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.
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.”