SKUNKIn the brief but precious time that I spent with my eight baby skunks, before handing them off to a fellow rehabber so I could take a short trip to the coast, they showed me a few things. Nature is like that, always showing you things.

The tiny stinkers came to me in two whirlwind days from every part of the county. Some were a little bigger, some very small, some quite robust, some very sick and frail. All of them had black satin eyes and matching moist noses.

In my hands, they felt entirely different from my raccoon cubs, Faith, Frank, and Earnest. While the little coons felt like small gymnasts on too much caffeine, there was a quieter, more grounded quality to the young skunks. I wondered what it must be like to be naturally equipped with such a marvelous defense mechanism. Just hoist your tail, and everyone runs!

My sickly skunks were far easier to medicate than the coons, and all were quicker to bond with me. There was a gentleness to them that instantly touched my heart. And then, there were those precious and curious faces. Too cute. Just too darn cute. I felt very protective of them.

Skunks are the prunes of the mammal world. You know how it is. You mention the word “prune,” and everyone either titters or giggles or rolls their eyes. Prunes—the joke of the fruit world. People often respond the same way about skunks. They are the butt of jokes, and the expression “Peee-yoo”(blurted out with eyes rolling and nostrils clamped shut) was probably created in their honor. No one takes skunks (or prunes) very seriously.

Still, it took me less than 24 hours to realize that a skunk’s universe is complex and paradoxical. They are both gentle and deadly fierce.

One of my biggest challenges with my bundle of skunks was trying to cobble together makeshift families out of the singles, couples, healthy, not-healthy, biggies and bitties of the my small horde. I wanted none of them to be alone. But many of my introductions were less than successful. Some were scary.

A tiny little black and white ball of innocent, fragile skunk kit could turn into a determined murderer when placed with the wrong nest mate. I had not known that about skunks. Unlike raccoons, who live in tribes, skunks grow up to be solitary creatures, and their solitary natures come with them down the birth canal. They need and like their littermates, but can be violent with young strangers.

Fumbling between feeding, medicating, cleaning, wiping, and reassuring my eight confused and traumatized little ones, I was also playing a tense game of skunk mosaic, trying very hard to fit them into compatible clusters of two, three, or four. My hope was two-to-four little tubs filled with differing numbers of little fur balls that would be happy to snuggle together.

This is what a skunk introduction looks like: One unknown skunk appears “out of the sky” into a tub with a skunk or two already there. The residents instantly begin earnest butt sniffing of the newcomer (I’m thinking, sheesh, they all smell like skunk to me…). If all goes REALLY well, everyone in the tub will hoist their tails while running around in circles growling and muttering to themselves and each other. There will be much front foot stomping. With continued growling, they will settle into a large ball of skunk and go to sleep.

Trouble can enter the picture if the newcomer (or two) from out of the sky does not pass the sniff test, is noticeably smaller than the current tub residents, is weaker or more timid, or is a Rambo out to take over the tub. In this case, the skunks will go at each other with teeth (even just-breaking-the-surface-of-the-gum teeth), and latch on to the “offensive” skunk by the head and neck. They will not willingly let go. The aggressor skunk gets a faraway, shark-like look in her tiny black eyes. The victim often goes into a trance-like slump and just gives up.

If you do not separate them, the weaker skunk will be killed and often eaten.

To watch them nuzzle joyfully in their birth litters, and to see them become instant killer ninja skunks to outsiders was a sobering and thought provoking experience. One of my skunks, Pavarotti the Loud One, was not welcome in any group. Everyone wanted him flattened and gone. And if any of those skunks needed some companionship, it was he.

He came in alone, and had evidently been alone for a couple of days. He wanted nothing more than to dive into a skunk pile and find comfort, warmth, and welcome. Five skunks rebuffed him. Against my better judgment, I finally put him into a very small nest with Beauty, my tiny sick female. Finally, Pavarotti had found someone who was too weak and dazed to notice him, and he curled up next to her in relief and exhaustion.

The next day Beauty was on the mend—perhaps with Pavarotti’s nurture—and I tried to put a new lonely arrival in with them.  Baby skunks don’t play fair. Pavarotti, whom no one had wanted, attacked the newcomer brutally. Fortunately, the newcomer—a female with the longest, most straggly fur—found solace with Cleopatra the Gorgeous.

Three days later, I listened while my brother joked about my email signature, “Nature’s Peace.”

