I don’t have any pretty pictures to share, but the event I am reporting about is one of those stories that makes for great family lore.
Spring after spring, and sometimes in between–like Christmas Eve one year–and no, candles don’t help– skunk mammas found access under our house to give birth, and then stayed at least five or six weeks to raise their young.
How is that possible?
A little background.
I love to look at this picture of our house, probably taken in the early 30’s when it was very young–the house was built in 1923. Most of the trees we now enjoy were planted long after this picture was taken, but just to the left of the house you can almost see a very young oak tree, one that is now the grand towering oak I’ve previously mentioned.
Our older home has lots of charm along with many architectural idiosyncracies that come with an owner-built home in an era that didn’t have the codes and standards required today.
When we purchased the house it was still considered a one bedroom home, although there were little side rooms and alcoves we utilized as small bedrooms before we added on to the house.
One of the little rooms was a “step-down” room, and from the very beginning we realized the foundation wasn’t substantial.
But how did the skunks know that?
We would awaken in the night to the sickening sensation of the house completely enveloped in the bitter, uniquely almost indescribable odor that heralded their arrival.
If you haven’t experienced a skunk in this way you may be surprised to know that the strength of the odor is so pungent it invades your pores. There was an accompanying bitter taste and our clothing and skin were permeated with the offensive odor.
One of my most embarrassing moments was sitting in church while listening to people as they tried to identify “what IS that smell?”
Some late evenings we would sit outdoors and watch them scurry and dive under the house. Didn’t we do anything about this, you may rightly ask?
Yes! We tried. We reinforced any open areas we could find, used chemical deterrents, and asked professional advice. The difficulty was that as nocturnal animals they did their digging and exploration after dark and we would be left the next day trying to determine their new point of entry.
And then, of course, we didn’t want to somehow entomb them! As we blocked entryways, were we also blocking exits? What if the babies were under there and Mama and Papa were out on a date! What a conundrum.
I think Jay, the hunter, kind of enjoyed certain aspects of this wildlife adventure. He
foolishly fearlessly put his hand and nose into nooks and crannies that left him vulnerable to attack, but the most amusing episodes came when watching him faithfully set his now famous “skunk trap” every night. He was just sure he was going to capture a skunk!
The trap was completely self-contained with no visible openings, so once “tripped” he never knew for sure what was caught until the moment of big release. The “captured critter” was transported to an area near the Los Angeles River to maximize the animal’s survival possibilities (it was also self-serving…we didn’t want it to come back!), but poor Jay was always disappointed.
Dozens of unfortunate Opossums were transported in the wildlife relocation plan–and not one skunk!
Finally, enough was enough.
The burrowing under the little step-down room with its inferior sub-flooring was creating a new problem. The dirt was piling up and the flooring was damp and rotting.
A contractor friend agreed to help us rip up the floor and we would not only make the permanent remedies to the flooring inadequacies, but also, we’d figure out some way to thwart the efforts of our little black and white visitors.
While I was busy doing my own Saturday chores, our friend Mark called me to come see what he’d discovered. I didn’t want to know what he’d found. Was there a live nest? What about animal remains? I could hear in his voice that he was quite amused at something, but nothing about this situation was amusing to me.
“Uh, well, look,” he said. I did. What was he seeing that I wasn’t seeing? After a minute or two my eyes shifted from the mess on the floor to the outside light streaming through the “foundation” of the outer wall.
“You don’t have any foundation on this part of the house,” he informed us. “Those are dummy blocks, and the whole room is shifting.”
Good grief! Mark went on to tell us how fortunate we’d been that we had never had an electrical fire or lost the entire end of the house in one of our many earthquakes.
So what to do?
We needed a new plan and had to delay beginning the now much more extensive project by at least one week while we created new strategies and gathered supplies.
I had a crew ready to do demolition and we didn’t have a project. Now was my chance. I’d been wanting to remodel one of our bathrooms–another crumbling relic from the 1920s.
“Hey guys. Want to gut a bathroom?”
And that’s how the skunks brought attention to a potentially dangerous situation in our home, and also how I ended up with a whole new bathroom.
I repay the favor with water from our pond, but they are not welcome under the house. We have a binding agreement and I’m holding them to it.
Just For Fun: Want to see some really tiny, newborn skunks? They’re cute at this stage, particularly if they are under someone else’s foundation. Workers at a Mill Valley storage facility found week-old skunk babies last month. Kudos to them for arranging foster care! See the little ones HERE.