While Vermont’s fifth season, known in northern New England as “mud season” is slowly retreating, I’m reminded how much I love this time of year. Emerald pastures are returning, red maple buds will burst open to a lush mint green and dirt roads will soon become dirt again. Snow still melts on mountain tops, twilights arrive later, the song of the chick-a-dee, peepers, and finally the smell of fresh air through your open windows. We get impatient with Mother Nature, anticipating warmer days ahead. Just a few weeks ago while on a muddy jaunt in the woods I caught the sweet sent of the last boil from a remote sugarhouse as the steam billowed through the treetops. It’s a quiet time of year, before the folks from down country arrive, when potholes and frost heaves rule the land, turkeys barely miss your front grill, and on occasion a familiar stench returns to your nose: skunks.
At the very least, dog owners know of this creature well. If you and your dog have been spared an encounter with one, consider yourself blessed and don’t take your good fortune for granted. Considering the fact that Buddy adores cats, I now refer to them as “black and white kitties”. A few times Buddy tried to run after one while out for a nighttime stroll but I had my thumb on the break button of my retractable leash. There was one time however, when I wasn’t so lucky.
It seems it’s always very late on Sunday nights when things go wrong with Buddy and the vet is closed. Just as I’ve always done, I opened the deck door one evening to let Buddy out one last time before bed. Only milliseconds separated the time I opened the door and turned on the light, but it was just enough time for Buddy to come face to rear-end with the biggest black and white kitty we both have ever seen. It was one of my favorite shirts that I had to throw away that night after I picked up my rancid dog and carried him to the curb, not knowing what to do. Buddy was in rough shape, taking a close rang direct hit to the face. With his eyes closed shut, he winced in agony as the burn set in. And unable to see, he refused to move. It was a long walk in the dark to the Farmington River that night, carrying a putrid dog and a plastic bag with cans of tomato sauce and pineapple juice, but finally we arrived. Some might agree that swimming in late April might be a tad chilly but I did what I had to do – remove all my clothing except for my underwear. With Buddy in my arms chest deep, we both shivered furiously while covered in tomato sauce. I did all I could, but it seemed to make no difference. Buddy was in trouble and still couldn’t open his eyes. At least an hour passed when I decided I needed help. Clearly it made no sense to put my skunky cloths back on. Besides, at 1am, who would notice you walking back home soaking wet with nothing on but your tomato-stained underwear? Still unwilling to walk, I made my way with Buddy in my arms, still crying in pain. I needed help and I needed it now. So it was perfect timing when that police cruiser slowly came up behind me. “Do I really need to explain myself here”? I asked, out of breath. “Nope”, he said, trying to conceal his grin. “I’m not sure where you’re headed but I can’t offer you a ride, or a blanket for that matter” he said, continuing to roll alongside me at my staggering pace. “I sure could use a 24-hour vet hospital if you know of one” I said while marching on.
Buddy ended up with permanent burn legions on his retinas while I ended up with a vet bill that was slightly more than absurd. But hours later, I was on my way home with my $60 eye drops and a miserable best friend riding shotgun at my side. It was several years before the stench left the upholstery of my truck but with the help of some raw fish and the biggest “Have A Heart” trap they sell, I caught that skunk just a few days later.
I can attest, that “having a heart” was the last thing I wanted when I covered him up with a blanket that morning.