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HERB BENHAM: Call them the black-and-whites

"There was green alligators and long-necked geese

"Some humpty-backed camels and some chimpanzees

"Some cats and rats and elephants, but sure as you're born

"The loveliest of all was the unicorn  ..."

"Followed closely by skunks" is what I'd add to the lyrics of "The Unicorn."

This year — why I don't know — we have an abundance of skunks downtown. A neighbor fished five from underneath his house, and skunks have been spotted crossing the street in the middle of the day. They are more common than UFOs.

"I sent a couple to your house," said Mike in jest after performing some sort of magical skunk-fishing operation that netted the aforementioned five.

"I appreciate that," I said, because the garage smells like skunk as does Charlie, the brown terrier mix.

Being skunked day after day cannot be pleasant and you think a dog might learn. Not Charlie and maybe not terriers in general. Terriers are not quitters. There isn't a quit bone in them. Push the skunk, cat, rat, opossum button in their bodies and they are off to the races no matter how many furlongs it is.

***

We have mixed feelings about skunks. They are cute. That's a problem. It would be easier if they weren't cute. If they looked like opossums, we wouldn't be having this conversation. However stuffed, in a crib or on a child's shelf, they look right at home cozying up to the unicorns, bears and rabbits.

They are almost stylish in their black and white. A skunk would be right at home on an art deco sofa or positioned smartly in a Raymond Chandler novel.

We could forget about cute and stylish if they didn't waddle. It would be better if they darted because an animal that darts cannot be trusted. A waddle says, "I'm not trying to run away from anything. I've done nothing wrong."

Skunks (and wild animals in general, if coyotes, possums and raccoons can be considered wild) give a neighborhood something to talk about. It's almost a mark of distinction and makes you feel as if you live on the edge. The edge of what I'm not sure, but the edge and people like some edginess in their life. It keeps us on our toes and reminds us that we are not in control although we will do everything in our power, and this includes shooing the skunks next door to our neighbor's yard, in order to gain control.

Animals come in waves. This year we are thick with skunks; a few years ago, coyotes. In between, opossums and raccoons.

What I haven't seen yet, and I know I am tugging on Superman's cape, is a rat.

Rats are to summer what the ball drop in Times Square is to New Year's. A rat running across the garage roof while we're eating dinner says, "Welcome to summer. You're in for it."

I talked to Gabriel who's with the rat division of Kern Mosquito & Vector Control and he hasn't seen or heard about many either. I'd like to think the absence of rats has something to do with the explosion of cats in the neighborhood but cats are usually comfortable with being on unemployment with its full range of benefits and most of them are disinterested in taking on extra work that might benefit their employers.

***

The skunk smell is fading in the garage. The tide may be turning and it's hard to know why. Something will take their place. Something always does.

Herb Benham is a columnist for The Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at hbenham@bakersfield.com or 661-395-7279.

 

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