Unexpected events

On Friday, I took a dawn hot tub steam curling tranquilly around the sweet peas, heading towards the bay just visible between oak branches. Then I noticed that the electric fence, which guards my chickens from predators, was not blinking, which meant it was shorted out somewhere. I dressed and went down to find a sizable oak limb had split off and crashed through the chicken run, rupturing the bird net and the fence.

Luckily both the tree guy and the handyman were able to come right away, and by noon the fence was secured and the confused chickens all in place.

Then my grandson and I decided to try to trap the cheeky squirrel who has been pilfering the chicken and bird food despite lacing it with hot pepper. We got out my old trap, set it with peanut butter, and scattered a trail of sunflower seeds up to and into it. By evening, the sunflower seeds leading right up to the trap were gone, but no squirrel.

“Maybe he’s too smart for us,” I told my grandson. We decided to leave the trap baited overnight, and this morning I woke to find a skunk in it.  I’ve had a lot of experience with skunks from the time our house backed onto a large open space in Lafayette. The county used to drop off traps and then pick up trapped skunks. Those traps were very narrow, so once caught the skunks couldn’t raise their tail to spray. My trap has plenty of room for the skunk to spray, so it was a problem. I got an old towel and held it in front of me as I approached the trap. The skunk sprayed and sprayed until his little spray reservoir was depleted. Then I covered him with another old towel, put the cage on a rubber mat in the back seat and drove the trap to Tilden Park, where I propped the trap open and let him flee.  The car smells only a tiny bit skunky, as does my right arm.  The towels and cage are out in the sun, waiting for time to reduce the smell.

Given the lack of events these days, it was interesting to have the natural world intrude. And I remember that wonderful poem, Skunk Hour, by Robert Lowell. This kind of remembering is how poetry can enhance even trying events:

Skunk Hour

For Elizabeth Bishop


Nautilus Island's hermit
heiress still lives through winter in her Spartan cottage;
her sheep still graze above the sea.
Her son's a bishop.  Her farmer
is first selectman in our village,
she's in her dotage.

Thirsting for
the hierarchic privacy
of Queen Victoria's century,
she buys up all
the eyesores facing her shore,
and lets them fall.

The season's ill—
we've lost our summer millionaire,
who seemed to leap from an L. L. Bean
catalogue.  His nine-knot yawl
was auctioned off to lobstermen.
A red fox stain covers Blue Hill.

And now our fairy 
decorator brightens his shop for fall,
his fishnet's filled with orange cork,
orange, his cobbler's bench and awl,
there is no money in his work,
he'd rather marry.

One dark night,
my Tudor Ford climbed the hill's skull,
I watched for love-cars.  Lights turned down, 
they lay together, hull to hull,
where the graveyard shelves on the town. . . .
My mind's not right.

A car radio bleats,
'Love, O careless Love . . . .' I hear
my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell,
as if my hand were at its throat . . . .
I myself am hell;
nobody's here—

only skunks, that search
in the moonlight for a bite to eat.
They march on their soles up Main Street:
white stripes, moonstruck eyes' red fire
under the chalk-dry and spar spire
of the Trinitarian Church.

I stand on top
of our back steps and breathe the rich air—
a mother skunk with her column of kittens swills the garbage pail
She jabs her wedge-head in a cup
of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail,
and will not scare.

Robert Lowell

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