The sun had not yet come up over the foothills when I headed out for some early morning yard work. Surveying my progress on a retaining wall around the water feature (sunken old porcelain bathtub, a.k.a. the pond) in a corner of my yard I saw this young skunk, half in the water, clinging with its sharp little claws with what appeared to be its last bit of its strength to the only rock in the water. The dome of the rock, an angular piece of granite, was few inches above the waterline.
Well, you don’t just rush in and grab a wild skunk, not even a little one. I stuck a broad board into the pond and the little guy managed to climb up on it. Trembling, he slowly made his way up the board which was six or eight inches above the ground at the high-end. It obviously looked like a big drop because he looked over one side and then the other. Again I had to quell the urge to rush in and make it easier for him.
Finally he dropped off on the side of a tall patch of slender mauve wildflowers. He wobbled and shook like a bottle in an earthquake, before collapsing into a ball. Hypothermia? There was nothing I could or was willing to do, such as dry him off with a warm towel. But I could see he was breathing. There went my plans for an early start at mowing the lawn. I didn’t want to disturb him.
Before much longer, the sun rose over the hills and shone on his black fur. It would soon absorb the sun’s warmth and bring his body temperature up as quickly as anything I could think of. I went to the Internet to get information on the stripped skunk. “Striped skunks mate from mid-February to mid-March. The babies are born about two months later. An average skunk litter has five to six babies. Skunk babies are blind and deaf when they are born. They will nurse in the den for about a month and a half.” I assume he was from a new litter (a skunk litter is called a surfeit—interesting word choice) that was beginning to learn their way around.
Skunks are omnivorous. Maybe he was going after the pollywogs in the pond. I am trying to raise a crop of frogs to dine on flies and mosquitoes that also like to hang around the pond. Actually I’m not doing anything but not cleaning out their habitat until they grow legs. Hopefully skunks eat slugs and snails which I have also spotted around the pond. In the 12 years I have lived here, this is the first year I have seen any snails or slugs and I do not want their slimy company.
About an hour and a half later, a guy across the highway and down a bit started using a weed wacker which roused the little guy (a baby skunk is called a kit). I had been in and out of the house, checking on him every time I came outside. This time I looked and he was gone. I moved closer and saw the kit waddle up to the chain-link gate to the backyard. Skunks definitely waddle. To my surprise he climbed right through one of the links and disappeared down a hole by the foundation—to join his brothers and sisters, perhaps to share the exciting story of his near-death experience. Apparently I now have a surfeit of skunks living under my house…phew.
Editor’s note: I first posted this story on June 5, 2010. A few days later I watched the momma skunk walk under my fence with one of her babies on her back–apparently headed for new, safer digs.