With the possible exception of Pepe Le Pew, I’ve never cared much for skunks. I always felt a little sorry for Pepe in his hopeless search for cartoon love, but if I’d met him in real life, I would have been just as afraid of him as everybody else who crossed his odoriferous path. I know this because I’ve encountered skunks on two different occasions while camping and I was terrified both times.
The first time, the skunk wandered into our screen house while we were washing the dishes after supper. I have since looked up what skunks normally eat and I can’t blame him for deciding he was tired of bugs, worms and leaves and wanting to see what a Fig Newton tastes like. Yum! Like the rest of us, he was just trying to make a living. We heard the rustling and thought it was a raccoon, which would have been bad enough, but when PJ shone his flashlight at the noise and we saw that little black and white face, my heart sank into my shoes. Our food, a lot of our gear, and the screen house itself—what would we be able to salvage if we displeased the skunk? I cowered at a distance while PJ cautiously walked up to the screen house, saying in a loud but calm voice, “Here I come, a human being, approaching in a non-threatening manner.” He held open the flap as the skunk debated for a couple of minutes before strolling out, taking his sweet time and sneering at both of us.
Our second skunk managed to ruin a steak dinner. We were in Kentucky at a campground that we thought might have been a farm in a previous life as it didn’t come furnished with trees. What it did have was a whole bunch of deer—at least 30– and one extremely determined skunk. We had decided to grill out steaks that night and the skunk decided there was plenty for three. Like Pepe, he refused to be discouraged, hovering just outside the light of our campfire the entire time we were cooking and eating. The only thing he didn’t seem to like was the flashlight shining directly at him. (We still had to be careful, of course, not to give real offense.) I started out the meal taking a bite or two and then picking up the flashlight to keep him at bay, but he took the opportunity to creep closer whenever he could. I finally gave up any hope of eating in peace, stabbed my steak with my fork and held it up to my mouth while I kept the flashlight in the other hand, pointing it at the skunk and eating as quickly as possible. While PJ washed the dishes, I carried the trash to the garbage cans across the campground. The skunk seemed to have disappeared; I kept a wary eye out the whole way, moving the flashlight constantly, and was shocked to find him waiting at the garbage cans for me. We figured out that he used the culverts as his private transportation system and he obviously knew the place like the back of his paw. I didn’t feel sorry for that skunk at all.
Even more aggressive, if possible, was a raccoon that we encountered at a state park in Alabama. I have a feeling that other campers or hikers had been feeding him, because he was virtually fearless and retreated only when we threw sticks or small rocks in his direction. Maybe he sensed that we weren’t really trying to hurt him, or maybe he thought that we just couldn’t throw straight, but he didn’t take us seriously. He kind of sniffed and backed up a few feet if our projectiles got anywhere close, but it wasn’t until PJ chased him into the woods that he broke into a halfhearted run. He beat PJ back to our campsite, too, taking up his usual spot about eight feet away from the fire. He left in disgust when we finished eating without sharing our bounty with a deserving raccoon.
I know for sure that people had been feeding the squirrels at a state park in north Georgia where we’ve camped a couple of times. It was early morning and we had already eaten and cleaned up, so they had no other reason to believe they might get a handout. I was standing at the edge of a campsite, looking into the distance and admiring a fine day, and I turned around to find myself surrounded on three sides by a gang of a dozen squirrels all staring up at me and demanding protection nuts. One squirrel looks harmless enough but I’m here to tell you, that experience was chilling. If Hitchcock had been there, there would have been a sequel to The Birds. I sort of wish I could have seen the look on my own face. Fortunately for me, the squirrels lacked the grit and determination of both the raccoon and skunk # 2 and I was able to dispel the furry little gang and leave with no further trouble. It probably helped that I wasn’t packing snacks.