Friday, July 12, 2013

Charlie

Photo from frecklewonder via Google Search. Website doesn't work anymore, but I credit anyway.

Skunks in the Upstate clearly do not want to live.

I say this because at this point I can no longer count in any meaningful way how many of them I drive past or around on the highway on my way to work in the morning. That awful stink of theirs fills the air, not as a warning but as a goodbye; you don't get it until you've gotten just past the body and it follows you for far longer than it has any right to.

Oh, sure, roadkill is an equal-opportunity tragedy for small animals anywhere at all, but the skunks seem to have mastered the art of finding the wheel of a truck or the bumper of a little four-door sedan.

Do I see opossums here and there, the occasional groundhog or even someone's cat or dog whose life has been cut short? Sure. I've even seen a few deer, that constant menace in the fall evenings.

But I don't see any of them in such great numbers as I do the skunks.

Maybe they finally realize how bad they smell and could take it no longer.

Maybe it's the heat and the humidity, the sun shining too hard on their black fur, driving them mad.

Maybe it's just that there are a whole lot of skunks in the Upstate and this building pile of little black-and-white roadkill is hardly a speck compared to the number of them lumbering just out of sight behind the trees, snorting at their foolish brothers and sisters, keeping to themselves.

When I was in college, there was a bit of a pet skunk on campus. I can't even say whether or not that many people knew about him, only that it seemed like everyone I saw was completely unsurprised by his presence.

He came and went, minding his own business, hardly threatened by the students who were always late to class, moving too fast to pay him much attention.

 He lived on their litter; I would see him more than once gently working the wrapping off somebody's left-behind fast-food until he could get to the delicious half-eaten hamburger bun underneath.

We called him Charlie.

Well, I called him Charlie, and so did most of the people I pointed him out to. So that's got to count for something, and it's as good a place to gain a name as any.

I would see him come crawling out of storm drains at dusk, or notice him napping in the bushes behind our legendarily confusing English building. Once, late at night, I saw him walking down the same sidewalk I was at 9:45 at night, about fifty feet ahead of me, ambling like any gentlemen enjoying a bit of a fresh air.

Though I had a soft spot for Charlie, I am not a stupid woman; I gave him a wide berth, rather than take the chance of surprising him too close for safety.

I am not a fan of skunks, even if I was a fan of Charlie's. I wonder what happened to him after I graduated with a vague sort of wistfulness; in college, the squirrels and chipmunks are all half-tame from the attentions of surprisingly gentle co-eds who feed them bread and almonds and pumpkin seeds, leaving them in little piles for the critters to pick up on their way to the nearest tree. Administrators and professors will rail against the unnatural treatment and the dangers of over-domestication, but I saw more than one of those same professors leaving out a walnut or two when they thought nobody was looking.

When I go for a walk at Furman University I'm reminded of this, as the ducks crowd close to me, hoping I am as gullible as the students they charm with their ducklings, the older folks who come with bags of stale bread. My dog scares them off, but even then they keep an eye on me, just in case it turns out I was holding food for them all along.

I liked that we had Charlie and not just cute chipmunks and ducks, clucking little squirrels and geese.

We had one of those least-liked animals, lumbering and quiet, who went his own way He had looked at us and declared us mostly harmless, even if we were students at a once-upon-a-time party school, most of us still charmlessly hungover on our way to class on Mondays.

I "accidentally" dropped a bit of my Starbucks scone more than once, stopping at a safe distance to watch him walk up to it, look at me, gobble it up and then wander on.

Don't get me wrong, guys; I don't mourn those roadkill-skunks. They went into the road, they made their choice. Also I wouldn't feed a skunk today, no matter how tame it looked, because I have a dog and dogs and skunks are drawn to each other like smelly magnets.

I also like to think I've gained enough common sense to know that you shouldn't feed a skunk because it's a wild animal, but... well, you've met me, right?

The roadkill skunks just make me think of Charlie, and I know that even if he were a Southern skunk down here right off the highway, foraging in the woods, you'd never have seen him out in the road.

The kind of skunk that figures out how to use co-ed lack of common sense to make a daily banquet for himself just by making cute faces is not the kind of skunk that ends up as a lump on the side of the road.

That is the kind of skunk who is going to live.






P.S. I only just learned, while looking up a photo for this post, that whenever you read someone talking about a polecat in very old American fiction, they're talking about skunks. I DID NOT KNOW THOSE WERE THE SAME THING.

Mind = blown.

I guess this ruins my sort of poignant moment I had going there, but I don't even care.

POLECATS.

2 comments:

  1. The Polecats sounds like an 80's rockabilly revival band.

    We have a ton of skunks in our neighborhood, and I'm no fan of the smell but I can't deny that the way they seem to hop as they walk is criminally adorable.

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  2. Yeah, if we could just have skunks evolve into not having that smell anymore I feel like they would be INCREDIBLY popular pets.

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