to a litter.

At five weeks old the kits are weaned and follow their mom as she teaches them to hunt, foraging within 1000 yards of their den, usually at night.  Night is good to avoid bald eagles and red-tailed hawks.   As summer ends, the leaves fall and the skunks have less to hide them from the great horned owls that prey upon them, so the mother might leave the young in the den, and go foraging by day when it is more safe for the young to stay hidden.  And this is probably why that first skunk showed up.  Her ‘friends’ were very likely her young, and she was bringing them along when she felt it was more safe.   When I learned this, I felt like a monster.   

I also learned that skunks would rather escape than spray, and that they will give a couple warnings before they spray…. stamping the feet and doing handstands.   If you must move around them, staying calm and moving slowly is the best thing you can do.  

One of my immediate motivations to call the trapper was the notion of skunks carrying rabies.  A skunk that is ill will have marked behavior that is lethargic and/or wobbly, not at all like my visitors.   Yes they can carry disease (so can cats and dogs), but when healthy, as my little neighbors were, they help control insects and rodents.   They have evolved with the forest that I love.   

So I will be happy if I see that beautiful black and white plume of a tail gracing our yard again.  I ask forgiveness for my ignorance.   I am trying to learn from these gentle teachers.  

Friday, October 30, 2015

Coming soon... skunk time.....

It is brewing... skunk has been my great teacher lately, and I am trying to figure out how to put it all down, so be patient with me... patient and gentle as a skunk, please.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Two walks have settled into my bones this week.  This is what feeds me in a way like teaching feeds my favorite professor, my BiL.   It is the uncertainty that makes me appreciate the certain, and the unexpected that helps me cope with the routine.   

This weekend I hit a point as I went about my housekeeping, where I felt that itchy craziness beginning to bloom deep in my emotions.... I knew from experience that if I didn't give my feet voice on a trail, I would soon be taking out some nonsense on my sweetie and my cat, so I dropped it all and went forth.   There are so many trails out here that I have not walked, it is easy to come up with one or two to meet.   And so I did.

A good supply of water, a snack and emergency med gear and bear spray, and I drove off to hit the trail.   It felt so very good to let my legs enjoy the long inclines that lead to such delicious scenery around here.  I pause frequently to look around me, up and down, and to listen to what is around me.... people sawing firewood in the distance, couples coming down the trail as I made my way up, a lone biker who reported the trail was dry to the pass, flickers, red tail hawks, gray jays, a warm front swooshing along the pines.....the soundscape is as varied as the forest and hills.  

Walking these places gives my conscious mind a chance to be open to all my senses, and I find myself playing with words when I am done as I drive home.... What means "sublime"?  What means "subliminal" and how are the two related?   Why does gazing across miles to a formation that dwarfs me reach a deep part of me like a vibrational key?  And speaking of keys and notes and tones, are visual frequencies hearable to some creatures?  Are sounds visible to some?  

Monday, September 14, 2015

A Nature of Hearts

I just got back from joining my mate for his 50th high school reunion.

I had no idea what to expect.   He had told many stories of his youth to the grandkids....they were all about his adventures and misadventures, and the thing that stood out to me was the details that enhanced each story, like raindrops giving sheen to a leaf.  He cherished those events, and the memories, I could tell.

Now I was on the edge of meeting some of the characters in those stories.  Would I be totally lost, melting into the present as they all relived the past that gave them communion?   I knew I would have problems remembering any new names, tho I knew some already.

So as I began to meet these people, the first thing I noticed was how many individuals resembled celebrities from movies and politics.  I have no idea why my brain was playing this game with me... maybe to help me remember the faces.

But there was still the name issue I always have.  

Ah but let me back up.  The first thing we did was a tour of the high school where so many stories had their origins.  Having no experiences there myself, I could easily imagine that I was a time-travelling archeologist, wondering about who built this structure, and what it was used for, how did they fabricate the materials.... and through some technological feat, I could walk the halls with some who had experience there.   Tales from the elders of victories and defeats, of drama and legends.... it was all there to hear.   I watched eyes scan the lockers, walls, rooms, and auditoriums.  There was  genuine reverence in the air, and there was an awareness I could see of their own time travels.....a JV volleyball tourney was taking place as they strolled through.  

The people themselves were warm and open, and made me feel very welcome.   At the dinner in the evening there were more stories and remembrances of both classmates and teachers, some gone on and some present at the dinner.  

I have never experienced the sort to bonding I witnessed here.   My own high school days are ones I would just as soon forget, but I admit this is just one viewpoint.  I know there were classmates that did not attend the reunion, and the reasons were in some cases mysterious.   I know other folks personally who, like me, have no desire to reconnect with the folks they never fit in with in high school.

I look at my sons and grandkids.... I think they had a better experience at least with friends from high school with whom they maintain connection and I am grateful for this.

I hope experiences like mine in high school are in a great minority.  I wish a rich experience to all who share those days, and if a class can nurture the same healthy bonds of friendship I witnessed at that reunion, it is doing well.   And the world may be better for that.  

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


So, lately I have been enjoying some delicious reads by one Edward Abbey and one Robin Wall Kimmerer.   Mr. Abbey (RIP) had the classic radical view of how to approach protecting the good mother earth, and Kimmerer (very much alive) comes at it with all the love and kindness of walking mindfully, letting your "foot meet the earth like a greeting"< a paraphrasing of her words.  

Reading them at the same time sort of gives this elder heart a good balance, like sitting with a hearty group of friends who are unabashedly free to speak from their hearts (tho old Ed might say he was speaking from an organ less romantic).

Of course I have a naturalist crush on E. O. Wilson, and Rick Bass is my sort of local, Montana practical imaginary writer friend.   Doug Peacock is the mysterious exotic, having earned my deep respect, and I would not want to rile him by spouting careless attitude.   In my estimation each of these folks have the right and wisdom to see the holes in my own statements of cause.

I always feel that despite my deep passions for our wondrous natural world (and maybe because of them), I come off sounding like the eternal fool, because I say something that leaves out some important factor, or I cannot draw forth the latest fact from my brain to support an argument.   I would make a lousy lawyer.  

I am at my best when I am conversing with the plants by walking next to them, learning their names, smelling them, touching them to see whether they are spike or smooth or sticky.  I am at my best when I am stopping to wonder at the hawk overhead, or on my belly at nose level with the frog at the pond's edge, or when I am looking at just the right time to catch the eye of the weasel, muskrat, beaver, or deer.  

Hopefully there is a place for the fool in this world as well as for the gifted of words.  


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

What!? Is it 2015 already?

Yup.  I have long been gone from this page, but have been thinking of getting back to it, so this is my effort at seeing if it still works.....and that is all for today.

Friday, August 3, 2012


(I shared this on facebook, too, but really, it has been in my awareness awhile now, so here it is:) Our world is loaded with stories based on the premise of someone not being as honest to others as they would have others be honest to them, and the drama that ensues. When will we heed our own stories?