Skunk skinning – stage 2

Scraping the flesh off the back of the pelt. The skunk still stinks!

IMG_4100 skunk scrape cropped

IMG_4101 skunk smile 2

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Homicidal maniac?

It’s been a few years since I last posted a blog, but the wait is going to be worth it. Sit down, because I have a story to tell. Warning, there might be a photo of a skinned skunk at the end of the post.

Max, aviators

Looking normal; he’s anything but!

A few weeks ago, Max and I visited some universities on the east coast. At each university we arranged to meet up with a professor or two to find out more about the biology courses available at that university. Max had wondered what he’d talk to the professors about, but it was never a worry because he and they are cut from the same cloth and they invariably ended up talking about all sorts of weird and wonderful things. His new best friend professor, Harry, talked about – amongst other things – the fur trims on warm coats and how a study has been done to show that real fur is actually extremely warm; it’s not just elitist fashion. Harry, who lives in freezing cold upstate New York, had found a way to get a real fur trim onto his coat hood without killing an animal: he collected roadkill and took it to a tanner to skin and turn into a trim. Awesome idea! Max decided to do the same.

So, for the last few weeks, we’ve been driving around with a plastic bag in the car, just in case we happen to see roadkill on a road that’s easy to access (motorways don’t fit into that category). Last week, we came across our first accessible roadkill.

Why, oh why, did it have to be a skunk?

With the dead skunk in the back of the car and all the windows and roof down, we started calling the tanners in the area. There are only two. Over the next three days neither of them returned my repeated, pleading calls. And then it was the weekend, and they definitely didn’t return my calls.

And by Monday, the skunk stank.

Ian paddled it over to the island close to our house so that Nature could take its course. The turkey vultures licked their lips.

I’ll skin it”, said Max, when he got home from school. “How hard can it be?”

So he paddled over to the island on the paddleboard, armed with his sharp, waterproof diving knife, some rubber gloves, and an apron.  Once he got there, he took off all his clothes. He was concerned that the skunk stink would penetrate the fabric of his clothing and stay there forever so, rather than sacrifice his clothes, he just stripped down and put on his apron and gloves over his underpants and got to work.

The smell was baaaad. He had to stop every few minutes to walk away and breathe some clean air. The worms were baaaad, and made most of the skunk pelt unusable. But he returned home after an hour, jubilant, cold, and smelly. He’d managed to get a small amount of pelt for a trim and he’d learnt a whole load about skunk anatomy. As a bonus, he hadn’t perforated the skunk’s stink sac or stomach. What more could a budding biologist want? Other than a good, long shower?

While Max was showering, there was a knock on the door. Ian opened it and saw two sheriffs standing outside.

“We’ve had a report about a naked man on the island, carrying a sharp knife and a shovel, and covered in blood. Was that you, sir?”

“No”, said Ian. “It was my son, but he didn’t have a shovel.”

During the course of a conversation that explained the inner workings of our odd child’s brain, we discovered that skinning a skunk is illegal. We know that now. Max can skin any future roadkill only with the permission of Fish and Wildlife. The sheriffs were placated and went home to tell their families about the weirdest phone call they’ve received in a long time.

Meanwhile, when Max came out of the shower, we told him about the visit from the sheriff. “Oh,” he said, “I did see someone on a canoe making a phone call. I waved at her. I think I might have waved with the hand holding the blood-stained knife.”

Oh, that poor, traumatised canoeist! I can understand why the sheriffs received a worried call.

Semi-skinned skunk. We ate pasta that evening and Max laughed. “It looks like skunk tendons.”

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Everyday magic

Every now and then I despair of this country we’ve chosen to live in. On days when we have to pay for a visit to a doctor, or yet another gunman deprives families of the lives of their loved ones, or Donald Trump spouts even more repulsive sexist and fascist bigotry, I wonder if we made the right choice.

But most days, there’s magic here. Looking out of our window is like taking a permanent vacation. Driving across the Golden Gate Bridge never gets old. And on Wednesdays, Troy arrives to teach the children piano.

