Skunk Tracks

skunk prints in freshly fallen snowOur first house was set into the side of Mount Nonotuck, a smallish mountain in Easthampton, Mass, at the western end of a smallish spread of hills called the Holyoke Range. The nearly 100-year-old structure, which had an angled dirt basement with actual boulders sticking up in it, was seriously “settled,” meaning its floors tilted so much in a couple of places you could get a little queasy standing there until you got acclimated. If you had placed a marble on any one of our hard wood floors, it would have rolled speedily in one direction.

The house was on a dead-end street that had its own trailhead leading to multiple hiking paths up the mountain. A bird sanctuary was situated less than a mile away. We had serious wildlife. My first sighting of a rose-breasted grosbeak was at our own bird feeder there, a black bear once walked up onto our porch when I was sitting on the couch right next to it and stared into the window at me, a great horned owl swooped over my husband’s head one night, a raccoon nestled in a hole of the tree next to the porch and we watched him come and go each evening. Chipmunks and red squirrels were abundant visitors. Our cat once caught and killed a snake in the basement. The yard was full of pear trees, the fruit of which bees and rabbits munched on happily in late summer.

Surrounded by trees and set back from the road, our place felt rustic and far away in nature. We happily coexisted with the wildlife — for the most part. A family of squirrels or possums got into the walls at one point. For months, we futilely attempted to ignore the scratching over our heads, in the corner of the room behind the sheetrock. I finally hired a humane exterminator to create an “exclusion” — a way for animals to get out of the hole in the house’s wall, but not back in.

When we moved to the City of Holyoke nearly five years ago, a mere ten minutes down the road, my husband and I were surprised by how urban it seemed by comparison. That included a dearth of animal life, which made us sad. No more chipmunks anywhere. Only sparrows and doves at the feeder. Certainly no bears. I’ve never even seen a possum. When a couple of rabbits graced our backyard during the summer, we were so thrilled, we started throwing lettuce spines and carrots out there so that they would feel welcome.

When our neighbor Jenny mentioned that her dog had gotten into a tussle with a skunk, I was horrified for her toxically-smelly-experience, but heartened to know that we didn’t live in an animal-less wasteland. Skunks! Good news, bad news. I actually find them extremely cute, though I do treat them with the respect (i.e wide berth) they deserve.

Unfortunately, they came to like Jenny and her husband’s place a bit much. She feared they had started living under the house, as the scent had become prevalent and the dog kept sticking his nose around the edges of the basement. She found a humane trapper, but he didn’t know quite where to put the trap, as no one had seen skunks enter or exit. Wait for snow, he said, and look for footprints.

Last night, we had a light dusting, less than an inch of powder. This morning, my husband told me he saw a skunk go into Jenny’s yard. When I took our dogs out on their morning walk, I went looking, and there they were: tiny detailed prints, like miniature hands with claws, all over the sidewalks. If I didn’t know raccoons hibernate, I would have imagined these impressions belonged to those furry bandits. But this was another nocturnal skulker, and I followed his prints all the way up Jenny’s front stoop, around the left side of her house.

I sent her a picture from my phone and told her about the sighting. Not to be creepy, I texted her along with more photographic evidence of prints on that side of her yard, but you know there was a Pinkerton Detective Agency. She laughed and thanked me; the trapper knows where to go now, following a path that, until now, had been invisible, to their hideout.

I’m glad that in a little time, the skunk family will be safely relocated to a foresty place — like where we used to live — and Jenny and her dog won’t have to fear being sprayed. But I’m also a little sad to see them go. Wild beings living among us remind me that all of this used to belong to them; that we are the real interlopers. I like the idea of all of us being able to live harmoniously together, so I’m surprised at my own willingness to rat them out — so to speak.

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