In our multi-heritage home, we celebrate both Chanukah and Christmas. One year I was so busy in the weeks leading up to Christmas—finishing a work project and celebrating Chanukah at home, with friends, and with several elementary school classes—that I never made any particular plans for Christmas. In the past, holidays had meant visiting with family and eating a lot, but now we lived halfway across the country from any family. With no ready-made plans, I did what many do and tried to fill the void with material things—gifts, treats, movies, indulgence. None of this felt quite right.
Then, just days before Christmas, I opened the cabinet under the bathroom sink and saw a furry little head poking through a small hole in the wall that remained after a plumbing repair. Not only was the head furry, but it was black and white. I shut the door quickly.
Now, I wasn’t fully surprised at this encounter. For a week or more—well, more—we had been hearing a critter under the house, not a particularly unusual state of affairs given where we live. Unfortunately, we hadn’t been suspicious when two weeks earlier our cat showed up reeking of skunk.
It wasn’t your average striped skunk, though. It was a spotted skunk, a relatively uncommon, small, silky creature that tends to live in groups. Great! Over the next day the skunk made itself very comfortable. It pulled some insulation through the hole to sleep on and dragged in a dried-up piece of deer carcass it had found. Quite cozy, the skunk appeared undisturbed by our presence. Still, we taped the closet doors shut and gathered a few live traps.
We set the traps under the house and baited them. We had been told that if we approached the trapped skunk with a blanket in front of us—that is, if it didn’t see us—it wouldn’t spray. We also learned that before spraying, the spotted skunk does a little warning dance on its front paws while raising its entire body in the air. While placing one of the traps, my husband witnessed this dance firsthand and quickly backed up.
Well after several days, including Christmas, although the skunk hadn’t sprayed, our bathroom was getting pretty stinky. I insisted we take bolder steps in our skunk-catching effort. Covering the hole in the wall would not be a simple feat, so instead we cut a hole in a cardboard box, baited it with cat food, and waited until the skunk made a nighttime foray outside to place the box in the closet.
Not much later we could hear the skunk lapping up the cat food. We were ready. We slowly opened the closet, ready to cover the hole in the box, but the skunk’s tail was still sticking out. We watched, hoping the tail would disappear, but then we began to fear the skunk would finish eating and reemerge. So quickly we placed our readied cardboard square over the hole. At being touched, the skunk reeled around in the box, but we kept our wits, held the box steady, swiftly but gently taped our lid, and placed the box in a trash bag.
Carefully we carried our sack to the truck, and my husband headed down a quiet road to a nice skunky spot with no houses. He cut open the bag and sliced the tape. The skunk emerged and climbed on top of the box. It rushed off in one direction along the roadside and then in the other before heading over a rise and away from the road altogether.
Having a skunk as company over Christmas wasn’t the same as having family, but he was a truly memorable guest.