“Half Vapor; Half Shade”

Charlie and I lived in a house in the woods of Orinda for 18 months. One night while we were watching TV in the early evening we saw through the open French doors, a mother skunk lead a parade of her 4 or 5 babies across our back deck. The babies were exact replicas of their mother and very cute and the smell rose into the house like a thick fog. They were headed for the so-called compost heap up the side of the house between the house and the parking area.
One night we were awakened by a powerful stench that we were convinced was an electrical fire nearby. The smell was so strong it felt like smoke from burning plastic in our lungs. It was nothing like the whiff of skunk from road kills or even the blast from the mother skunk and her babies. We spent an hour trying to find the source of the “fire” before it thinned out enough to resemble the stench we recognized.
After living at that house for a while I learned to be cautious when I walked near the so-called compost heap because it was really a feeding trough for all the garbage eating critters of the neighborhood and more than once the odor of garbage was overwhelmed by the odor of skunk.
One day, as I walked up the path to the parking area I noticed that one of the large green plastic garbage cans was moving mysteriously. It was still upright so I crept up to it to see what was inside. It was a skunk. It was trapped and circling around in the bottom of the empty can trying to find a way out.
I wasn’t sure how to deal with the problem because our landlady, who lived on the premises, had strong, if irrelevant, opinions about many things. I wasn’t sure if she was going to kill it, set it free or make it a pet. Those were all possibilities.
I had to go to work and didn’t want to get collared into one of her projects so I left the skunk and the landlady to make their own minds up.
I got home from work about 6 hours later and as I tromped down the path past the garbage area I noticed that the green can was still wobbling around. I took a careful peek over the rim of the can and saw a very uncomfortable skunk looking up at me. It was a hot day and the can had been in the sun for hours. The skunk looked dehydrated and very unhappy. I felt guilty for leaving it there all day but justified my inaction by saying to myself that I expected the landlady to find it and deal with it before it died in its trap.
So I bet you are waiting for the punch line. You bring up skunks and you introduce suspense. Its like a cheap high; you can have people waiting for the disaster, almost holding their breath waiting for the horrible blast.
I carefully and slowly tipped the can away from myself, expecting the skunk to bolt from the can, joyous in the cool fresh air. Freedom, it would shout as it ran away. Worst case was that it would spray the can or me, as it left.
Nothing happened.
You’re waiting for it, right?
Nothing continued to happen. I slowly crept around the can to peek inside. I looked around the edge of the can. I got closer. I wondered if the skunk was sick and didn’t know that it was free. Maybe it had rabies.
Finally I could see it. Its little nose was dry and cracked. Its eyes were glazed, its black and white fur had a dull haze of garbage all over it and its little pink tongue was rasping away at the bonanza of newly reachable, fetid garbage that coated the interior of the can.
I left it in the can and walked the rest of the way down the hill to my home.
Ain’t nature grand?
I really love to write.