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Musing: A Whiff of Wildlife
An hour before sunrise. Darkness cloaked my path. Fear bubbled up inside me. No moving shadows caught my eye. No rustling undergrowth betrayed a presence.
Yet, I knew, without a doubt in my soul, that I was being watched by one of the most feared creatures in our mountains. If I made the wrong move, if he felt threatened, an attack of the most heinous nature would follow.
I hesitated. Without knowing where he was, should I retreat or plunge ahead? My fate rested on that decision.
How I found myself outside in the dark
Thursdays are trash day. We must have our receptacles rolled to the curb or risk missing our pickup time. Since we are near the beginning of the route, that means the cans need to be in place by 6 a.m.
For a long time, we lived where we had no trash pickup. Trash day involved loading bags of garbage into the back of a pickup truck, driving to the dump or a convenience center, and disposing of the garbage.
Moving to Asheville, we were thrilled to discover we had returned to the convenience of a truck circling our neighborhood once a week.
The fact that it is so early is only a minor inconvenience compared to the ease of not having to make trash runs.
The Wildlife Challenge
Why not roll it out the night before?
The Western North Carolina mountains are home to 7,000 to 10,000 black bears, depending on who is estimating. And, yes, that includes inside the city limits of Asheville. They’ve wandered through downtown, the minor league baseball park, and college campuses.
Video footage shared on social media shows some of our resident bruins opening doors to cars and houses. Seeing them turn a doorknob with their meaty paw demonstrates how crafty they are. A mere trashcan is child’s play. Or, shall we say, cub’s play.
Our neighborhood is not immune. At least two sows with newborn cubs roamed our neighborhood last year (One mom had three cubs and the other had two). The year before, we regularly saw a sow with cubs. Since cubs live with mom for a year-and-a-half, that makes three families in our neighborhood. At least.
Notice I mention moms and cubs, but not dads. That’s because male bears aren’t involved in raising cubs. They spend most of the year eating and sleeping, except for a brief time in the summer when they hook up with female bears to make baby bears. They are the fraternity boys of the wild.
With so many bears living nearby, odds are good that one looking for a midnight snack will empty the contents of a trashcan left curbside overnight.
The Sunrise Challenge
As I’ve mentioned before in these musings, I am up before 5 a.m., so an early appointment to disperse trash isn’t the problem. Seeing at that time is an entirely different issue, especially in the middle of winter. Our sunrise occurs about 7:40, well after the sanitation trucks have passed us by.
Our driveway goes down a slight hill with large trees on either side, so it’s dark. Inky black. Porch lights don’t penetrate the gloom. Carrying a flashlight while balancing a rolling bin of waste is nearly impossible.
Now mix in a little rain, like it was doing the fateful day my stalker arrived, and visibility is near zero.
I Wasn’t Alone
I rolled the can out of the garage and peered into the gloaming. The wheels loudly protested as we went down the driveway. I thought I was the lone disturbance at that hour until, at the halfway point, I sensed his presence.
Frozen in fear, I sized up my opponent.
My nemesis was not a bear. Nor was it a bobcat, fox, coyote, or any of the other regular visitors we receive.
No, it was worse. Much, much worse. His stench gave him away.
Pepé Le Pew. The striped kitty. The fart squirrel.
In plain English, a skunk.
Was he in front of me or behind me? If I continued on my merry way, he might be waiting. If I had already passed him, my retreat might stir up a smelly assault.
And if I stood still, I might already be in the crosshairs—pardon the visual—of a stinky sniper. In the all-too-vivid imagination that is both my blessing and curse, a voice rang out—Bombadier to pilot. Hold her steady. I have him locked in our sights.
And then the wind broke.
No, wait, that’s a poor choice of words. Let me rephrase.
A gust of wind swirled and pushed the heavy container in my hands. The wheels, already rolling downhill, spun faster. My choice? Hold on to the barrel and let it propel me toward the street. Or, release my grip and spill the contents on the driveway.
I chose valor, refusing to surrender my mission of delivering a week of waste. Holding my breath—both in fear and in self-preservation—I prayed to escape the wrath of my rank foe.
My luck held. Fresh air soon surrounded me. I had survived the reeking gauntlet.
The can settled into its waiting spot by the curb, I turned back toward the house and scanned the shadows. No distinctive flash of white appeared to help me locate my nemesis. My nose, however, told me he was close. My path of safety led through the battleground.
Decision time had arrived. Do I wait in the rain and cold for an hour until the sun rose, or risk a return trip up the drive and the potential for a spraying?
I’m ashamed to admit that this internal debate went on for longer than you’d expect. What spurred me into action was the sound of a trash truck somewhere in the neighborhood. Overwhelmed with the horrible vision of explaining to a laughing driver why I stood on the edge of my street in the falling rain, I decided on action.
With trepidation, I crept up the drive, calling out, “Nice kitty.” The stench grew in the deepest dark shadows, so I knew he still lurked, but I couldn’t find him. And, fortunately, he didn’t find me either.
When the door into the kitchen latched behind me, my misadventure was complete. I had safely returned to my fortress. My clothes didn’t reek. I had escaped the foulest of smells.
The dogs sat up at my return, eager for their breakfast. Roscoe wagged his tail… and farted.
Enjoyed the Story? Try a Novel
If you enjoyed today’s musing, please consider reading one of my novels. Each standalone book tells the story of big lives in a small town, ordinary people facing extraordinary challenges.
On The Website This Week
Take note of this week’s Spectacular Vernacular—marginalia.
The February survey results are being tallied and will be released soon along with the release of the March survey. More on both in next week’s Monday Musing (so make sure you subscribe).
Gratuitous Dog Photo: The Little Prince
Our resident Little Prince strikes a haughty pose in the backyard as he waits on me to cater to his latest whim, whatever that might be.
Until Next Monday
May you avoid the stinky parts of the coming week.
See you next Monday.
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