I lived on a farm for a few years, not as a farmer but as a renter of a cool old farm house. The farm had about 150 acres and was a wonderful place to raise children. As a family we own a golden retriever and the dog loved to run the fields, chase ground hogs and harass the cows. I remember one day, when Cain was taking me for a walk on the back part of the farm, he took off like a shot. That usually meant that he had spotted a rabbit or ground hog. As a crested the hill trying to catch up with my dog, I saw his love interest – it was a skunk. Fortunately for Cain, his new found playmate disappeared into underbrush of the woods instead of introducing the pup to the finer aspects of nature’s pepper spray.
The Striped Skunk is quite a common sight along the Appalachian Trail. Of the fourteen states that span the A.T. the skunk can be found in all fourteen. Skunks have gained an appropriate reputation for their superb defense system, the spray that will gag a mule and remove the paint of the side of a barn. If sprayed in the eyes of a predator or a thru-hiker, it causes intense pain and temporary blindness. These cute black and white animals can spray as far as twelve feet and they start spraying when they are only eight days old. They don’t open their eyes until they are about 24 days so the aim of a babe is not too accurate (that’s enough warning for me!). Skunks make every attempt to warn you before they spray you: they will stamp their front feet, turn around and lift their tails, some will even do a handstand before spraying. But if they spray, you will know it. And you will know if for several days.
There are suggestions (and some fool-proof recipes) for getting rid of the odor of skunk spray. The old wives tale about tomato juice is false but here is a mixture that seems legitimate: In a pail mix:1 quart hydrogen peroxide (the 3 percent hydrogen peroxide variety); ¼ cup baking soda; and 2 teaspoons dishwashing liquid. Since I do not plan to carry any of these ingredients in my backpack, this most likely will not work for me. However, I have heard that thru-hikers that have been on the trail for more than one week smell worse than the skunk spray so no solution is needed.