Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Cask of Amontillado

I grew up with a father who loves the likes of Robert Service, Garrison Keillor, and Edgar Allan Poe. While other kids were watching Sesame Street and the Electric Company, I did not have the pleasure of a television to rot my brain away, but instead listened to my father making up stories (he is especially good at ghost stories), quoting The Cremation of Sam McGee (by Robert Service: Alaska has a special mystery to the Mezoffs), or reading the likes of The Pit and the Pendulum or The Telltale Heart (Poe of course).

So you can get some of the flavor of my upbringing, here is part of Robert Service's The Cremation of Sam McGee:

  There are strange things done in the midnight sun
        By the men who moil for gold;
    The Arctic trails have their secret tales
        That would make your blood run cold;
    The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
        But the queerest they ever did see
    Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
        I cremated Sam McGee. 

I can't remember the multitude of Bible verses I was required to memorize in the conservative Christian elementary school I attended, but I could recite this verse in my sleep. Good stuff. Thanks Dad.

One particular sequence of events in the last month reminds me of the Poe tale, The Cask of Amontillado. If you don't remember the tale from when your father read it to you, it is a typically gruesome tale of retribution, wine, and catacombs:

No answer still. I thrust a torch through the remaining aperture and let it fall within. There came forth in return only a jingling of the bells. My heart grew sick - on account of the dampness of the catacombs. I hastened to make an end of my labor. I forced the last stone into its position ; I plastered it up. Against the new masonry I re-erected the old rampart of bones. For the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them. 

This particular story comes to mind due to some recent work I did in the backyard involving a certain skunk hole:

This is the hole that has plagued my life of late--the most popular entrance to the space under the house where the skunks seem to want to set up permanent residence.  This hole needed to be plugged... which I proposed to do, though I had never worked with it before, with the use of this material which I found in my landlord's junky and luckily for me, unlockable shed:

...with this material I planned to make it impossible for the skunks to access the space under my house and to wake me up with their cloying, neurology-impairing stench. And the gradual cementing of the access hole is what brought to mind The Cask of Amontillado in which Fortunato meets an unfortunate end behind a brick wall.

Yes, I learned to mix concrete... and built the base of an impenetrable skunk barrier (skunks turn out to be right good little diggers when given the impetus--see the LAST skunk post if you dare HERE).

And then I spread some flour (gluten free!) over the concrete and I waited. I got up at night and I checked that flour. I put down more flour to make sure I wasn't missing tracks.

And nothing happened. For nights and nights, which was of course making me cranky as I hate being woken up in the middle of the night and that skunk just wasn't cooperating.  Then one night, I saw this:

There were tracks heading out of the hole.  And from there I sprang into action.

I closed up the hole with rocks.  Very heavy rocks.  Rocks weighing more than skunks... even if they were working as a team and had their own block and tackle. They were not moving these rocks. And I added wire mesh through which a skunk of average size could not fit.

And then I concreted the rocks in place and covered them with gravel which skunks clearly don't like to dig through.  And I thought that I had won.

But a few weeks later, I found that I had not. In the middle of the night I woke to a noxious smell and a sinking feeling in my heart. The skunk was back. Unbelievably, the skunk was back. I couldn't find the entrance and I have been forced to believe that I walled a skunk under there that has been subsisting on mice (yes, we have those too) and perhaps water from the washer which drains into the yard and more mice... and that perhaps that skunk had died under there and I was in for a long unpleasant smelling experience. The holes are all plugged, but the smell continues. Actually, it sounds kind of like the ending of an Edgar Allan Poe tale after all. Poor Fortunato.  In pace requiescat !


  1. You have my deepest sympathy. I admire your sardonic humor about the situation.

  2. Can you hear me laughing all the way from San Diego? This is quite a tale! We had similar problems with excavations we couldn't seem to stop up at our place in the mountains...only it was brown squirrels moving some hefty rocks to build their winter homes under our foundations (and taking our insulation with them). In the end, we used (big ick factor here, be prepared) the dirty clumping litter from the cat box and yes, it worked. That stuff has a half life of probably 50 years and set up and got them...all but one, which we endured while it decomposed and stank up the house for what seemed like an eternity.

    I recently had a skunk go off under this house out here, so I totally sympathize...and thanks for the verses of The Cremation of Sam McGee, it's been a very long time!

  3. At this time of year, there was probably a loving pair setting up a nest down there. Hopefully, if it was Mama skunk you trapped down under, it was before she had a litter of stinky skunklets!

  4. You crack me up. Thanks. Made my day.
    Good you have a sense of humor. Do
    you create an escape hole or what???


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