The Dome Chronicles: Skunked
By Garry Leeson
In 1972, a boxcar from Toronto containing a menagerie of farm animals and an eager young couple pulled into the station platform in Kingston, Nova Scotia. They were bound for a deserted hundred-acre farm on the South Mountain, determined to preserve the foundations of farmsteads past while constructing a geodesic dome. They were pioneers of the future, armed with respect for tradition and an irrepressible sense of humour. They didn’t call themselves farmers. They were back-to-the-landers. Farming was industry and their calling was sustainability. Over the next forty years, through flood and fire, triumph and catastrophe, they persevered, unwittingly sowing the seeds for the modern small-farm movement.
When we arrived in Nova Scotia in 1972 there were no skunks in our area or anywhere else in the province for that matter. I say that confidently because road kill is a sure indicator of who is living in the fields and woods beyond the highway’s shoulder. We travelled extensively and saw plenty of raccoons, porcupines, and other species lying flattened on the tarmac, but never any skunks.
I’m told that these odoriferous omnivores became extinct in the Maritimes in the 1920s and 30s due to a distemper epidemic, and followed up over the years by the liberal use of DDT on the corn crops, a favourite of the skunks. When I still lived in Ontario I had had several unfortunate encounters with the pesky critters and was not lamenting their absence around our new home.
It wasn’t until the late 1970s that we began to hear rumours of fresh sightings and sniffings, but I took little notice and remained skeptical about their reappearance until one fateful evening some years later.
It was early to bed for me in preparation for my weekly flight to Montreal. My daughter Emily was up in her room doing homework, and my wife Andrea was busy doing some ironing in the living room. I was aroused by the sound of frantic barking and then a series of painful yelps coming from our backyard.
I sat up in bed as the sounds of turmoil from below made their way through the floor boards.
The flap of the dog door had exploded inward and our dog Poppy was charging through the kitchen and then into the living room, trailing a plume of pungent, caustic-smelling musk. She was in panic mode. She had taken a direct hit to the face and shoulders and was temporarily blinded by the spray. Andrea, clutching her freshly ironed shirts, leapt aside as Poppy dived into the cushions of the couch and began frantically rubbing her face and rolling repeatedly before dropping down to the rug and giving it the same treatment.
With Andrea in hot pursuit shouting warnings to those of us above, the dog headed for the stairs.
I was too slow heeding the warning. The smell was so strong that I tasted it before it hit my nose and started my eyes watering before Poppy joined me in my bed. It had been a while since I had smelt it, but there was no mistaking the oily cloying stench of skunk spray.
Recovering from my shock, I covered my mouth with a pillow case and made a lunge for the dog’s collar. I missed and a terrified Poppy slipped off the bed and headed to the sanctuary of Emily’s bedroom next door, where she rolled and ruffled the bed and left the skunk’s calling card. Emily had already escaped and was running terrified down the stairs.
Poppy got to most of the beds on the second floor and gave them a liberal toxic smearing before I finally caught her. I tried not to breathe while I dragged her down the stairs, then through the kitchen and out the back door where Andrea and Emily were waiting. Once I had Poppy safely back in the yard I locked the dog door and we humans got into a huddle and took stock of the situation. I knew we had the almost impossible job of getting the stink off the dog ahead of us but that was the least of our problems. The entire house now smelt worse than the dog. To their credit, my wife and daughter were very cool, calm, and business-like as they appraised the situation and together offered some practical solutions.
I was due to fly to Montreal for my job early the following morning and Emily was going to be writing an exam. Andrea decided, selflessly, that she would have to stay in the stinky house and rescue as much of the upholstery and linen that she could, as well as de-stink poor Poppy, but that Emily and I should retreat instantly and check in at a motel.
Some of our clothing had been sealed in closets and might have avoided the stench, so Andrea, what a trouper, volunteered to venture back into the house to get Emily and me enough clothing for the following day.
That accomplished, we waved goodbye to a forlorn-looking Andrea and struck off for Middleton. When we arrived at the motel, stopping on our way for bottles of Febreeze and room deodorant, and after liberal use of the sprays, Emily and I hung our clothing on a fence outside our unit to give them a further overnight airing. The following morning, after giving our duds a cursory sniffing, one more shot of Febreeze, and confident that the smell had abated, we suited up and went about our business. I wouldn’t be home until Thursday night and figured that everything would be settled down by then.
I’m told that there are certain smells that after an initial encounter render you incapable of detecting further subtle remnants of the odour. Gasoline for example: give it a quick sniff and you lose the ability perceive the smell a second time. This is a phenomenon that may hold the answer to certain reactions we were getting from people we encountered on the days after the skunk attack. Fellow passengers on my plane trip to Montreal seemed to be extra accommodating, several abandoning the seats around me so that I would have extra room to stretch out in. Emily finished her exam in record time and could no longer bear the strange looks and whispers she was getting in her classroom and headed for home, but changed her mind and stopped at her nearest friend’s house, where her mum outfitted her with clothes and knapsack as well as a bed for the rest of the week. Even days later, after dousing herself with perfume to cover the smell, Andrea was outed in the back row of a hot auditorium and felt compelled to explain the situation before leaving.
Over the years we have adapted to the renewed presence of skunks in our life. Thankfully they are nocturnal animals, and locking our dogs in before the sun sets has proved effective except for one or two subsequent minor attacks from rogue skunks turning up before our twilight curfew.
We give skunks a wide berth when we happen on them on walks, put up with the occasional attack on our hen house, and set the lawn tractor’s mower at its highest setting so that we can ride over the rubble left from their nightly excavations for grubs on our lawn. We are doing our best to accommodate and get along with them, but frankly I think the arrangement stinks.