Incontinence in a skunk is never a good thing.

April 4, 2008

Visitors to the farm have often encountered the nervous skunk who denned last summer in a pile of rails near the barn. This unseen critter must have been an emotional wreck by fall, because every time anyone went by it let go with a scent-bomb.

Fortunately I rather like a hint of skunk on a spring breeze. There are lots of worse smells: diesel fuel, for example. With the amount of mowing I had to do around the little trees last summer, the two frequently combined.

Having a resident skunk has not been without its compensations. For one, it provided a useful landmark. Last August the Northern Nut Growers Association paid a visit to the Woodlot as part of their annual conference field trip. The elegant tour bus arrived in our barnyard, trailed by a fleet of a dozen Toyotas of various descriptions. It seems a couple of years ago the auto maker donated a new Prius to the NNGA, and the members appreciated the gesture.

As soon as the bus door opened the passengers scattered like a herd of cats. Turns out that after two days of lectures at Carleton and a wild-goose chase through Hull traffic, the members were ready to look at just about anything, as long as it was real and they were free to walk around.

Organizer Neil Thomas strapped a loud-hailer to my shoulder and left it to me to round up the straying visitors. It was easy to give directions: all I had to do was tell them to walk past the barn until they smelled skunk, then turn left and head for the tall walnut tree.

Everyone made the turn at first whiff except for one dignified, barefoot gentleman, who had to investigate further. By the time I caught up to him he was peering under a large rail at the base of the pile, looking for the source of the fumes. At my urging he joined me for the remainder of the tour and the skunk was able to retain its dignity.

Mr. Tucker Hill proved a most engaging and informed companion. A later look at one of their annual reports revealed that Tucker for several decades has been one of the key members of the Northern Nut Growers Association and is currently in charge of the foundation which controls their research endowment.

You can find the Northern Nut Growers Association at http://www.icserv.com/nnga/.

The members followed me on a tour through the walnut grove. Ernie Grimo, a walnut and heartnut grower from Niagara-on-the-Lake, approved of one southward-facing area as a potential site for more walnut plantings. He told me that a drumlin is the ideal location for a nut grove. His plantation in Southern Ontario is on a similar structure, though the land is a little rockier near the southern shore of Lake Ontario. Ernie actually hugged one of the trees, a particularly fine specimen.

As we neared the end of the tour we disturbed a large flight of monarch butterflies. Individually the orange critters don’t look all that impressive, but when the air is full of them all the way up to the top of the canopy a hundred feet above you, it produces a feeling of awe: it’s impossible not to be happy when looking up at a rabble of monarchs.

I couldn’t resist a quip into the microphone: “Sorry, I ordered horseflies, and this is what they sent.”

Neil’s truck brought lunch, and seventy of us feasted at the corner of the walnut grove. I don’t recall a bit of litter on the ground at any time during the picnic. These people certainly knew how to act in a woodlot. In response to my questions, a couple of members politely offered advice on the new plantings. Three weeks later I was still watering…

Back to the skunk:

Anyway, since the thaw has begun the barn has been full of this character’s perfume. At first I suspected that he had come into contact with the larger of the coyotes, who seems to have taught himself to pick roosting pigeons off the main beam in the stable. The snow around their den is littered with pigeon wings.

Then I realized that likely the pigeons themselves were the culprits. They make a lot of noise when coming in and leaving, and this is one easily-startled critter.

The funny thing is that I’ve never met this fellow. The only skunk I have encountered in recent years was a beautiful, placid creature who breakfasted on a can of sardines in a box trap two summers ago. Since we carefully parted company I haven’t seen him again.

Now with the bee guy bringing hives to the property the skunk has become a potential nuisance, rather than just an amusing mouser. Paul Wainick told me that skunks do far more damage than bears because they eat enormous quantities of worker bees as they leave the hives. He didn’t explain how a skunk could do that and yet never be seen during daylight, so I’ll hold off a bit on the live trap.

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