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The Secret Life of the Skunk

The Story Behind the Book


My life has been full of skunks, though I've never come close to being sprayed with a skunk's powerful defensive musk. (This book explains how skunks usually "play fair," giving plenty of warnings before they unleash their smelly weapon.) I once helped lift a few young skunks out of a kind of pit they couldn't climb out of. One evening I saw one of our house cats approach a skunk family, but not close enough to cause the mother to do any sprayng. And, of course, there has been many a morning when the lawn has some fresh skunk-digging, and a whiff of that distinctive odor. Both my wife and I actually love that wild musky aroma.


For this book, the expert who checked my text and the art of Kate Garchinsky was Luanne Johnson, who now leads BiodiversityWorks on Martha's Vineyard. I met her on that island on an August night in 2004. I was fishing alone, under the stars, and saw a person walking along the beach. Another fisherman, striding along with a rod slung over his shoulder? No, Luanne had a radio antenna slung over her shoulder, and she was headed down the shore to locate one of many skunks that wore radio transmitters. That research led her to earn a Ph.D for her findings about skunks that live in an ocean coast environment (including their impact on nesting shore birds).

We met and talked on that August night, and have stayed in touch ever since; we got together twice this year on the Vineyard.


That island has a big, thriving skunk population. On August nights I've had delightful encounters with young skunks foraging along the shore. Sadly, I've also seen many skunks, mostly young, killed by vehicles on roads. Cars are the most dangerous predators of these delightful mammals.


Male skunks do not take part in caring for the young, so mother skunks try to do it all. That is one reason I wrote this dedication for this book: "For my wife Susan, who shares my affection for skunks and their musky scent. Like a mother skunk, she is smart, brave, generous, and nurturing."