It was so odd. It happened about a week ago, during my daily walk. I paused at the top of a hill and watched, dumbfounded, as a skunk hurried by me on the left side of the road, passing me just as a car would. Alert and wily as any wild creature, the skunk had to have seen or smelled me there on the road. Yet he marched right on by without varying his pace or even glancing in my direction.
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I felt an eerie déjà vu, not for something from my own past, but for something I remembered from a children’s story. The way that skunk hustled by me was exactly the way the White Rabbit hustled past Alice just before they both tumbled down the hole into Wonderland (in Lewis Carroll’s classic 1865 novel). The skunk had no waistcoat or pocket watch, but he was hurrying along in the same single-minded way, sticking to the road as if he knew it was the quickest route from where he’d been to where he was going.
I could almost imagine him muttering to himself (“Oh, dear! Oh, dear! I shall be late!”) and reaching for his watch.
Mesmerized, I stared after him as long as I could, until he crested the next rise and dipped out of sight. Then I hurried on to the top of the rise myself in an attempt to get another glimpse, wondering if he would stick to the road long enough for me to do so.
He did. At the top of the rise, I spotted him halfway up the next hill, still on his side of the road, still hurrying. For no good reason, I began to imagine him as a her, anxious to reach her burrow and see what mischief the little ones had gotten into in her absence. The skunk had become Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, subject of the Beatrix Potter children’s book of the same name, published in 1905. The vision included an apron and striped petticoat, a little white cap, and the skunk’s nose “sniffle, sniffle, snuffling” as she rushed up the road.
At this point, I should clarify that I had ingested nothing before my walk that afternoon other than my usual pick-me-up cup of coffee. These curious notions entered my mind for no reason other than the skunk’s odd behavior. (And, I might add, because conjuring them up was fun.)
I race-walked to the top of the next rise, winding myself, but the skunk was nowhere to be seen. I couldn’t tell if he’d darted off the road and into burrow or culvert, or was now just so far ahead that I could no longer catch sight of him.
Deflated, I continued on for my usual distance, then turned back for home. Daylight was fading, and I was pondering how I would share this bizarre skunk encounter in my next column, when something brought me up short.
It was diluted skunk-smell, the sort that’s not at all offensive, and in fact reminds me of the aroma of boutique coffee beans. (Go figure.) I was catapulted into a third children’s book, “The Wind in the Willows,” Kenneth Grahame’s 1908 classic. I became Mole, only instead of catching a whiff of my old underground burrow, as he does, I was sniffing evidence that perhaps my skunk friend had left the road somewhere near this spot and found shelter.
For a moment, I wished I could indeed be like Mole, and follow my nose to find what I was scenting. Then I snapped to, realizing that stunt — assuming it were possible — would likely only result in my getting skunk-sprayed. (But not necessarily bitten. Contrary to popular belief, not all skunks appearing in the daytime are rabid. Some are just searching for food. Often to feed offspring.)
With that thought, I’m back in Beatrix Potter-land, imagining the skunk as a diligent, nurturing mother-creature. Perhaps I’ll see one of her babies someday.
I’m anthropomorphizing, I know. So sue me.
Jennifer Forsberg Meyer, a biweekly columnist with the Mountain Democrat, favored skunks less when her dogs kept getting sprayed. How about you? Leave a comment online, or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.