Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The skunk in the night.

There have been a few issues with this new rental house. By far the most distressing (after I realized propane was not going to cost me $40 a day but a much more reasonable amount) was this one:
(Note: I did not take this photo. Our yard is completely brown, and also, though I almost always have a camera with me, I did not have one at the moment described below when I was trying to keep my dog from getting sprayed at 11pm in my yard.) Apparently this is a common San Luis Valley problem. Emily's first night here (I was finishing up work in Cortez), she heard a horrible screeching and then smelled THE SKUNK BOMB. Apparently it was bad. So bad it probably temporarily addled her smeller because later that day she made the FedEx lady come in and sniff to see if it still smelled. "Yep, pretty bad skunkin'" was the FedEx report. We tried to get someone to come and trap the thing. Our landlord even rented a trap for a night, but we didn't catch it and he took the trap away and "plugged the hole" in this manner:
Now my landlord is a nice enough guy.  He is a laid-back New York Jew who somehow ended up in the wilds of southern Colorado. I'm not all up on my skunk etiquette, but I am pretty sure that this is not a good way to plug a skunk hole.  I could hear the skunks laughing when they saw those baking pans and other yard junk shoved in around that old electrical conduit.

About a week and a half later at the end of my parent's baby-staycation, we had another skunk visitor.  I suppose the laughter at the baking pan "plug" to his entrance should have awakened me, but no, it was the smell. First your nose burns a little bit and then you get this horrible nauseous feeling in your stomach and you wonder if you are going to throw up, and if so, will you make it down the flight of stairs and through the bedroom my parents were sleeping in to the only bathroom in the house before you lose it... or will you have to go barf in the yard with the skunk. Figuring there was absolutely nothing I could do at 2am, I pulled the covers over my head and tried to breathe through my mouth.  Amazingly the next morning all my Mom said was, I thought I smelled skunk! It was bad, but not, according to Emily, as bad as the first time (we suspect that first event was a mating/courtship sort of thing--apparently male skunks tend to spray during coitus... or perhaps it is just foreplay).

Our landlord was, by then, in Australia for an undetermined amount of time and we knew we had to take maters into our own hands. We were unable to get anyone to come and trap it and take it away. One Fish and Wildlife-type person said they could trap it for us but that the skunk would either have to be released on our property or killed. I don't need that kind of bad skunk karma and I didn't want to come that close to the little kitty. 

There was some new snow, so we smoothed it all out and waited. The first night... nothing.  The second night I didn't wake up until 3am. I put on my skunk-hunting pajamas and my coat (the valley is colder than Antarctica in July) and peeked at the hole.  There were tons of tracks.
And I didn't know what to do. If the skunk came out earlier and already went back in again, I didn't want to plug him up in the hole. And what if there were multiple skunks? What else could I do? I left the hole open, exchanged my skunk-hunting pajamas for regular pajamas, and went back to bed.

Emily gussied up the hole making the entrance nice and available with a sweet rock walkway, threw out all the yard trash from the last tenants, and smoothed more snow around the hole so we could tell when our visitors returned (or left whichever the case may be). Nothing. For days.

So we filled the hole in. With big rocks. And railroad ties. If I could have put one of the hulking rusted pieces of farm machinery from the lot out back on top of the boards, I would have.  Hopefully the wire and rock combination will deter any digging at this particular hole in the foundation.

A few nights after plugging the hole, I smelled skunk strongly in the bedroom on the east side of the house. I was sure we'd either trapped one underneath the house or he'd found another hole that I had somehow missed in my obsessive compulsive searching for ruptures in the armory. Coincidentally, at that moment Emily let Cassy my yellow lab and avowed skunk-lover out the back door. I screamed SKUNK!, Cassy shot out the door barking, and frantic pleading from both of us with promises of really good treats brought her back before she got sprayed. I did not want a repeat of the last dog skunking which lingered for literally 6 months (even after the peroxide/baking soda/dish soap bath which does work amazingly well--unfortunately I also ended up smelling like skunk and was completely drenched from the garden hose to boot).

The hole is now plugged. The skunks will need to find another entrance to visit this particularly warm spot under the heater in this house with no floor insulation.  I'm sure it was a nice spot for a skunk--except perhaps for the fact that I'm pretty sure the water from the washing machine was draining under the house. My awesome brother-in-law fixed that a few days ago as the Australia-visitin' landlord hadn't yet sent his "guys" over to fix the obviously frozen drain pipe for the washing machine, and it was unclear whether that would ever happen. It is so nice to have a relative that can fix absolutely anything. And it only took him about 10 minutes. (He is on my "beer-for-life" program... I am not taking new applications.)
Our skunk is apparently still visiting at times. These tracks were running along the dirt road at the side of the house this morning. But so far we haven't had any more under-the-house visitors.


  1. We had a skunk die under our cabin one winter. It wasn't too bad, just an occasional whiff, until his carcase thawed out in the spring. Then it was awful, and it took a looooong time for the smell to completely disappear. My son (the boy scout) then cleaned and bleached it's bones and forever after had a skunk skull for his neckerchief slide. Something to look forward to?
    Keep your yarn in sealed bags.

  2. I have put out live traps for other critters and my biggest fear is that I'll wake up and find a skunk in the trap. I had all kinds of scenarios planned out about how to handle such an event. Many years ago I had to cover all the underhouse human entry spots with heavy metal (not a band) and rocks. Got tired of all the wrestling around (or whatever) that was happening under the house.

  3. Rebecca, have you ever considered writing as a sideline? I think you have the potential to rival the likes of Peter Mayle (A Year in Provence, etc.). Seriously!

  4. Grin--Thanks Karen. I aspire to follow in the footsteps of the likes of the Yarn Harlot. She is hilarious, she gets to knit all day long, and she makes a respectable living off her knitting/blog/books. I'd love to spend all my time playing with fiber and writing about it. Maybe one of these days that will happen!
    I'm off to look up Peter Mayle.


This blog has been moved to Please visit there to comment.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.