It happened again. I woke with a start early on a cold Saturday morning. My head was under the blanket, and I had tears in my eyes.
No, it wasn’t a nightmare. The Skunk was back. Even though we’ve moved, it has followed us.
Being clobbered with an acrid stench that permeates solid walls and closed doors is a tough way to wake up.
I stacked my robe and two pillows on top of the blanket on my head. It didn’t help. Not only could I still smell the skunk, I couldn’t breathe.
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I squinted at the clock. It was 4 a.m.
I staggered to the other end of the house, trying in vain to escape the malevolent aromatherapy. I lurched into the bathroom for some Vick’s Vapo-Rub. Sometimes, coating my nostrils with the strong salve helps mask eau du Skunk.
It didn’t work this time. Skunk had launched a particularly virulent version of olfactory paintball, apparently right under my window.
Resigned, I got up and put on a heavy robe and slippers, because turning on the furnace would only make the nasty odor seem stronger.
I yearned for revenge. But my retaliatory arsenal is limited to poisoning, trapping or shooting the little beasties. I have a mental block against harming living creatures, no matter how noxious. Trapping carries its own obvious hazard: You have to get way too close to a skunk.
For instance, many longtime residents recall when a deputy came to Cambria to trap a skunk that was visiting people’s porches in the daytime, whether or not the people were there. That unusual behavior heralded a possibly ill or rabid skunk.
So the enforcer arrived, found the critter, took aim with a tranquilizer gun and shot. Unfortunately for the lawman, so did the skunk.
For years afterward, the man’s nickname was “Deputy Le Pew.”
If, by some miracle, you’ve missed out on Skunk’s nasal assault, essence of skunk smells like a blend of burning rubber, rotten crab, industrial flatulence and the inevitable result of giving a 7-year-old boy a chemistry set for Christmas.
Catch a whiff of skunk spray, and you’ll be miserable. Get a strong dose, and you’re apt to be nauseated and retching. Get it in your eyes, and it’s like being hit with tear gas.
Those with previous skunk experience who spot road-kill with a white stripe drive by as quickly as the law allows. Concurrently, they fling the auto air-conditioner control to the “flash-freeze-and-recirculate” setting, even if it’s 32 degrees outside.
I sought advice from experts. U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Randy Parker, who fields a lot of skunk complaints, said, “Rain drives them out of where they might be hiding under houses, under sheds or decks, sometimes inside houses.”
I asked if I was doing anything to make the situation worse.
“If I could draw a cartoon of how to attract skunks,” Parker said, “it would be of an unenclosed deck with a dish of cat food on top. That’s a perfect ‘house’ for them.”
William Wood, professor in the Humboldt State University department of chemistry, specializes in the science of how plants and animals use chemicals to convey messages.
“Skunks will only spray if they are surprised or feel threatened,” he said in an e-mail interview. “They have only a limited amount of the chemical, and they are defenseless when it is gone. They are ‘nature’s pacifists.’ They will retreat rather than fight and will only defend themselves if cornered.”
On Wood’s Web site, http://users.humboldt.edu/wfwood/skunkspray.shtml, he offers skunk lore and suggestions for how to coexist with, trap and relocate the critters, including in the latter case, “leave your dog at home for this ride.”
Wood says tomato juice really doesn’t neutralize the stench, contrary to urban legend. He offers other possible solutions, such as bleach (don’t try this on Fido, however).
He suggests using light as a deterrent after the skunks have left for the night. Wood says light repels them when they return before dawn for their daily naptime, and they may seek another bedroom.
On that chilly, stinky Saturday morning, the tear-jerking chemicals gradually faded from the air but, unfortunately, not from my nose. I’m not sure why, but the malady lingers on.
I waited in vain for Dr. Wood’s promised “olfactory fatigue,” when I would supposedly not detect eau du Skunk any more.
Finally I resorted to my secret weapon. I turned on the oven and began making some pleasantly aromatic cinnamon rolls.
Take that, you Skunk.
This column ran first in The Cambrian on Feb. 3, 2005.