in which we momentarily leave behind the otherwise crushing worries of the world and the piled-high nail-biters of the day-to-day, and turn instead to contemplations of the wilds of suburbia. most especially the stinky ones….
a tale of one impregnable fortress and how and why it came to be…
he broke ground eight weeks ago, back before the last of the snows fell. he’d come quietly in the night so i took no notice. it was the tree guy who’d ambled into the back yard who first alerted me to his, um, efforts. “got something i need you to see,” the tree guy grumbled in that way that strangers sometimes deliver not-so-good news. then he walked me round the corner of the house, to the skinny walk that shimmies between our house and the next-door fence, and i saw a heap of dirt that someone must have shoveled there. i was confused.
“you’ve got a digger,” the tree guy pointed out. i wondered why someone would’ve tried to pile dirt in a heap beside the house, wondered if it was evidence of someone trying to break in through the underground, or rather to dig up some hidden treasure. (the suburbs, i’ve found, are full of surprises, so hidden treasure wasn’t exactly beyond the realm of possibility. heck, we had an across-the-alley neighbor who bought the losingest team in baseball and wound up winning the world series, so i’ve learned that anything can happen here in this strange neck of the woods.)
turned out, the heap of dirt was the former of my two choices: evidence of someone breaking in. or trying to anyway. but that someone didn’t stand on two legs; rather, it scampered (or waddled, depending on its mood) on all fours. my digger, it would soon be made known to me, was a striped and furry skunk. i wouldn’t have guessed between raccoon, possum, or smelly skunk, but i was informed by my tree guy that skunks are the ones who are decidedly notorious diggers, their front paws and claws as adept as any front-hoe loader.
and, mind you, this four-legged, cloud-spewing specimen was trying to dig not just anywhere but directly below the floorboards of the room in which i sit. RIGHT NOW. and all day every day. and late into some nights.
this room, once an old garage, was long ago tunneled with a coal chute, and the coal chute apparently makes for a cozy curling-up place for a skunk and all its kin. gender at this point remains unknown, so i like to think of him as Mr. Skunk, for if it’s a Ms. she might be looking to outfit this year’s obstetric ward, and i have no interest in being the chambermaid to a litter of smelly babies. no matter how adorable i imagine the little fur balls might be.
thus began the now-months-long escapades that have pitted me against the wiliest of the wilds; so far, the wilds are winning. especially if you measure in nights i lay awake listening for the telltale scritch and scratch. or the dollars spent at the hardware store fetching the latest in my litany of armaments.
i started with coyote urine, a curious place to begin, but i was following instructions of field experts. and when those who are fluent in these things point you to coyote urine, it is coyote urine to which you turn. in ample supply, mind you. i could only wonder how in heaven’s name one goes about collecting coyote urine, but i decided to trust the label and not go too deep in my picturing of that endeavor.
next up was a spotlight, the one i spiked into the ground, in futile hopes that it would chase away the night-prowling interloper. all i did was keep the night bugs awake. and spike my electric bill.
there was ammonia, too, as i was told it worked twice as good as mothballs in out-stinking the stinker. skunks, curiously sensitive to smell, apparently plug their noses and run for the hills when you douse a rag with pure ammonia and stuff it down their would-be entrance ramp.
for a few days it worked. but then the skunk dispatched with my ammonia-sodden rags, the light bulb burned out, and the coyote urine didn’t do a darn thing.
so i called in the Skunk Trapper, a lovely fellow i’ve come to think of as the fearless superhero of our dynamic duo — Skunk Man to my Robin — in this nightly endeavor in sisyphean critter catching. Skunk Man’s actual name is shawn and we text each other every single day, sometimes several times a day, with the latest advances or retreats in skunkdom. if you ever need a skunk trapper, check with me, and i’ll give you shawn’s name and number. he’s the A-1 best at pests here on the north shore of the great lake michigan.
