Skunks seem to be very much out and about recently and right now I am referring to the furry ones. Once it’s dark, they love to eat any remaining food of the outdoor cats. And as you likely know, skunks of any form are generally best left along, but the other night I couldn’t help but get involved.
The dogs were putting up the kind of fuss they do when there is a cat fight (mainly between Tommy and Mr. Tom) and so I went out the side door to investigate. Coming from the front of the house was a noise I’d never heard before, something shrill and almost birdlike. The frigid air (O.K. a little nervousness as well) took me back inside where I could peer out the front door. And there on the porch, along with small piles of dry food and cans of “Sea Captain’s Choice”, now empty and frozen solid to the floor, were two skunks going at it, tooth and claw. I grabbed a spray bottle of water which happened to be handy (a tool used to attempt restoration of Rose’s limp curls), stuck my arm out the door, and commenced to spray the two wrestling creatures. Although they seemed not to mind the wetness at all, which Helen kept pointing out, I continued anyway, my arm advancing dangerously farther and farther out. At some point, Helen found my continued attempts in the face of obvious failure more irritating than funny and ran to get a broom, which she handed to me (yet another job intended for mothers, I guess). With my hand yet even farther out, I banged the handle next to the skunks, who finally separated. The one who seemed to be losing the battle casually wandered off, as though he’d just been shooting the breeze with a friend, while Mr. Winner went back to eating. I banged again until he scurried off, leaving the bystander cats, who had taken quite an interest in the whole affair, to also wander off.
I knew that one or both skunks would be back at some point, but that was O.K. After all, if it’s cold enough for the cans to freeze to the porch floor, than it must be pretty miserable to be hungry as well. My empathy for anything feeling the bitter weather increased the first winter I lived in the country, when we had “The Big Ice Storm of ‘07”. We had no heat or water for over a week and I stayed most of the time here, taking care of the animals, while Wayne took the girls. At first it seemed like an adventure and there was even a photo in the Manhattan Mercury of Rose and Helen roasting marshmallows over Wayne’s wood burning stove, using the light from a cell phone to see. But it was less fun as the days wore on and I felt a deep cold that wouldn’t go away, along with an increasing weariness (not to mention flu and bronchitis). Most friends in town got power back sooner and asked if I wanted to use their washing machines, not realizing that I had been too cold and tired to change my clothes more than once the whole time.
Eventually, as my house sunk to 38 degrees, I found a store that had generators and two days later, power was restored. Soon after that, I got an email asking for money to buy blankets for the orphanages in China, a place also suffering from a harsher than normal winter. Sitting in front of my computer, I didn’t just feel sympathy, I felt those children’s cold in a way I couldn’t have before the ice storm. It goes to show that our power of imagination can only go so far, and then it takes experience to begin to understand. So here I am, feeding whatever comes along during these frigid days and nights.
The morning after the skunk fight, I went out to find one can dented and full of teeth marks, likely demolished by one of the skunks, searching for the last bit of nourishment. Even though it was still so cold that the cat’s diluted milk solidified in the bowl shortly after I put it out, the sun was shining and I noticed how the scattered cat cans glistened. And that brought back another memory of the ice storm. It was on day five and I was upstairs checking that the bathroom pipes weren’t frozen when I looked out the window.
At eye level
tree branches broken from the ice storm
hanging by shreds of bark
turned inside out
now overdue to leave
and in the voice
of a million tiny suns
to our prairie
December 18, 2007
The cold is long overdue to leave. But in the meantime, while you are feeding hungry creatures, notice how those signs of perseverance glisten in the sun.