Close encounters of the wild kind in the Ranchos

The other night my husband, Scott, glanced outside and noticed we had a visitor.

"The skunk is walking across our grass," he said nonchalantly.

Let me explain.

Our house runs adjacent to an irrigation ditch, which has provided us with some, shall I say, interesting wildlife encounters over the years.

Once I looked up from doing the dishes and saw something rotund foraging beneath our apple tree. At first glance I thought it was a cat. But cats don't eat apples. They don't have long hairless tails, either. The scream that came next was prompted by what I guessed was an enormous sewer rat, but upon closer inspection I decided it must be an opossum. At least that's what has helped me sleep at night.

Then there was the time I had to corral the 3-foot snake out of the garage before it decided to take up permanent residence in one of our storage boxes. And the time my friend Karen asked me about the large black and yellow hose coiled in the bushes next to our house. We don't have a black and yellow hose.

Or just a few weeks ago when Scott was working in the yard and a garter snake did a little dance right over his feet before disappearing in the brush.

There have been a few instances of proud mama ducks parading their young across the backyard grass, which is just about one of the cutest things I've ever seen. The quail that scratch about and make their funny little calls are pretty amusing to watch too.

But I digress.

We've known there were skunks nearby for years. Every summer, there are a few nights when we're woken from a deep sleep by that unmistakable stench.

One summer, back when our dog, Molly, was alive, she got closer to the skunk than any of us ever wish to. She started barking uncontrollably one night at about 3:30 a.m. and we foolishly let her out. She was back at the door almost immediately and the smell that assaulted me as she approached is one I will never forget.

Fresh skunk musk smells nothing like the awful odor that comes from a skunk that's met an unfortunate fate on the roadway. It is much worse.

I thought I was going to be sick. My eyes watered up immediately and my stomach lurched as I struggled to keep her outside. Scott got up and kept her out while I furiously researched "skunk odor removal" online.

The mixture of baking soda, dishwashing detergent, vinegar, and a few other ingredients I can't recall did a pretty good job of cutting through that oily stench, but I swear we could still smell it for the next six months anytime Molly got even slightly wet.

Apparently she didn't learn her lesson because 10 days later we returned home from an evening out and she'd gotten sprayed again. Fortunately, that was the last time we had an angry skunk encounter.

The other sightings have been rather comical. One night I'm sitting on the front step talking on the phone and here comes the skunk, ambling along the fence before cruising right out into the middle of the street. We've come home late in the evening to find the skunk bumbling in the gutter, oblivious to us and completely focused on the task at hand. Sometimes we can hear it scratching around outside, looking for some fat grubs or roots to snack on.

We've thought about calling someone to remove it, but I guess we've taken an unofficial "You mind your own business and we'll mind ours," stance on the whole thing. Besides, it's almost as if we have a little slice of "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom" right in our own backyard.

-- Amy Roby can be reached at


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