so far, shawn has set not one but two traps. we’ve reinforced the side of the house and all but a narrow opening with cement and bricks (the last thing we’d want to do is permanently seal the coal chute before we were 1,000-percent certain no skunk was left behind, right beneath where i dangle my feet while typing). we’ve pounded in rebar spikes, nailed boards to the have-a-heart trap (we’re releasing him to the best woods around, so fear not, we’ve got this skunk’s best interests at heart here), and wrapped the whole thing in wire mesh and caging. i’ve hauled every heavy object from my garage: sacks of river rocks, sand bags, wire planters, metal buckets, even a 50-pound bag of fertilizer. looks like someone’s junk yard in what was once my soothing secret garden.
my beloved lifelong mate, away for weeks of this adventure (in new jersey attending to his beloved mother), came home the other evening, took one look at my rube goldbergian doings, and pronounced it “The Impregnable Fortress.” i do like the ring of that, makes it sound more upscale. someone else might simply call it “Junk Pile.” i’d not realized before that i’d married the man for his propensity for putting flourish to humble heaps. although he is the architecture critic. i now wear the pronouncement proudly. “may i show you my impregnable fortress?” i ask of any passerby. no wonder i get looks.
but back to the story, cuz it’s extra delicious in what comes next. the other night, shawn pulled out his best effort yet: on his way here to set another trap, he swung by the house, sliced a wedge of his sister’s taco pie, wrapped it in foil, and — voila! — he set the bait. he left a chunk of it on what amounts to the trap’s front stoop, and tucked the rest deep inside, hoping the skunk would slither in and the trap door would click shut behind him.
it worked! well, sort of…
night before last we caught something all right, and all the clanging woke up the next door neighbor who leaned out her bathroom window to ask if we were planning to keep the poor thing in the trap all night. i promised to ping shawn to see if he was in the midst of any midnight run, but alas, we had to wait till dawn. and that’s when brave shawn peeked inside and saw, not the wily skunk, but a big ol’ possum who must have a taste for taco pie. for shawn’s sister’s taco pie, specifically.
and once again this morning, there is digging aplenty but no sign that my impregnable fortress has been impregnated. once we’re 1,000-percent sure that no fur balls are furled inside, we’re hauling out the wheelbarrow and the cement. and that, i hope, will be the end.
and so it goes here in the heart of the heartland, where skunks outsmart the humans on a nightly basis. and where this critterly distraction has turned out to be something of a welcome diversion from the host of other worries piling high and mightily this long, cold spring.
while i cook up yet another ploy in my skunk-chasing escapades, i thought i’d leave you a recipe, should you suddenly find yourself hungry for a slice of taco pie.
if you’ve any leftovers, i am still deep in my efforts to catch that smelly skunk before he sets down impenetrable roots in my old coal chute….but for now, i offer you…
Should-You-Need-to-Catch-a-Skunk Taco Pie.
from the Betty Crocker kitchens…
1 pound lean ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
1 package (1 ounce) taco seasoning mix
1 can (4.5 ounces) chopped green chiles, drained
1 cup milk
1/2 cup Original Bisquick mix
3/4 cup shredded Monterey Jack or Cheddar cheese (3 ounces)
1 Heat oven to 400°F. Grease 9-inch pie plate. Cook ground beef and onion in 10-inch skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until beef is brown; drain. Stir in seasoning mix (dry). Spoon into pie plate; top with chilies.
2 Stir milk, eggs and Bisquick mix until blended. Pour into pie plate.
3 Bake about 25 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake 8 to 10 minutes longer. Cool 5 minutes. Serve with salsa and sour cream.
what tales from the wilds do you have to tell? have you built impregnable fortresses in your life, literally or metaphorically? and if so did it serve its purpose? (a question for contemplation only, especially if a metaphorical fortress…..)
this morning’s meander is dedicated wholly and heartfully to shawn o’hara, my skunk-chasing boss and ally. the best there ever was…….A-1 Pest Control in Highland Park. five-star best.