“Nature’s PEACE?” he snorted. “There IS no peace in nature. The big ones win, the small ones lose. That’s how nature is. It’s a bloody mess!”

I thought about Pavarotti. I thought about his sharp, tiny teeth gripping the scalp of my newest lost one, and about his entranced, shark-like eyes. I thought about the ferocity of my skunk babies, each one destined to a singular life in a forest filled with owls, coyotes, and foxes. Each one at the mercy of speeding cars, traps, poisons. And it occurred to me that my brother was right. Life—as designed by nature—is a gift that you have to fight to keep. With rare, rare exception, living does not come easy to most human beings or to any animals save the most pampered. Nature thins out, weeds out, hones, sharpens, and puts limits to things. The process can look brutal sometimes.

But I thought, too, of Pavarotti’s capers with Beauty. I remembered the look of them dancing and bouncing like delighted kittens. I remember the growls of Cleopatra as she flounced her tail and stamped her feet at her new nest mate, before curling up with her in a tight, contented ball. I remembered how light shone in the skunks’ eyes like sun on rippling water, and how gentle and trusting the skunks were in my hands. And cute. Just too cute.

Sometimes, I find a certain kind of peace in the ferocity of life and living. I find a certain comfort in the mysterious balancing act of nature with its birth blood and death blood. There is a holy order to nature, even though sometimes that order is created by less than dainty means. There is something about nature that is right and good. And it is okay with me—in this moment—to live in acceptance of this total paradox: Nature is a fierce and peaceful mystery.

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8 Responses to NATURE’S PEACE

  1. D.B. says:

    This is the best of your observations, your gifts I’ve read! You’re “telling” is a beautiful capture of life, written without fear or accusation, just the truthfulness of one another…

    As it goes; your words are a comforting guide to the journey all life’s participants take. We all have our ways, our methods and our intentions. All good and all part of the balance. BUT, when someone has the desire to press the edge and allow another (s) to succeed, well WHAT A GIFT, WHAT A BIG AMAZING GIFT TO SHARE!!!

    Big hugs to you Miss Susan! Imagining how your spirit must feel…soaring!!!

    D.B. (Denise, up North!)

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Gee, Denise, thank you so much. This post has brought silence from my readers, and I was wondering what about it made everything at the blog go quiet. You remind me that we all have our own unique reactions to EVERYTHING, and I’m glad this writing touched you where it did!

  2. D.B. says:

    May I toss out the idea that the silence might mean that they (we) are hearing you and earnestly thinking about and connecting to your message?!

    This was a really good one Susan, powerful in its message to remind us that each are different but “whole” unto one another for the big picture.

    YOU NAILED IT!!! 🙂

    This writing will be my new “go-to” for balance and encouragement.

    Big Hugs!
    D.B.(the Northern gal).

    Hey! Cindy where are you?! This one is so you! 🙂 xoxo

  3. Cindy says:

    “Nature is a fierce and peaceful mystery”. Simply and beautifully said, Susan. I’m right there with you gal! I was away with my hubby for our anniversary. When I got back last night I read your new post and knew I would respond the next day, and here we are!

    You write the blunt, honest truth and I love that about you. Nature is messy, confusing, heartbreaking and utterly captivating. My greatest lessons are from animals, my absolute greatest lessons. Speaking of heartbreaking……last week in the middle of the night I heard a raccoon being killed. My heart doubled over and fell out of my chest. I was frantic to find out what had happened. Was it the momma skunk that placed her babies in our fireplace? Was it a female, was it her mate? Flashlight in hand and stumbling though the back yard and into the neighbor’s property I discovered the truth. My “neighbor” (sorry, I am thinking the most uncharitable thoughts about this human (?) being right now), had trapped this raccoon and bludgeoned her to death. Yes, it was the momma raccoon who I heard suckling her babies through our fireplace mantel. How did I know? It was her markings, she had a white streak on her back that was out of the ordinary. It was her. After a heated “conversation” with this neighbor I was allowed to take her and bury her in my back yard. At three in the morning, under silver moonlight, I burnt sage and encircled her body with it’s sacred smoke.

    I will never understand the crap people pull. I will never understand human brutality. Never. But I do know that my momma raccoon is free now. My neighbor’s spirit is not.

    Keep writing your fierce and honest observations Susan, you nourish our souls and bolster our spirits. Blessings….


