Jewish World Review Oct. 22, 2002 / 16 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763

David Grimes

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Consumer Reports

Talk about a job that stinks --- literally! | Looking for an opportunity to get out into the great outdoors and interact with nature in such a way that you will have to burn your clothes before you will be allowed back in the house?

If so, you might consider becoming a skunk spotter for the state of Florida.

Concerned that skunk populations are on the decline, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is asking people who have seen or smelled a skunk since 1997 to report it at

While anyone who has ever been sprayed by a skunk might argue that a decline in the skunk population could only be a good thing, biologists stand up for the critters -- from a safe distance.

"Every creature has some sort of importance in the ecosystem," said Wildlife Commission biologist Kristen Nelson, "even if we don't know what that importance is."

I am happy to say that I have never had an up-close-and-personal experience with a skunk. Most of my skunk-related memories involve childhood rides down country roads late on a summer's night, with the windows rolled down, when suddenly, out of the dark, an odor assails the nostrils in a way that reminds one of Betty Crocker's kitchen if Betty had been cooking with rotten garlic, molten tires and bat urine. We'd roll up the windows and speed away, but the aroma would linger long enough to fix itself in our olfactory memory so completely that we would never mistake the smell of skunk with any other odor on Earth, no matter how long we lived or how many years passed between skunk-smellings.

I know that others have a far less nostalgic perspective on skunks. Author Colin McEnroe, in his 1987 book "Swimming Chickens," describes his dog Roy's encounter with a skunk in a way that makes me wonder if the whole state of Connecticut was declared a disaster area:

Roy was twisting around on his back on the ground the way World Cup soccer players do when they want the ref and the world to know how badly they have been fouled.

Like everybody else in the world, I carry around with me the not-entirely-convincing notion that tomato juice is somehow useful in counteracting skunk venom. So I washed Roy in it, and then I washed myself in it. Roy still smelled like a skunk victim, and I smelled like Campbell's Worst New Flavor. I repeated the process. The effect was to introduce an oh-so-subtle top-note of tomato into the essence of skunk which had impregnated the very stuff of our beings. Nothing less than an armada of fire-fighting helicopters swinging low for to drench our yard with all the Chateau Del Monte on the eastern seaboard was going to make a dent in our sorrows.

I do not quote McEnroe to discourage you from becoming a skunk spotter for the state of Florida. Nor do I mean to discourage you from participating by mentioning that a Dial survey found skunk to be the worst of all possible odors, stinkier even than rotten eggs or dirty diaper bins or even my newsroom refrigerator.

And it's not for any reason other than information that I pass along the fact that skunks can carry rabies, that they can squirt you between the eyes from 15 feet away and that their smell can be detected as far as 20 miles away.

In fact, I hope everybody helps the Wildlife Commission figure out just how many skunks are left in the state of Florida and where they live.

That way, I know how much tomato juice to buy.

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JWR contributor David Grimes is a columnist for The Sarasota Herald Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2002, Sarasota Herald Tribune