The kids were about to declare war on piano lessons, but, just in the nick of time, we found Troy. He’s a gentle man, with cowboy boots and a waterfall of long, dark, curly hair that many women would kill for. He teaches improvisation by ear and the children love it. The house is filled with jazz, blues, and songwriting.

It’s a far cry from their stiff, exam-oriented instrument lessons in Britain, and the sound of their playing is one of the many reasons we’re happy to be here.

Here’s a taste of our Wednesday afternoons.

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Happy camper. Literally.

Happy camper

Gabriella is in LA for two Berklee summer camps. Berklee is a top music college in the country, and one that she’s applying to for her university degree.

The first week was a songwriting camp. Gabriella loved it. She spent all day learning about songwriting, writing her own songs, performing them, listening to alum songwriters who’ve made it, and getting to know her future peers in the industry. But, even better than that, at the end of the week she was offered a scholarship for Berklee’s 5-week summer programme next year. The scholarships were given to just a handful of the 60 students attending the camp, to show that Berklee really, really, really wants them to apply to the college.

Gabriella’s chuffed.  Justifiably.

IMG_3166 Berklee scholarship

The scholars with some of the Berklee teachers

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Stupid, stupid, stupid gun laws

Six months ago, Nicole’s 20-year-old daughter, Ronique, was shot and killed. This is Nicole, on the right of the photo, marching against gun violence today.

IMG_4809 Nicole

Nicole’s poster shows pictures of her beautiful daughter. Also shown in this photo are her youngest daughter and her niece.

Ronique was in a car with two young men, when a car pulled alongside theirs and took deliberate aim at someone in the car – probably the driver. The two men escaped unhurt, but Ronique died instantly.

This is Anne.


IMG_4819 Anne

Anne’s orange badge says “SURVIVOR”, not because she survived a gunshot, but because she survived the grief of losing her son to a gunshot. He died ten years ago at the age of 18. He was in someone else’s house and saw a gun on a counter. Larking around in front of his mates, he picked up the gun and put it to his head. He didn’t know that the trigger was set light because the owner’s fingers weren’t strong enough to pull it at normal tension. The gun blew Anne’s son’s head off.

Anne worries about her son’s friends, who witnessed the accident. She thinks they feel guilty, but she doesn’t hold them responsible. She blames this country’s stupid gun laws.

Marching across the Golden Gate Bridge on National Gun Violence Awareness Day

Marching across the Golden Gate Bridge on National Gun Violence Awareness Day

People in America are astounded when we tell them that there are hardly any guns in Britain. The only ones I’ve seen are those used to hunt grouse and pheasants, and policemen carry truncheons instead of guns. When my British nephews were given guns at Christmas, they were just toys. There’s no danger that the boys will grow up wielding guns in anger, because there aren’t any to wield. But here in America, when other mothers ask if your young children would like to come over to play, you have to ask if there are any guns in the house. And the answer, “Yes, but they’re locked away safely” doesn’t wash. Every year, 17,000 children are shot because a gun isn’t locked away safely enough. That’s 48 every day.

More guns mean more murders, more suicides and more accidents. The gun laws here are stupid.

Wearing orange, a bold colour worn by hunters to protect them from being shot. #WearOrange

Wearing orange, a bold colour worn by hunters to protect them from being shot. #WearOrange

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Little oddities in America

We’ve been here so long that some of the things I found weird when we first arrived have become normal.  Light switches, for example.  They’re upside down!

The light is off. Not on, as a Brit might expect.

When the switch looks like this, the light is off. Not on, as a Brit might expect.

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Unexpectedly huge arrivals

There have been some unusual visitors to San Francisco in the last few months. Last autumn, for the first time ever, a Great White shark was recorded attacking a seal. It’s one thing to know, logically, that these sharks swim around the bay, but it’s quite another to have visual evidence of it. Fortunately, I read a reassuring article that said the chances of a swimmer being attacked by a shark are 1 in 738 million beach visits.

Some other, gentler, visitors have arrived in the last couple of weeks. Humpback whales have followed food into the bay, to the surprise of many a local kite surfer. Max – who has The Best Commute Ever – was lucky enough to see a whale breach while on the ferry to school this week.

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