I am stalked by skunks. Since relocating to the United States from the skunk-free Turks and Caicos Islands, the smelly little devils seem to land in my path at every turn. At my first North American resting stop, a small camper in the woods of Southern Appalachia that my family affectionately referred to as “the Mouse Motel,” I awoke in the early morning hours to a distinctive smell arising from the remains of the evening cookout. A couple of skunks were arguing over the charred remains of hotdogs.
Now I am settled at the farm and the skunks continue to permeate my atmosphere. 150 lb. wonder dog, Bruce, was a skunk magnet for a while, much to the collective familial olfactory chagrin. Thankfully, he wised up quickly, and no, tomato juice does not work very effectively in such situations. Then, just in time for Thanksgiving, Trevor the pet Bourbon red turkey fell into an altercation with a resident skunk. The residue of said confrontation continues to transcend the usual farm-fresh air of the barn still.
After depositing adult children post-holiday at their respective institutions of higher learning, I arrived home in the evening hours to find the culprit sauntering around my front yard under the old willow tree like he owned the place. It took me a while to recognize the imposter because he was cloaked in a mantle of almost pure white rather than the usual striped wardrobe. Bruce, perhaps recalling some unpleasant memory of months past, barked anxiously at the interloper from the safety of the front porch. Not wanting to repeat recent history, I locked Bruce in the house, determined to take matters into my own hands.
Armed with a flashlight, I boldly approached the skunk and respectfully requested his departure from the property, thinking he would run away at the mere sight of such an impressive Homo sapiens. No such luck. The skunk was not impressed and continued his happy search for whatever he was sniffing out under the tree, ignoring me completely. Not wanting to press the issue, I returned to the house defeated.
Later, I was relating my Mustelid tale of woe to a friend well-versed in the ways of energy medicine, and she suggested that skunk had a message for me. As a scientist, the left, rational part of my brain insists on data and scientific methodologies to confirm such wild speculations. But I am also a person who lives daily with nature, and I am aware of the vast spectrum of phenomena that exist outside the limited human capacities of perception and reason.
I could choose to see the skunk as a stinky vermin of mere flesh and bones, or I could envision him as a manifestation of spirit that exemplifies a universal truth about existence. One perception leaves the skunk at the door as a minor irritation. The other perspective may not be provable scientifically but opens up a whole universe of miraculous possibilities for relationship between myself and the skunk that shares my habitat.
The human ego-centric view of the world is prevalent in modern society in two forms. In the first version, a God in heaven, created in our own image gives humans default dominion over all the other creatures of the Earth. The manifestations of Earth exist for man’s use and pleasure. In a second, similar version, Earth and all her children are rationally described according to observations made with the 5 human physical senses and are defined within the narrow confines of a human skull. In the first instance, reality is reduced to the pages of a 2,500 year old book. In the second, Earth and all her creatures are limited to physical and biological functions, cells, atoms and quarks. Both perspectives represent an impoverished view of the world.
We can see the Earth and all her living wonders as a sum of physical parts. Or, we can see all life and existence as a magic by which inanimate elements are illuminated with the miraculous, unknowable life force beyond our intellectual comprehension. We can exist within the realm of pure rationalization, or we can adventure into the richer landscapes of feelings and spirit. I chose to explore the latter possibility.
Just as universal human archetypes can be traced across the spectrum of human cultures and history, so we must assume the rest of living Earth’s creations also possess universal truth. Native American animal lore attributes “strong medicine” to the skunk. According to author and metaphysician, Ted Andrews (1) and several online resources, the skunk exemplifies the aspects of sensuality, respect and self-esteem. My white skunk also possesses the qualities of purity, sharing and truth by virtue of his unusual coloration.
Immediately obvious to the rational mind, the sensual aspects of the skunk are profound. The skunk certainly gets himself noticed with an appeal to the senses, and while some might be offended by the skunk’s overtures, the skunk can both attract and repel others at will. In a threatening situation, the skunk definitely takes care of himself and commands respect even from the most aggressive of foes. Removed from danger, the skunk is playful, curious and affectionate.
The skunk’s command of respect is self-evident as noted above. After a preliminary encounter, the skunk enjoys almost universal respect from all whom he encounters. Armed with the confidence that such respect brings, the skunk moves freely about his world fulfilling his role in nature and life; hence, when a crazy woman with a flashlight starts gesticulating at you in the middle of the night, you ignore her.
Like skunk, I have offended more than a few proverbial noses with my leftist, eco-feminist, blasphemous musings. I know this because my detractors regularly send me communications of hate on my blog. Before I received skunk's message, I was succumbing to the downward negative pressure of the haters. Perhaps my notes were a bit too “out there.” Maybe I should just go about my daily life farming, working, enjoying my family and cease and desist from spraying my unsolicited words upon the rest of the world.
Skunk arrived in time to teach me to hold my head (and tail) high. We all have a place of belonging where we can embrace our own beautiful reasons for existence. If any doubt remained, skunk brandished his brilliant coat of white to reinforce his message, purity, sharing, truth. I will share my truth as honestly as I can regardless of who it may offend.
Our animal, vegetable and mineral neighbors are collectively more than the sum of their flesh, material and bones. Each individual has a purpose and integral function in the collective whole of the world. If we are willing to let go of reducing existence to logic or dogma, the messages in nature can enrich our lives infinitely. It is not enough to rationalize the world. We must also feel it and live within it. For if we can experience nature fully, intellectually, spiritually and emotionally, we will not be able to subsequently destroy it with such thoughtless abandon.
1- For more information on animal lore see Animal Speak – The Spiritual and Magical powers of Creatures Great and Small by Ted Andrews.