Texas has lots of skunks. Skunks refers to the members of the mephitidae family of carnivorous mammals, not to Texas good ol’ boys, lawyers, land speculators, livestock rustlers, oil business tycoons, politicians, or preachers. No, I am referring here to the dense population of striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis) and the supporting cast of four other species of skunk that call Texas their home.
Skunks and other Texas observations
As I write this essay, the North Country is in the grip of the most severe winter weather in thirty years or more. A series of Arctic weather fronts has brought temperatures of -20 degrees, some days even colder, and storms have covered the land with several feet of accumulated snow.
I know about this dreadful winter from checking the daily weather reports from my home town and reading the messages sent by friends who are trapped in that icebox. My arthritic old body has not suffered the pains and agonies of winter the past six weeks because my wife and I have escaped to the relative warmth of Texas.
Most days, this has seemed to be a good decision, but as with travel to any foreign country, an extended stay in Texas poses some challenges, language misunderstandings and unusual protocols of highway driving being the most common.
Time spent in Texas also provides opportunities for observation that broaden one’s perspective. I confess a certain bias and prejudice in my outlook because I lived three years in west Texas while working as the editor of a newspaper in an oilfield community. That skewed my vision, but I still believe I am close to the mark when I say that Texas has every problem known to the rest of the United States — social, political, economic, cultural, racial, theological, ecological, industrial, agricultural, and educational — plus three or four other categories that are known only to Texas.
Although I would like to write brilliant expository prose revealing the intricacies of these issues, and even offer insightful and provocative solutions, I am neither brilliant nor well-versed in any of these fields. I have thousands of narrow-minded personal opinions to express but very little to offer in the way of factual information or practical experience. Consequently, I treat Texas not as a complicated quadratic equation to be solved but as a disjointed slapstick carnival sideshow to be watched with wonder and caution. Extreme caution.
I will note that the most valuable commodity that Texans get from their political, social and religious leaders is entertainment, usually comic but sometimes dramatic and even tragic. However, I do not vote or pay taxes here, so I do not have a vested interest in the governance or operation of this theatre of the absurd. Lacking focus or purpose, my observations are random, at best, and often banal.
So today’s may seem mundane: Texas has lots of skunks.
Skunks refers to the members of the mephitidae family of carnivorous mammals, not to Texas good ol’ boys, lawyers, land speculators, livestock rustlers, oil business tycoons, politicians, or preachers. No, I am referring here to the dense population of striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis) and the supporting cast of four other species of skunk that call Texas their home: the spotted skunk, two species of hog-nosed skunks, and the hooded skunk. These other four are rare, especially the hooded skunk, unless you venture to the Big Bend desert region of southwest Texas, which we did for a week. I shudder to think how many of them my bird dogs would catch in the course of a quail season.
The apparent boom in the Texas skunk population demanded my olfactory attention during a drive from San Angelo to Brownwood in west-central Texas, a distance of about ninety-five miles. The highway was lined with dead skunks, some in lifelike poses as the result of minor altercations with motor vehicles but most smashed to lumps of pulpy red flesh covered with rags of black-and-white fur. We saw at least a hundred of them. By comparison, we saw perhaps a dozen road-killed deer on this drive through some beautiful agricultural lands that must support huge populations of whitetails, judging by the number of deer hunting stands we saw lining field edges.
An average of one dead skunk per mile of highway on a hundred-mile journey may not be a road kill record, but it is certainly not to be sniffed at. One would think the odor would be awful, but in fact it is much less offensive than the typical hundred-mile drive in central Iowa (a state with its own madhouse of politicians and corporate shills) where livestock confinement operations annually coat the land and poison the water with millions of tons of hog feces and urine, with the advocacy of the Farm Bureau lobby and the acquiescence of state and federal legislators and regulators who could give a crap, literally, about the health of the state’s land and people and wildlife.
But we were talking about Texas skunks, not Iowa skunks.
The prevalence of skunks in west central Texas might indicate a healthy population of rodents and insects, which are the primary food of the smelly little mammals, or maybe a dearth of coyotes, which are the primary predator of skunks. Perhaps natural habitat for striped skunks is excellent in this area. Or is this a destination locale for skunks from all over Texas that migrate annually to the San Angelo area for a redolent aroma convention, who knows?
Whatever the cause, dozens of skunks give their lives for it along U.S. Highway 84.
Driving through the many small towns that dot the highway, I was also surprised to see chickens strutting and pecking in several yards and roadside ditches. This was a flashback to my youth when a flock of chickens, layers and broilers, was a common sight in yards of rural towns along two-lane county roads. The sight of the chickens in Texas prompted my wife to ask:
“Why did the chicken cross the road?”
“I give up. Why?”
“To prove to the skunks that it could be done.”
My late dog Buddy was an avowed skunk investigator. I was with him a few of these times, and to the skunks credit, they wanted nothing to do with him. They wanted nothing more than to flee, but oh no, Buddy wanted a confrontation. His final record was 0-4. He killed possums with aplomb and wild abandon, but got nowhere with skunks. Several times I’d wind up at a 24-hour drug store at 3 am to get hydrogen peroxide, dishwashing detergent, and baking soda.
We used to be able to call animal control if we had gotten a skunk in the non-lethal pet traps we use. The animal comes in one end, the door shuts, and thats about it. But the last time I called, they said they were getting out of the business. They would agree to come ONCE and let whatever was in your trap go. Freeing them. But no more of this whisking undesirable rodents away to hook them up with their creator. They also informed me it was illegal for ME to trap them, too. So they now have a certain sense of entitlement – the city wont trap them, you CANT trap them, and they are free to enjoy a full, rich skunk life, until they decide to cross a major street.