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Possumhaw: Something stinks in the Prairie


Shannon Bardwell



"Take a whiff on me, that ain't no rose, roll up your window and hold your nose. You don't have to look and you don't have to see 'cause you can feel it in your olfactory." 


Loudon Wainwright III, "Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road" 




The Prairie is home to a multitude of critters. Some we embrace, some we tolerate, and some, well, are simply intolerable. Sam and I both were awakened about 4 a.m. to the most awful and intensely strong odor wafting through the bedroom. It was instantly familiar. 


"Skunk," Sam said. I pulled the covers over my head, for all the help it was. "It has to be under the house."  


"Keep the cats in," I said. "Until we figure something out." 


I've trapped three skunks unintentionally -- out in the field, down by the lake and next to the garden. On the first one we read you could throw a sheet over the skunk and relocate the fellow. The website said if the skunk couldn't see you it wouldn't spray. We tried it, and it did not work. The skunk sprayed anyway. We took the skunk with the sheet to the far side of the field and hoped the smell dissipated in time. 


Later, I figured another way. I left the skunk alone for about two days. I returned to the trapped skunk and made sure he was facing me while I gingerly lifted the door and propped a brick under it. I backed away and left him be. By the next morning, the skunk was gone.  


Since skunks were no trouble to us, we released them, but now, apparently, they were under the house. Somebody was going to have to move. 


The Havahart website described skunks as opportunistic and extremely adaptable. Skunks cover most of North America, with the most common being the striped skunk. They range in size from 20 to 30 inches and weigh between 6 and 10 pounds. They have one to seven kits. A group of skunks is called a surfeit. The skunk's forefeet are strong, and they have long claws for digging. Skunks have about a 2-mile range and will settle near a water source -- the lakes. 


Dens are found in hollow trees and logs, brush piles and abandoned animal burrows. They also choose to live under porches and structures. While we provide all of these options, they chose under the sunroom.  


Skunks are nocturnal and mostly solitary, but during cold temperatures they will gather in communal dens. If a skunk feels threatened or dislikes another skunk, they may spray a "powerful smell." That smell was wafting into the house and upstairs to the bedroom. 


Out came three traps baited with cat food and apple slices. Sam tied a long string to each trap to pull the trap away from the house and into the woods. The next morning, I couldn't wait to check the traps, and there he was. "Wow, Sam, what luck."  


The next night Sam set traps again just in case. The following morning, Sam announced, "Well, I must be the luckiest guy ever." 


There in the trap sat the skunk, and coiled beside him was the long string.


Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.


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