Douglas McIntire

Douglas McIntire

Late spring is the time, the reason and the season for skunks to make whoopee. That’s why smelling them for the past month now has been so strange. A stripped kitty here, assaulted olfactories there — winter was pretty weak and they took notice.

It’s funny, really, how skunks can smell when they’re a block away or when you’ve artfully straddled your SUV over an inanimate one on the Durham Road or even when your black lab thought for sure he’d found his soulmate in the backyard. That’s the smell we all know — the lingering, pungent shock and awe of Mother Nature’s nerve gas. That smell, however, has nothing to do with the horror of getting hit by a shot from Mr. LePew’s posterior cannon point blank to the face.

It was the summer of 1983 and I was 13. My friend Andy and I used to walk along the railroad tracks a lot. Since he lived on Hennessy Drive it was a natural conduit between our favorite haunts at Tess’ Market and Uncle Tom’s Market — markets were big with us, apparently.

One particular afternoon, we were walking along said tracks when we saw a big mama skunk and four skunklets crossing the tracks toward Pleasant Street. Two of them stopped, noticed the strange bipeds, and broke off from the group to investigate. It was fun and if a guy were permitted in 1983 to use such a word, I would have dared say “cute.” They came within about 20 feet of us before remembering they were on a family outing and turned only to find mom and their siblings went on without them. They walked aimlessly in circles, while Andy and I waited to see if mom would return — she didn’t. It was time for us to make a decision.

“They’re going to die all by themselves,” said the pubescent wildlife expert deep inside of me.

Andy questioned the obvious dangers of rounding up two baby skunks. He may have also droned on something about rabies and transporting said skunks — I don’t know. I really wasn’t paying attention. Before we knew it, I was convincing Andy how I heard that baby skunks hadn’t developed their scent glands yet — or maybe it was that they couldn’t control how much biological mace they let go in one dose.

With our shirts as wildlife nets, we flanked the little buggers and dove on them. I, for one, landed with my shirt over the head and back of my target, posterior looking me right in the face, when suddenly, I couldn’t see. My eyes were burning — the glands in the back of my mouth began spasming and my nose instantly began to run. Judging by his sounds, Andy was roughly the same condition.

“There, it’s out of them,” I said, choking.

A second time, Andy took my bad advice and we rushed our targets again with the same results.

The last I saw Andy that day, his mother wouldn’t let him in the house. He was confined to a blowup kiddie pool in the yard.

As for me, I luckily made it home without offending other pedestrians, though I’m sure people could smell me through their windows and doors — a horrible skunk demon passing through town. I disrobed in the bathroom, throwing all my clothes out the window. I showered with Comet cleanser and a fingernail brush. My leather Nikes I asked for months before my mother broke down and bought them, were never the same. Peanut butter, tomato juice — there was no remedy for removing skunk from cow hide. They sat in storage another year before I gave up and tossed them.

So, if you see a wayward skunk in your yard this spring, take a little advice from your old Uncle Doug — back away from the kitty.


Douglas McIntire is a staff writer and amateur wildlife biologist at The Times Record. He can be reached at [email protected]

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