How The Hen House Turns: Streak, Chapter Two

How The Hen House Turns: Streak, Chapter Two
By Carolyn A. (Cary) Neeper, Ph. D.

For five years every spring, Streak the skunk and I had a battle royal. She insisted on re-building her nest under the rocking chair–the one place in the house I could not allow questionable tissues, much less a nesting skunk. She could get injured if someone sat down to rock.

So intense was her need to nest under the rocker, that she bit me. This was serious business, but I was alpha skunk and bigger than her, so I had the last word.

She calmed down after that spring. Every morning, after her nocturnal wanderings and return to her nest, she would come out from under the sink and stand on my toes until I picked her up for a brief snuggle.

Then, one day, we realized she was not under the sink, taking her daytime snooze. We searched the house. We searched the yard. All of us were frantic.

When night came, we searched again. Since skunks are nocturnal, she would come out at night, we thought.

We searched the neighborhood, and sure enough, Don and Indra found a skunk under a parked car across the street. Don aimed his flashlight under the car and saw a raised tail. “Quick Indra,” he whispered, “run around and see if that’s Streak.”

She did, kneeled down with flashlight in hand and aimed it at the skunk. “Oh no, Daddy,” she said. “Wrong skunk.” The threatening face was not familiar.

At least two days passed. We thought we had lost her for good. Then a neighbor, a stranger, called, a hopeful tone in her voice. Word had gotten around somehow.

“We have a new skunk under our porch. Maybe it’s yours.”

Indra and I armed ourselves with flashlights, dark glasses, masks, gloves and heavy jackets and raced over to the caller’s house, across the street and around the corner several houses away.

I spoke sweet nothings as I approached the back porch and turned the flashlight slowly toward the dark animal beneath the steps.

It looked back at me with an expression and a face I will never forget. “Come home, Sweetheart,” I said, reaching out a hand. She didn’t flinch, but came into my arms and snuggled up.

She was very thin and, for a few days, very clingy, following us everywhere, even in the daytime.

It became her habit, every morning when she heard me working at the sink, to come out and stand on my toes, until I picked her up. Then, at breakfast, she enjoyed a few bites of buttered toast before she went to bed for the day.

Streak and Poncho were pals all her many years. Most skunks meet their fate early, trying to warn off cars with a stamp and a tail flag, but Streak lived to be at least seven years old.

When a sore appeared on her back, I gave Streak some Keflex I found in the medicine cabinet, a strong, expensive antibiotic. Surely, it would cure anything. She hated taking the pills, even in honey, but she did it, reluctantly with an audible sigh, just to please me, I’m sure.

No vet would see her, of course. I had asked one if he would spay her. No way. Okay. We’d just make sure she never got free again. Skunks are wild animals. Life with her had taught us that they should not be forced to live a pet’s life, short as their wild one may be.

Indra was spending a year in Sweden in 1981. That’s why Streak and I spent many precious moments that spring in the rocking chair before she died peacefully of what must have been cancer.

We buried her in the forest, down the hill behind our house–deep under the Ponderosas.

The story doesn’t end there. It ends a while later in the Hen House. As I came out of the back door one evening, I met a skunk marching along the north fence. My reaction was a surge of emotion and a surprised “Oh hi, Sweetie.”

The tone was friendly, so the skunk simple walked away. A few weeks later, when I approached the nest box in the Hen House, I saw the same skunk leaving with an egg.

In as sweet a tone as I could manage, I said, “Help yourself, dear,” and backed off. The skunk wandered off with the egg. No problem. Rattlesnakes are like that, too, if they’re not cornered or frightened, but that’s another story.

Editor’s note: Dr. Neeper is an avid student of sustainability, steady‐state economics and the impact of cosmology on issues of science and religion. She and her husband Don Neeper live in Los Alamos with a friendly menagerie of dogs, fish and fowl.

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