Living like a Skunk

Now back in the inner-city I can ponder my skunk. (Annie Dillard has her weasel, I my skunk.)

The skunk is brought into being through immediacy and for all of her life lives in her given immediacy. She knows, intimately, her active seasons and her times for hibernation. She knows, biblically, her time for the hunt, for foraging, begins at the gloaming. Her’s is a dusky world that she does not question. Her’s is a dank, malodorous world–the fetidness, her preferred cloister.

And what of her scent glands, those two anal sacks that contain a hatred most foul? She disdains their use but will let spray after a single warning. Unlike her Spotted cousin who’s warning is past ostentatious–a high handstand, the Striped skunk stands facing her menace, arches her back, stamps her front feet, and shuffles backward. This was enough to send me scurrying when as boy I cornered one under a grain bin. I poked once, saw the signs, was innocent enough to get the message and left the scene.

The mother under my failing shed need not worry about using her mechanism. Thankfully, her perspicuous grunts that follow my rattling and moth ball seeding has shown she’s not rabid. But what can I learn from her, this solitary creature who prefers twilight?

The wisdom of a skunk is poise and containment. It’s her discipline. Even her markings, a balance of black and white manifest her sang-froid. And she will fight for this balance. Self-respecting, self-transcending, and self-willing–willing an exquisite singularity–she’s a beautiful creature in her own rite.

She’s a hermit in community with bush and beetles who would love to live off of nothing but grasshoppers. She has found her place, was never out of place. I on the other hand, leak will, and waste energy, and live out of joint with this minute.

But now I’ve written her into my life and know that it in some sense it is possible to live like a skunk. The possibilities are immediately present each morning. I can watch the sun glint off the chrome of a passing car.

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