    • Susan McElroy says:

      Wow, what a sad and brutal end to your mother raccoon. I’m so sorry, Cindy. What did the neighbor say when you talked to him? You know, I am now having raccoons and squirrels and ‘possums visit the yard for the first time in my adult life, and I’m very thrilled about it. I’ve heard many say these animals are nuisances, and I’m keeping an open mind and wondering what the nuisance might be? Do they eat your house siding? Rip up your roof tiles? Nibble your power lines? I’m not being a smart-arse here, I really don’t have much experience with wildlife being nuisances. I know they get into trash, but mine’s all in the garage. Also, the deer around here are hard on gardens. So, you folks in the know—tell me some nuisance stories!

  4. Cindy says:

    Hi Susan and everyone…

    First I need to clarify something. I wrote “skunk” when I meant raccoon! Having just read Susan’s post about the baby skunks I had them on my mind!

    The neighbor that killed momma raccoon was a woman! I had assumed it was a man also. Hmmm…a little stereotyping on my part? We assume the brutality of mankind to be carried out by…man? Anyway, by the light of my flashlight I illuminated an approximately 60 year old woman standing on her back porch. As I approached she told me she had a gun and would use it to protect herself if need be. I said, “You don’t want to shoot me, I’m your neighbor”. I gingerly asked her if she heard an animal in “distress”, she said, “Yeah, I just kilt me a coon”. She had caught the momma in a baited cage and then killed her with a shoval. As my tears flowed I told her I may of known that raccoon. She said they’re “good fer nothin, they’ll eat right through yer house and kill ya in yer sleep”! I asked her if I could see the raccoon, so she led me to the cage and I saw it was momma raccoon for sure. I remember saying things like, “how can you kill an innocent animal”, and that if she had wanted it removed there were people who could have come and removed it from her property and released it elsewhere. She got very antagonistic with me, told me I was a “tree hugger”, and that she hated tree huggers, she said I was “probably a witch of some sort”. I told her she broke my heart by killing this raccoon and that I wanted to take it off her hands now. When she told me “no”, I got really angry and told her I was going to take this raccoon home or I was going to call the police and see if her gun was registered or not. With that she relented and told me I had 60 seconds to get off her property….”coon and all”. I scooped up momma and headed home, feeling the heaviness of ignorance and hate on my back. I was a sight when I got back on my property, my husband was calling out to me and asking if I was alright. I called back to him to not get scared when he saw me, for as I came through the brush I must have looked like I had been terribly hurt mysef, I was a mess, bloody, and my face streaked with hot tears. He was so helpful and gentle, he dug the hole and after I blessed her body I buried her. I couldn’t sleep the rest of the night. I felt so horrible that hate and ignorance lived so close to me. I’m just now over the experience, and I would have written about it sooner, but I needed to digest what happened and find my center again first.

    As always Susan your posts are timely. Now was the time to share this story with you all. Thank you for letting me write about it. Life is not all sunflowers and baby animals, but I thank Goddess I was in the right place at the right time, if only to restore dignity to this raccoon in the end.

    Here’s a happy PS….Over the weekend with my husband, as part of our anniversary away in the country, I got to bottle feed two baby goats, Dolly and Molly. Oh my, I’m in love! A couple of baby goats are in my future, I just know it! The circle of life….

    Bless the creatures, and bless the ignorant for they know not what they do…..

  5. carter says:

    I wonder about the destiny of a Pavarotti who none of his kind but the sick or dieing will accept. Was he found alone for a reason?

  6. Kerry says:

    Cindy, I’ve just been reading the comments and your story has had me sitting here with tears running down my cheeks. Humans ignorance and disconnect with nature is painful. I’m sorry you’ve had such a horrible experience. Thank you for caring for her, and bless your husband for treating you tenderly.

    Susan, yes, your story was very powerful and almost uncomfortable to read as the skunk dynamic so closely mirrors less noble human behaviours. Reminds me of high school! I found the story sad and beautiful. Does that make sense?

    Thanks for the update on your rehab plans. I’ve been sitting here selfishly hoping you continue. I want the victories and the stories and the wisdom! Perhaps it will lead me to a similar path some day. My heart tugs with every posting.

    I leave tomorrow on a wilderness road trip crossing the Arctic Circle to Inuvik, NWT, near the top o’ the world, for the Great Northern Arts Festival. Then flying a little further north to the remote Inuvialuit settlement of Tuktoyaktuk for a toe dip in the Arctic Ocean. Tee hee! I’ve packed All My Relations for some good campfire reading in the midnight sun. See you in two weeks….

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