Sunday, October 4, 2009

Gas, gas gas!

This will be an interesting item for family, friends and other readers in the yUKe, where these smelly New World near-weasels do not exist. This one was a striped skunk, Mephitis mephitis.

It happened last night as I took the dogs out to piddle before bed. It had been a nice day and I was relaxed and my guard was down.

Yesterday was my birthday, and having successfully fought off all attempts by workers, renewable energy "clients," and colleagues to have me do various kinds of work on my birthday, of which tries there were a shameful number, I declared an official Mick-holiday.

It started with bacon and eggs, our own of course, and good coffee, Fair Trade of course. Then we had a listen to my Youtube playlist, a compendium of British and the occasional American folk song videos that I find compelling or meaningful in some way, the Corries singing Lord Byron's Lochnagar, or Eric Bogle's And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda. Then I had a little drive to Bangor to go shopping for a few tools I needed for my barn project, always a pleasure to go shopping for tools, even when it is for work.

I also went to the bookstore and got a couple new books to read. I rarely spend money directly on myself, and books are my main treat, along with the occasional cup of Starbuck's espresso -- although Aimee tends to see the hundreds of dollars annually that go into tools and hardware for the house and farm as Mick-treats too.

At home, I did a couple of brief chores and jobs, including fixing the handle for the wood stove which has been bothering me a good deal, now that we have begun to use the stove a little. The old handle, made of cast iron, had broken and the door wouldn't latch. I fabricated a new one out of mild steel I got at the hardware store in Bangor, and was quite happy with the results.

Thus totally victorious over at least one husbandly project for the day, however minscule, I decided to quit while ahead and headed for the couch. I spent the rest of the afternoon there reading my books, only rising to start a nice lamb stew for supper, which I tended carefully until dinnertime, in between long spells of reading happily and peacefully on the couch.


In the evening I ate my stew, drank a beer, and watched some TV with my lovely wife. We had thought about going out to dinner for my birthday, but I have to say what we actually did was better.

And all was well in the world until the dogs went out to piddle at about 8.30pm.

I always watch them carefully because even if they don't chase the whitetail deer that congregate in the large dooryard we share with our neighbors at this time of year at night, they will perhaps get into trouble with a porcupine, which is worse, and more expensive at the vet.

I was momentarily distracted, though, by a car driving by, our other neighbor returning. And then I heard a dog snuffle and whine in the dark.

And then I smelt it.

Haggis had gotten skunked right there in the dooryard next to the house, right where Aimee parks her truck.

Haggis came right back to me at that, asking for help. His eyes were already red and his nose was contorted with the taste of skunk juice in his mouth. The smell was not yet quite overpowering. It was more of a physical affront to the eyes and the back of the throat than to the nose. In the first blast of a skunk close by, while it's more concentrated, the peculiar chemical weapon that is skunk juice is more like tear gas in its effect. It's a few minutes later, as it gets more dilute and the droplets spread out in the air and on hard surfaces, that it becomes most stinky.

It reminded me of the tear gas we experienced regularly as part of our 1970s Nuclear. Biological and Chemical weapon (NBC) training that was part of the British military tradition in that era.

There was a drill for this, beat into us by the DIs during Basic, and repeated over and over by sergeants and corporals in Tacevals throughout our careers. Especially the "Rock-Apes," the RAF Regiment, guarded this particular tradition. You were supposed to shout "Gas, gas , gas!" while only exhaling and reaching for your mask. You drilled until it was automatic. The story was, you had nine seconds or you would die. The DIs always made sure we got a taste of the gas, just so the coughing, choking, and puking that resulted gave a Pavlovian edge to our training.

Hopefully Haggis will be able to similarly respond to a skunk the next time he encounters one, and shy away. I'm doubtful. This makes two porcupine-ings and two skunkings in the four years we've lived at the Great Farm. About $700 at the vets, and copious quantities of various dog-bath chemicals. I'm beginning to wonder about this dog.

Where they got nine seconds from, I have no idea. Bullshit, probably. And at that age I never once thought of dying, even when doing the most dangerous stuff. Surely if I was immune to all those car crashes and motorcycle accidents and avalanches and rockfalls and climbing falls that were the routine punctuations of my life at that time, I was immune to nerve agent too?

From such attitudes a defense policy is rationally constructed. Only 17-25 year-old males are so brave, or stupid, to believe without thinking that they would actually survive a determined Soviet attack. Therefore only 17-25 year-old males can be trusted to service and rearm and refuel F4 fighter-bombers in the open during DEFCON One.

Cannon fodder. A bit like the dog, really. Possibly not even as bright.

Enough of the World War Three that never came, thankfully, at least not to the green and pleasant isle. (Vietnam, Afghanistan, Angola, Guatamala, other nations that hosted proxy wars, not so lucky.)

Back to Haggis, poor clot.

Haggis, the canine moron, had to stay outside while Aimee and I had a confab. Luckily, I am married to the female version of the Boy Scout, whose motto is "be prepared." A little rummaging by Aimee in boxes of obscure but clearly wifely-essential cleaning agents turned up a full container of commercial skunk juice deactivator. Haggis was confined to the garage while I gave him a bath with this stuff, and left there overnight with a dog bed. And as I came in from this job, my clothes went straight into the laundry machine, and I went into the shower.

Decontamination procedures.

I have to say that this particular proprietary brand of deactivator, Natural Chemistry's "Skunks Etc," worked just fine. Recommended. Buy some now, at least if you're on this side of the pond.

This morning Haggis was sprung from his garage/isolation ward looking very chagrined to have spent a night cold and wet in the garage instead of in the nice warm house where all good dogs belong. Right now he's confined to the porch, which is warmer, and he's drying off. He's a healthy young dog and shouldn't catch cold with this treatment.

And we were lucky enough to have a rare October thunderstorm last night, with three or four inches of rain, so the outdoor skunk smell is well-diluted.

I have to say, we dodged a serious skunk-bullet here, folks. That's thanks to Aimee's careful shopping habits and some very bad weather. We won't have to smell too much skunk for too long. No thanks to Haggis, the sausage head.

But skunk is skunk, and there will be a certain, shall we say, je ne sais quoi about the Womerlippis and their farm for a short while here.

Especially Haggis, the dunce.

While Aimee, girl scout supremo, has already put on her wifely list that she must get another bottle of deactivator.


Aren't I a lucky man, to have such a prescient wifie?

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