Thursday, August 23, 2012

Welcome to Skunkville U.S.A.

I always look forward to finding out what's been going on in my midwestern hometown whenever we return from our extended stays in the Eastern North Carolina beach community known as GrandmaLand, and other points east, north and south. Usually, it's not much, which is generally what I like about the place. But more recently, a number of newsworthy changes have cropped up, mostly in the form of the giant wind turbines that now cover the countryside on the westward side of town, and the devastating drought that continues to challenge our farmer friends.  So that's pretty much what I expected to hear about when we hit town a few days ago after several weeks away.
But instead, the buzz around town was wilder than ever. And smelly, too.
Galva has, I've learned, apparently been invaded by an ever-growing gaggle of the stripy little stinkers.
I've heard about it in the library, the grocery store, the post office and in the café where I eat lunch every week with a trio of fellow grandpas and wildlife fanciers.
Heck, I even read about it on the World Wide Web.
Skunks. Lots of them. In Galva.
Until I started my internet search, I hadn't been aware that it's part of a statewide trend that has seen the Illinois skunk population grow steadily over the past decade.  If I had been paying better attention, I would have noticed headlines and news stories cropping up over the past year or two.
"Chicago-Area Skunk Population Raises A Stink," noted National Public Radio awhile back, while the Chicago Sun-Times chimed in with a story that started,  "Raising a stink: Skunk population jumps in Illinois." Even the lofty Wall Street Journal commented on the odiferous increase, proclaiming that "Illinois Holds Its Nose as Skunks Flourish."
Our town fathers have reacted well to the crisis, with this bit of helpful information posted on the official City of Galva website: "The City employs a licensed trapper that will assist property owners that have been invaded by skunks, raccoons and other nuisances."
My first thought was that we, the citizens of Galva, should take advantage of this new claim to fame. After all, Olney has its white squirrels, Kewanee is the Hog Capital, Austin, Texas has bats, and everybody waits for the swallows to return to San Juan Capistrano. And while the name "Galva" has rich, Scandinavian roots, if skunks now, as it is feared, outnumber Swedes in our little town, why not go with the flow? Imagine the yearly Skunk Festival in the newly named city of "Skunkville." Think of the free-spending tourists who would flock to town, anxiously awaiting the crowning of the Skunk Queen and the kickoff of the annual Polecat Parade.  Even the local high school could get into the act, ending the controversy over "Wildcats" versus "Cougars" with the adoption of a new team nickname everybody could get behind (pun intended.)
The Skunkville Skunks.
Well, maybe not, but it's got kind of a nice ring to it, I think.
We, too, have noticed a certain musky tang in the air from time to time when we've been home this summer, but nothing so extreme as the malodorous scent-cloud that came wafting through our bedroom window one morning earlier this week.
"Whew," she exclaimed. "What's that smell?"
I thought quickly, counting the days since I had last changed my socks.
"It's not me," I mumbled. "Maybe it's Max."
And that's been a concern, because that semi-wild cat of ours truly does enjoy spending his nighttime hours communing with the great outdoors and its habitués. He's an ardent, mostly inept hunter of the birds, rabbits and squirrels that populate our neighborhood, but seems to play well with the other, larger members of the backyard jungle. So, I've had to ban him from the cat door I once foolishly installed in a basement window due to his tendency to invite pals in for a visit. Over the years, I've been buzzed by startled starlings that he's caught outdoors and released in the living room, greeted by neighborhood cats who stopped by for an early morning bite of breakfast, and alarmed by relentless raccoons peeking through the kitchen screen door at the cat food buffet that awaits within. And while the magnetized plastic flap that was his entryway has been securely blocked by a pair of heavy landscape pavers, he still manages somehow to occasionally unbar the gates and work his way back in via the now-forbidden passage.
So, what if he's making new friends?
Stripy ones.
Smelly ones.
What if he's thinking about bringing them home?
So, I'll do my best and renew my attempts to cat-and-skunk-proof the basement, the back door and my garden shed. We'll even try and encourage Max to curtail his nocturnal activities for awhile, though that generally means sharing a bed with a foot-biting, fish-breathed little beast who wants what he wants when he wants it, especially when he wants out.
But if all my efforts fail, you can count on me to be the first to sound the cheer our newly named sports teams might just hear next season.
Go Skunks, go!

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