KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf
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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Vermont Tale the First: Skunked

In our last episode, I promised you some camping adventure tales. Here is the first in a series of three:

One basic rule of camping is to keep food and garbage stored where animals can’t get them. My husband and I have been camping together for 15 years now; we know this rule well.

Every time we set up camp in a state or national park, we’ve found that the campsites have wooden picnic tables. Over a table, we always set up a screen tent; its interior becomes our kitchen. On the table or its attached benches or under or beside the table go

  • A small portable sink and a large container of water with a spigot—or a homemade faucet connection to the site’s water supply—for dishwashing


  • Our 2 large coolers, which snap closed tightly


  • Three or 4 small propane burners, in case it’s raining and we can’t cook over a campfire


  • Two boxes of stainless steel cookware, such as frying pans, big pots, little pots, burger flippers, plates, measuring cups, and tongs


  • Any spices and foods that are in strong metal containers and wouldn’t be tasty to animals


  • A large garbage bag, clipped to one end of the table

During the day, whenever we’re at the site, we also have some food items that are less well protected. Each night before we go to bed, we round these and the garbage bag up and lock them in our van.

One night early in our stay in Elmore State Park in northeastern Vermont last week, my husband, Ed, was the one clearing out the kitchen tent. He remembered everything except the garbage. Later that night, we were in our sleeping tent when we heard bang, bang, clunk, rustle, rustle, clunk. Ed, thinking that our almost-13-year-old son Neil was engaging in some late-night foraging, as he’s known to do at home, said sternly, “Neil! What’re you doing banging things around in the kitchen tent? At least get a flashlight so you can see what you’re doing and don’t make so much noise!”

Neil’s response from the other tent, where he’d been sleeping with his younger brother: “Wha-a-a-a? Flashlight?”

Ed unzipped one of the windows in our tent and peered out. He couldn’t see who was in the kitchen tent; it was pitch-dark. He picked up a flashlight. When he shined it on the kitchen tent, the little animal ripping at the garbage bag nonchalantly looked over its shoulder and lifted its tail high in greeting. Ed swore he could hear the black-and-white skunk thinking, Ya think yer gonna stop me? Think again. Ed turned off the flashlight, and the furry tail was lowered. Ed climbed back onto his cot, knowing he couldn’t do anything about the situation. That little bugger had a feast from our garbage bag—little bits of leftover hamburger that the boys hadn’t finished off, slurps of yogurt (his probiotic levels most likely were enhanced by those), dribbles of fruit juice, scraps of bread, a few pigeon peas, denuded corn ears.

And the lucky little fellow told a friend.

Ed told the boys the next morning about the skunk. About the time he’d reassured almost-6-year-old Jared that he wouldn’t have to worry about skunks coming around until at least dark, along came our skunk friend, with an all-white skunk friend, at twilight to prove Ed wrong. The pair figured that where there was food before, they’d find food again. But Ed had already locked away the garbage bag and vulnerable food items. He was in the kitchen tent, and the black-and-white skunk was nosing around the bottom of the back side of the tent, trying to find a way in. Because we generally keep the entrance at the front of the tent zipped shut to keep bugs out, Ed was closed in the tent. And he realized that once the skunk pushed in under the back side of the tent, it probably wouldn’t be able to push out as easily and might spray him. So he casually walked backward to the tent’s zipper and pulled it open a bit. And then he left the tent. I shined a flashlight on the skunk, and it and its friend left. It must be that I wield a meaner flashlight than Ed does. Who knows?

Of course, Jared was now sure that skunks would come hunt him down and spray him in the night while he slept, so he refused to sleep in the boys’ tent and begged to sleep in ours. Neil then decided that he didn’t want to sleep alone. So we dragged both boys’ cots into our tent, and we all slept crowdedly together. All food having been stored away, we heard no wild rustling that night.

The next evening, I remained at the campsite while Ed drove with both boys to buy firewood and kindling (hey—I never said we were total wilderness campers!) from the park staff. I sat contentedly by the fire that Neil had already started, listening to the evening sounds and the gurgling of the rushing creek that was behind our site. I glanced around the site and saw our black-and-white friend waddling toward the back of the kitchen tent from the outside.

Annoyed, I unzipped the front of the tent, aware of the possibility of being sprayed by a skunk who thinks there’s no escape, and then I said, “You’re not stinking up my tent, Mr. Skunk. No, you’re not.” I spotted our tall stainless-steel drinking cups on the table, and then spied a ballpoint pen sitting next to them. I picked up the pen and began a percussion solo on the cups. Mr. Skunk didn’t like the key that my improvised steel drums were tuned to, and he took his tail and himself off to the woods. Success!

Moments later, the guys pulled up in our van. I hadn’t moved from my perch in the kitchen tent, just in case Mr. Skunk had a change of heart and wanted an encore performance. As soon as Ed opened his door, I said, “Skunk! Skunk! Skunk!” The guys then knew to tread carefully. I told my tale of percussive skunk removal.

For the rest of our vacation, whenever we saw or thought we saw Mr. Skunk, we made those stainless-steel cups sing, accompanied by the spoken refrain, “Skunk! Skunk! Skunk!”


Vermont Tales Interlude: Photos

Vermont Tale the Second: Tornado Mountain

Vermont Tale the Third: Gaff Gaffe



2 comments:

KathyF said...

Something tells me those skunks had tried that routine before, successfully!

This reminds me of our skunk story. Once, when the girls were young, my husband had to go to his office in the evening to pick up something. One daughter and I were in the car, waiting for him to come out.

We noticed a skunk, slinking along next to the building, heading toward the entrance.

About the same time, we could see, way down the lighted corridor, my husband and the other daughter coming toward the same entrance.

They were due to meet at the same time.

How do you alert your husband he's about to run headlong into a skunk without alerting the skunk to the possible presence of enemies at the same time?

I started waving my arms, pointing to the side.

That just made him curious. He hurried toward the entrance, thinking possibly I was in trouble.

Luckily, the skunk became alarmed at my arm waving, and turned around, just before my husband surprised him at the entrance.

We decided after that we needed some sort of skunk signal, to alert each other to such a possibility. Always a good idea to think ahead in these situations.

Melissa N said...

Hah! It seems that the (percussiv) pen is indeed mightier than the sword.

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