The other day I was gazing at our painting of a herd of skunks by our friend Noel Linder. They are five in all, traipsing across a lawn single file. Despite their stinky reputation, skunks are kind of cute — until you annoy them. They may then spray you with a strong irritant from a gland under their tail. It’s an oily stuff made up of thiols, the same stuff the gas company puts in natural gas to make it smell.
It’s also an eye irritant that has been compared to tear gas. A lot of dogs know about this.
But let’s not be too tough on skunks. They usually spray as a last resort and would rather retreat than squirt. They’ll hiss, growl and click their teeth, stamp their feet and raise their tails before resorting to squirting.
Because they don’t usually feel threatened by other skunks, they seldom spray each other. The exception is when a male pesters a female a little too much. She may spray him just to get rid of him.
Every man should be happy that female humans have no such weapons.
I haven’t smelled skunk emissions often except when one ventures onto the highway at the wrong time and becomes smelly roadkill.
But I can recall it vividly from my childhood.
My uncle Elmer, just 12 years older than I, lived with his twin sister Ellen in my grandparents’ oil field lease house southwest of Teterville. That’s about 15 miles east of Cassoday, deep in the Flint Hills of Greenwood County.
It was in the 1930s, the early days of the Great Depression. Elmer, a teenager at the time, had two sources of income: playing his fiddle at country dances, and trapping small animals and sellling their hides in Eureka, about 30 miles away.
Skunk pelts were in demand and brought good money for the time, so Elmer went after them. And one day he found a den with some little ones in it. My grandmother was watching. Always the prankster, Elmer took one baby skunk out, tied a string loosely around its neck and handed it to my grandmother. He knew that if she left enough slack in the line, the little guy would likely be in a position to spray her.
So, she walked around for at least a half hour berating her son and keeping the little skunk’s tail pointed away from her to avoid getting sprayed.
Elmer had to wait a long time for his dinner that day. The little skunk was untied and put back in the den, no worse for the long walk. Nevertheless, it bid us goodbye with a defiant squirt.
Contact Ted at Tblankenship218@gmail.com.