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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Chemical Warfare

By Jane Thibodeau Martin


No, this is not a political column today. I am trying very, very hard to "see the good" in politics right now. But I was not "smelling the good" recently.

We have had a few really mild sunny days and when it hits 70, I feel I should break away from my "retirement" task lists and take the dogs out for a short afternoon walk to enjoy the sun. Now, I know some of you hate me for having such nice winter weather " comfort yourself. You live in a state that is not the earthquake leader in the U.S. (thanks to our fossil fuels industry,) you do have tornadoes but not like we do; and your summers are not like an incinerator. Yes, I have a mild winter. I'll take the Wisconsin winters over the earthquakes, tornadoes and insufferably hot summers.

The dogs were on their leashes and we ambled to the back of our property where we have a dirt pile that serves several purposes. In front of it was a rolled-up tarp. As the dogs sniffed around the tarp, I was "sort of" being nosy and examining the back yard of the home next to us which was recently purchased by new neighbors. My preoccupation with being nosy prevented me, at first, from noticing the high interest level the dogs had in the rolled-up tarp. But when Ivy dove head first into the front of the tarp and nearly dislocated my arm, I tore my attention back to the dogs. Wolfgang was waiting expectantly at the other end of the tarp, and I fully assumed I'd see a rat run out. We are overrun with rats right now, and I was admittedly breaking my personal "live and let live" rule. I was to deeply regret that lapse of principle.

There was an abrupt movement of the end of the tarp and I instantly recognized the animal I saw revealed below the tarp end was NOT a rat " but too late, the skunk had already released the stench from hell. Given the dogs were on six foot leashes, all three of us were in the detonation zone. The skunk was waddling as fast as a skunk can (not fast) over to the new neighbor's barn and I was yanking my dogs away. Wolfgang was pawing at his face and Ivy was rolling on the grass as they tried to rid themselves of the noxious effects.

There was nothing to be done but put them in the backyard and drive to the vet's office for "Skunk Off." The receptionist was on the phone when I walked in " so I waited patiently. When she got off the phone she politely asked if she could help me. "I need something for skunk spray." I said. "I can tell" she said.

Back home the dogs and I crowded into the bathroom. Neither of them like a bath, but Ivy was so miserable she was willing to get into the tub with little encouragement. But Wolfgang was another story entirely. Wolfgang is at least half Collie. He's very intelligent, and very obedient. Normally, he tries very hard to do as I wish him to. But he detests water, and at 75 long, lanky pounds of athleticism, he's pretty well able to resist my attempts to get him into the tub. After some TV-worthy all- star wrestling moves I just put towels down and soaked him with the solution while he stood on the floor. He has a thick, heavy coat " so you can imagine the mess. Then the dogs went back outside while I showered and shampooed myself, threw everything cloth into the wash machine, and started scrubbing leashes and collars. I had a hint how close Wolfgang was to the "line of fire" when my hand came away covered with oily toxin from his collar.

The chemical in skunk spray responsible for the repugnant smell is "Thiol." It's a sulfer compound, the same one that makes rotten eggs smell the way they do, and the same agent put into odorless Natural Gas so we know if we have a gas leak. There are additional "sticky" chemicals in it as well, to make it adhere tenaciously to whatever it contacts. Skunks spray this toxin out of two "squirters" on their back end " and they are capable of rotating the direction of the spray, with each squirter moving independently. So a skunk can strike two dogs located in two different directions if it wishes to. The skunk can aim with accuracy up to ten feet " but that wasn't necessary for him to get us. We were in point-blank range.

I was interested to learn that a skunk that has sprayed can need as many as ten days to fully "recharge" his sprayer, and in the meantime, he's vulnerable to his predators " wolves, coyotes, badgers, and raptors. I can't imagine eating something that smells so hideous, but I've been even more amazed watching crows and vultures eat dead skunks stinking to high heaven on roads in the heat of an Oklahoma summer. Now that is a foul and nasty snack. Skunks themselves eat mice and insects, among other things.

I called my husband home early from work to help me and the wall of repulsive vapor hit him the minute he walked into our house, despite the boiling spices on the stove, the fans, the candles, and the Skunk-Off. It can take many days for the smell to wear completely off.

I need to inform our new neighbors, who have three dogs, that there is likely a skunk in their barn, compliments of the Martin dogs. Hopefully Ivy and Wolfgang will be wary the next time they find a skunk; however, our dog Zoey fatally attacked every skunk she ever encountered. It wasn't that she "didn't learn." She was smart and she knew she'd get sprayed, she just didn't care. If she saw a skunk it was her personal mission to kill it.

I have no quarrel with skunks as long as they don't try to move indoors. I encounter them before dawn and after dusk frequently when I am out walking in the dark " they do their best to avoid me, and if they feel cornered, they warn me to leave, which I do with great haste. They were put on this earth by the same creator who put me here. I will say, though, that if the creator had endowed humans with such a personal chemical defense system, we'd consistently be showing other people the same kind of respect I show the skunks. Probably wouldn't need so many guns, either.

I am telling myself I will smell normal soon " but in the meantime, the cats are giving me the "stink eye," so I know I am not there yet.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: Janiethibmartin@gmail.com.


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