Sometimes Ya Gotta Do What Ya Gotta Do

Now I wish to warn all animal activists to cease reading before I get to the period on this sentence. Being forewarned, read on if you choose. In the fall of 1972, my husband and I, with our two children, were living in Northern Michigan in his parents' summer home on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan while we were building our own house on property we purchased in a hardwood forest nearby. We were spending as much time as possible working on the house so we could vacate the family log cabin before winter set in. In the meantime, we were staying in our as yet incomplete house on weekends when Nonnie and Grandpa came up to the cabin. The state of our project was as follows: We had poured a 20' by 30' concrete slab on which we had begun construction. We had walls covered with tar paper. I'd say it was a tar paper shack, but it had window and door openings, but no actual windows and doors. We had rafters, but no roof. We covered the rafters with heavy plastic in an attempt to keep the rain out. The inside was divided in half, with one side being used as a shop, and the other side, with a loft above it as living quarters for my husband and I and our two kids, Liz, age 8, and Josh, age 2. A cement block chimney of sorts ran up the middle so that we could put in place an old Kalamazoo wood range which was used both for heat and for cooking. It was a beautiful old stove, and included a roll top warming oven above. On the shop side, a pot belly stove used the same chimney, and Will used that to heat the shop where he did his work. The woodbox on the wood range was small and when we were in residence on the weekends, it required stoking about every two hours to keep the fire going during the night. We had no running water, thus no bathroom. Now I must confess that I have hated outhouses all my life. So rather than build an outhouse, I went about 100 yards into the woods behind the house and dug a hole. We kept filling it in and when necessary I dug another one.

The living side had a porch about 8' by 4' which cut into the 15' by 20' living space. The loft where the kids slept was the full 15' by 20.' They climbed a ladder next to the stove for entry to the loft. There was a temporary L shaped counter with shelves in one corner of the living side, with a sink for washing dishes, but with no running water, we hauled our drinking and cooking water in five gallon jugs which were filled at a natural spring down by the lake. The water for any other purpose was stored on the porch in a 200 gallon tank sitting on a wooden base. We ran a hose from the neighbor's outside faucet to the tank to fill it. Since the tank was impossible to sterilize, that water was used for anything but cleaning dishes or preparing food. With both kids in the loft, Will and I had a double bed mattress and springs on cement blocks in one corner down below on the concrete floor. Later on we constructed a face-nailed wood floor on a 2” by 4” framework insulated with sawdust. That was done to prepare for the approaching winter. But it was still early Autumn, so for the time being we were only there on weekends. During the week we were still staying at the cabin on the bluff. One day, mid-week, I loaded my two year old son in my car and we went up to do some cleaning in anticipation of the upcoming weekend. I had placed a couple of throw rugs down, one in front of the wood range, and one beside the bed. As Josh wandered around, I began sweeping the concrete floor on the living side. I noticed that one of the throw rugs was missing. I thought that odd, but not alarming. Then I noticed that part of it was sticking out from under the bed. I lifted the mattress and box springs and leaned them against the unfinished wall so I could sweep under the bed. As I did so I noticed a lump down in the corner of the box springs where the thin layer of gauze-like material covered it. There was a tear in the material, and I peered down inside to see what was causing the lump. I poked the lump with my broom and it moved. I again peered down through the tear in the material to get a better look. All I could see was black and white fur. Well it didn't take a brain surgeon to know what I was looking at.

I grabbed Josh and we got out of there as quickly as possible. Fortunately it was daytime, so the skunk was pretty much asleep. Apparently the skunk had decided our house was being built for his (or her) winter hibernation. Josh and I jumped in the car and went to find Will to report what we had found. He was working as a caretaker, and we found him at one of the cabins near the lake. The three of us got in his truck and headed back to our little unfinished house in the woods. First, Will had me build a fire in the wood stove. He took a bag of confectioner's sugar and sprinkled a trail from the corner of the bed, out the door, down the driveway to the turn around at the end of the lane about thirty feet from the porch. Suddenly, I'm singing in my head the Arlo Guthrie song about Alice's Restaurant – because at the end of the lane he dug a big hole and set to sacks of garbage on the edge of it. He went back to the house and put a big pot of amonia on the stove, stoked the fire one more time, and we left. We waited until dark and drove back to our little house and drove slowly in the lane to see if the skunk had appeared. The headlights of our truck shown down the lane to the turn around, and there, on the edge of the hole, was our nocturnal friend eating the garbage. (Now if there's any skunk lover still reading, this is where it gets ugly, but you can't say I didn't warn you not to read on after the first sentence.) Anyway, to go on, Will got out of the truck carrying his double-barreled shot gun and a shovel. He walked slowly down the lane. The lights of the truck were still shining on the skunk. Will took aim; he fired; and the skunk was blown into the hole. Will dropped the shotgun, grabbed the shovel, ran to the hole and quickly shoved the garbage in after the skunk and buried the skunk and the garbage together. Well, anyway, the fact is that with all the exposed wood in our home in progress, if that sombitchin' skunk had gone off in our little house in the woods, we would have had to burn it down and start over again. That would have been a very costly proposition, so we decided it was the skunk that would have to pay the price for moving in without permission.

POSTLUDE Today, in my little cottage, if I have a skunk problem, which I have had, I call the skunk whisperer, and he comes with his live traps, catches the skunk, and takes it away. What he does with it after it leaves my premises I do not know, nor will I ever ask. In the meantime, I can say without hesitation that I did not then, nor have I ever since, lost a moment of sleep over what had to be done back in '72.