How in the World Do You Get a Skunk out of a Bottle? | Yankee Classic
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Excerpt from “How in the World Do You Get a Skunk out of a Bottle,” Yankee Magazine, June 1991.
The sandy dirt of Canterbury Road is just right as I pant my way past Johnson’s hayfield. The air cool enough for delight but not cold enough for long johns and stocking cap, the early sun slanting low. No sound but my labored breathing and the chunking noise of sneakers on dirt. Just another morning. Or so I think.
Then I see him, off to my right. Twenty-five feet or so from the road in a cut-over hayfield. A skunk. One of the kind that are mostly white, with the black mainly on their sides. From the corner of my eye I watch him turn, move. I detour to the other side of the road.
But something seems wrong, in the way that he moves or the way that he looks. Some glint of strangeness. I slow my pace, looking over my right shoulder. The skunk moves through the stubble toward the road. I stop and shade my eyes against the low sunlight. The skunk comes closer. And then I see it.
A glass jar. About 4-1/2 inches long, about three inches in diameter, with a pinched-in neck — a large baby-food jar, perhaps. It is jammed over the skunk’s head, completely covering it past the ears. Unable to hear or smell, the skunk raises his head in a clumsy, unnatural way. His dim eyes catch sight of my bright purple warm-up jacket. He begins, slowly but unmistakably, to come toward me.
As you probably know, this is not what skunks or any wild animals typically do. But as I stand on the bright, hard-packed road, this skunk is clearly coming toward me. More, I can’t help but feel that he is coming to me.
I begin to talk to him. Only later does it occur to me that he is probably unable to hear anything with the jar on his head, but the talk is more for my sake anyway.
“Oh, boy, “l say, as the skunk trundles closer, “if you aren’t a textbook case in conservation ethics, I’ve never seen one.” I back away a step. What if he’s rabid? He lifts his head, feebly, to the right, to the left. I can see the long white silky hairs of his back, the fogged translucence of the glass jar.
I have a sudden desire to turn, go, keep running, get home.
By this time the skunk has reached the high grass at the edge of the road. And there he stops. His sides heave; the tight neck of the jar can hardly admit any air, and each breath is a struggle of seven or eight seconds’ duration. The skunk is shivering as well, slight tremors running through his whole body as he crouches, watching me. Clearly, the skunk is going to die and not of starvation. He is suffocating as I watch.
“What do you want me to do?” I say. “You’ve got to come to me. I can’t come to you. ‘Who knows what mental state you’re in?” The skunk looks at me. “Look, I’d love to help you. But the covered end of you isn’t the end I’m worried about.” The skunk wags his head slightly, tries to breathe. “What were you looking for in there anyway, you dumbhead?” That jar’s been out here empty for years.”
By now I realize that this skunk is my responsibility. The police would probably kill him in order to save him. Getting someone from Fish and Game would take hours. I am the one here, now.