Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Skunk Chronicles

Every dog I've ever had learned about skunks the hard way -- and in its own time. Dinah, the current young one, reached her time a few nights ago. She's the black dog on the right, below.


I hadn't been asleep long when the brouhaha began the first night. I awakened to the faint, but distinctive smell of skunk seeping into the house. I considered whether I might just be dreaming and rolled over, adjusted my pillow, and breathed shallowly, just in case. Then the barking began. I lay quietly, listening as I often do to the individual voices of the three farmcollies on duty outside that night. I heard Ralphie out front, say a low word or two on the subject. Bebe, who's looking unhappy on the left in the picture, was at the side of the house, and she didn't have a lot to say. The pup, however, couldn't shut up.

I listened a moment longer and surmised that the pup, Dinah, had the skunk cornered out behind the barn. She sounded proud and was barking ‘tree’ (aka 'got it') so well – and this from a pup that’s been naturally inclined to silence. (The other dogs had spent months to teach her to bark an alarm.) After a while, I decided it might be wise to verify my deductions. So I hauled myself out of bed, grabbed a flashlight, and headed for the back door.

Bebe joined me on the back porch. Clearly she had no intention of joining the skunk party. Blue, the Aussie, wouldn’t come out of the house, and Ralphie stayed well away on the opposite side of the building. Every so often the older dogs would give a low-keyed bark. I’m not sure if they were encouraging from a safe distance or telling the pup to knock it off and stop being an idiot. And there was that smell --- you know which, the smell that means a skunk’s around but hasn’t squirted yet. I figured that this was one party that had to run its course. Dinah would learn her lesson, and then she’d know to hang back unless there was a really good reason to tangle.

Apparently she learned. The next morning, I first thought she hadn't taken a direct hit of skunk spray because the smell didn't seem that strong. A few minutes later, my eyes were watering, my previously clogged sinuses were pretty well cleared out from the fumes and – wow, the pup definitely took a direct hit on the hindquarters. Oh my.

After a few days, during which there was much rolling and rubbing in the leaves, the smell faded. Then it happened again. Last night, after all the lights were out, the stink seeped into the house again, and I knew the skunk was passing through, on its way to trouble. A moment later, the pup sounded off in a distinctive bark I now recognize as her skunk alert. I rolled over, adjusted my pillow, and went back to sleep, knowing the dogs were on the job and would deter the skunk from any serious mischief in the barn -- and that the pup would get another lesson in skunk management.

She did. And this time she took a direct hit to the face.

To reward her bravery in battle, I hold my breath, rub her snout and forehead, and tell her what a good dog she is. Then I wash my hands. A lot. With good Lemon-scented dishsoap. And rinse with vinegar. Then wash again with the dishsoap. And repeat until the stench is gone. If it were summer, I'd give her a bath with my favorite deskunking formula, but it'd take too long to dry her. Besides, she'll probably just tangle with the skunk again - maybe even tonight. This time of year, skunks are oddly persistent.

According to the Missouri Department of Conservation's website, skunks aren't true hibernating animals. They hang out in their dens and sleep a lot in winter, but they still have to eat. They forage at night, in fields, woods . . . and barns. Sigh.


Monday, January 07, 2008

Winter again

January 3 overnight low - 14 degrees.
January 5 high - 71 degrees
January 6 high - 73 degrees
January 7 high - 71 degrees

Cover the greenhouse beds, uncover the greenhouse beds, yada yada yada. We had moderate damage to the mature lettuce on that 14-degree night. The low temperature reading under the floating row covers was 21 degrees. The baby lettuce is fine, and the inner, growing hearts of the mature lettuce survived, so hopefully it'll revive (and likely be frozen again.) The spinach, snow peas, collards, and root crops all are doing just fine and growing more than I'd expected they would during the short days of mid-winter.

As for those warm days --

- The rock pile finally thawed out, so I filled the holes in the driveway and covered the mud around the new water hydrant with a nice layer of gravel.

- We cut firewood - mostly from a fallen elm that was blocking the tractor route to the big hay bales stored at the edge of the pasture.

- The barn got a good cleaning.

- Half of last year's huge compost pile has been spread over the gardens.

Then finally, thankfully, the rain moved in. Temperatures are dropping, and I don't have to go outside and scoop, scoop, scoop. Life is good.

(Credit for the photo goes to my older daughter, Jen - that's me at the other end, bundled up in my Carharts.)

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year


Me and the titmouse are still working on the goals and plans for 2008. We'll let you know when the list has been whittled down from grandiose to what can reasonably get done in 2008 even if all goes precisely according to plan.