Close encounters in Skunk Nation

The black and white ones are out and about in Cranbrook, City of Skunks

Skunk Nation is lobbying to take care of your garbage needs.

Skunk Nation is lobbying to take care of your garbage needs.

Barry Coulter

In Toronto they have “Raccoon Nation.” Long may it prosper.

In Cranbrook, we have “Skunk Nation.” Although I wouldn’t go so far as to wish it prosperity, I don’t wish it any harm.

My most recent encounter with Skunk Nation was Saturday night. I was coming home from Locals Coffeehouse in the dark. I walked up to my back door and tripped over a skunk, accidentally giving it a kick, to boot. For a split second I though it was a cat, until I saw it scuttling away, rear end pointed towards me, tail lifted high in the air. I shrieked in alarm, before I realized I hadn’t been sprayed. That was my first thought. My second thought was to wonder if the skunk would let me pick it up and scratch its ears.

Full disclosure: Earlier, I had set a bag of garbage outside the back door, intending to move it out to the alley with its skunk-proof containers “in just a few minutes.” But the bag ended up under a bench, and I forgot.

The skunk didn’t forget though, and as I came home later that night he or she had ripped open the bag and was feasting on garbage. I believe it heard me coming, as it was sucking the marrow out of chicken bones, and made to flee. But I move pretty fast for a big land animal — the skunk mistimed its flight, and we got tangled up in each other. I nearly fell on it.

Now, if the City of Cranbrook ever turns its beady eye on Skunk Nation, there could be penalties for leaving your garbage where skunks can eat it. In advance of this future development I say: “I’m sorry, I forgot, I will never do it again.” Nor will I. It was great to have this reminder of the punishment for leaving your garbage out for skunks to eat — getting sprayed by a skunk. But I got to learn my lesson without having to pay that price. And for that I thank Skunk Nation.

Skunk Nation has a bit of a boomtown thing going on, here in Cranbrook, City of Skunks. You see them all the time, wandering in families in single file, heading up from the creek or down to it, lying crushed on the street by a car, or in the aftermath of a dog encounter. Their presence perfumes the atmosphere of our town, floating around like a permanent fog bank. They seem relaxed and at home amongst the humans — it’s almost like they were competing with the deer for most favoured minority status.

My neighbour has had issues with Skunk Nation — malodorous misadventures. He has set traps for them (usually catching neighbourhood cats), and set up devices to warn them off. Earlier in the summer, I watched two skunks fighting in my neighbour’s yard. It was a most curious battle, fought in complete silence, the two rodents wrestling and pushing at each other with their paws, rolling over each other in a ball, fluffy tails whipping around. It was like watching a cartoon.

Just on the other side of the hedge, in my yard, Skunk Nation is more benign. They come waddling through in their crepuscular way, shortcutting through the yard on the way to the alley and all the delicious garbage kept there in skunk-proof containers. My cats watch them drift by, their cat heads slowly turning to follow the skunks’ progress. Other than that, cat and skunk ignore each other completely. I am intrigued by the nature of their relationship with each other, but can’t fathom it in the slightest.

Everyone is commenting on how fortunate I was not to be sprayed (one Facebook comment: “Fortune favours fools and children — what category do you fall under?” Well, the answer to that is obvious!).

But I prefer to believe the skunk didn’t spray me because it knows I am kind.