June 13, 02
Last week our neighbors were out walking and watched as my favorite quarter horse, Clyde, approached a skunk traveling across the pasture. My horse had his head down, ears perked, and was all innocent curiosity. Then the air around Clyde's face turned blue. He got it square between the eyes. That sent him prancing and bucking with his lips curled back in what they call the flehming response. The neighbors had a good chuckle, but I was none to pleased when I went to mess with him.
We had known for a while that a skunk had taken up quarters under our chicken coop, but live and let live. Right? Then we noticed that one of our geese had lost its eggs in the night. Then the weather turned warm, and my wife started gagging every time she opened the chicken coop door.
OK. It was high time to get rid of the skunks (and for me to make up for some recent acts that my wife had quite arbitrarily deemed as mistakes in judgement on my part). I would catch that skunk and absolve my good name. So I got out the live trap and stuffed some bread in it and set it outside the chicken coop Monday night.
Tuesday morning came and all I could think of was returning to the joys of writing clinical and scientific papers, so I blissfully left home for my office early without giving the trap another thought.
It didn't take long for the phone call to come. My wife discovered that I had successfully trapped the skunk, but far from being pleased, she wanted me to drop what I was doing and come get rid of it. I guess I hadn't thought about that part.
So I asked around the office, and was told that others had tried shooting skunks in live traps, but that didn't stop the skunks from signing their last testaments in their death throes. They said the best thing to do was to throw the trap in the river and drown the critter before taking it out. They didn't say how you were supposed to get close to the trap and get it to the river before the skunk took notice of your presence.
Well, I considered the drowning option, but my daughter in Montanas had just called me that weekend and related to me her story of nearly drowning when her kayak flipped on a squirrely, elevated eddy line in a flooded whitewater gorge in Montana. She had been literally sucked out of her boat and down into "the green room" where there isn't much light. After swimming and swimming, she still couldn't find the surface. She is also a scuba diver, and was trained to hold her breath for long periods in ememrgency situations. She had nearly passed the point of choking back her violent urge to ghasp when she finally broke the surface, got to the rock face of the gorge wall, and scratched herself up to a firm handhold to wait for a rescue. That was too close for comfort, and having been a whitewater boater myself, I could relate all too closely with her experience.
Could I put a poor skunk through the drowning experience? Naw. There must be another way.
By the time I got home, a couple of guys building fence for us had tried to throw a blanket over the trap, and in so doing, gave cause for everyone in the valley to close their windows and light some candles. That was the extent of their attempts. So now I faced a pungent trap half covered with a blanket.
Think. Think. Think.
Then I got it. I went to the barn and got out my old faithful can of tractor engine ether spray starting fluid. I slowly approached the trap and pulled the blanket over the entire thing, lifted a corner and emptied half the can. Then I waited. Then I peeked. The polecat was wide-eyed and looking at me, so I sprayed again and waited. There came a point that I thought that it was surely knocked out or overdosed, at which time I gently, but gingerly, picked up the trap, still covered, and moved it to the truck. I found a spot in some remote woods and slowly lifted the edge of the blanket enough to open the trap door. Well, out he came and "high tailed" it out of there. Unfortunately I was standing in the jet stream. Which brings me to the Recipe of the Week:
Go to th cupboard and find that you have no tomato juice (which never worked in the past anyway).
Then remember your college chemistry. Alkaline hydrogen peroxide (30% water, 6 M NaOH) is used to scrub hydrogen sulfide from waste gas streams in the laboratory, and it also works well for destroying excess thiols in dilute aqueous solutions. Skunk spray is composed mainly of low molecular weight thiols, so try a version of the alkaline hydrogen peroxide reagent:
1 qt 3% hydrogen peroxide
1/4 cup baking soda
1 tsp liquid soap
Use it for a sponge bath; rinse with tap water; and VOILA!
It actually works.
So much for Papa Skunk. Now for the Mama and her babies. Now that she has sen how it is done, I'm trusting that my wife will take care of them while I'm working. I just hope that she goes out and buys some more hydrogen peroxide before she attempts it. (Which reminds me. I left what was left in the jar on the rim of the bathtub. I hope she doesn't think it's shampoo. Oh well. I always wondered what it would be like to be married to a bleached blond).
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