Skunk hour

skunk hour


The Providence area is full of wildlife. I wrote about fisher cats not long ago, nasty weaselly things prowling down by the riverside. Foxes are being seen this summer all over the East Side (though I haven’t seen one yet, and I would love to, because I think they’re cute). Bunnies are everywhere. Ditto big ugly garbage-eating raccoons. Ditto possums, one of which hissed at me a few years ago when I passed it on the street.

 

 

And then there are skunks.

 

 

They’re always smaller than I think they’re going to be, like kittens. Their colors are lovely. But they’re alarming, for obvious reasons, or maybe just for one very obvious reason.

 

 

I can usually smell them when they’re in the neighborhood. Either I’m especially sensitive to their scent, or my rural upbringing makes me more aware of them. (Our old family dog back in the 1960s got sprayed more than once, and I can still hear him whining and crying in my mind.)

 

 

I was coming out of the local market one recent evening. It’s only about two blocks away from our apartment, and I have my choice of two routes home: a dull route that goes straight down the avenue, and another much more interesting sidewalk that winds up the hillside and is surrounded by shrubbery. I usually choose the winding sidewalk for the sake of aesthetics (even though I know that robbers and muggers are probably waiting among the shrubs to jump me), and so I did the other night.

 

 

But a young skinny guy was coming down the walk toward me, jabbering at me. I thought (charitably) that he was speaking on his Bluetooth, but then he approached me with an earnest look on his face. “There’s a skunk up there!” he exclaimed. “At the top of the path! He’s looking very – territorial!”

 

 

“Which way was he facing?” I said. “Toward you, or away from you?”

 

 

“Toward me,” he said. “But he wasn’t moving, and he had a determined look on his face.”

 

 

That was enough for me. I thanked Mr. Skinny Bicycle for saving me from a fate worse than death, and went home via the dull safe route.

 

 

Here are the last four stanzas of Robert Lowell’s great poem, “Skunk Hour”:

 

 

One dark night,
my Tudor Ford climbed the hill’s skull;
I watched for love-cars. Lights turned down,
they lay together, hull to hull,
where the graveyard shelves on the town. . . .
My mind’s not right.

 


A car radio bleats,
“Love, O careless Love. . . .” I hear
my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell,
as if my hand were at its throat. . . .
I myself am hell;
nobody’s here–

 


only skunks, that search
in the moonlight for a bite to eat.
They march on their soles up Main Street:
white stripes, moonstruck eyes’ red fire
under the chalk-dry and spar spire
of the Trinitarian Church.

 


I stand on top
of our back steps and breathe the rich air–
a mother skunk with her column of kittens swills the garbage pail.
She jabs her wedge-head in a cup
of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail,
and will not scare.


 

Fisher cats

fisher cat


Fisher cats are Mustelidae, like weasels and minks. They are the size of small dogs, and they have sharp vicious teeth. They are loners except in the spring, when they form packs.

 

 

And they are, apparently, all over Rhode Island.

 

 

The east side of Providence is now on Fisher Cat Alert. Here’s an email I received from a local source:

 

 

A neighbor just told me that there was a small pack of Fisher Cats out on our street (Everett Avenue) last night around 10 pm. They hissed at her. Also she saw a larger pack of them outside Waterman Grille a few nights ago. The manager has to go out to get them so people could get to their cars. She told me she heard that a woman walking her dog after dark on the blvd recently was approached by the pack and when they approached her dog she kicked at them. She ended up getting her foot mangled. I don’t know if the police are aware of this but these animals are dangerous to small pets and their owners.

 

 

 

Before now, I was wary of skunks (which you can smell a mile away), and possums (one hissed at me once, a few years ago, from a neighbor’s doorstep, in the twilight), and raccoons.

 

 

But fisher cats?

 

 

What next? Siberian tigers?


 

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