Why The County Library Stinks

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by Lucky Garvin

I don’t have much of a sense of smell, but when someone thought they smelled smoke, I really did try to help locate the source.

It all occurred in the Roanoke County Library the other morning. I was standing in line to check out when the woman in front of me began to wrinkle her nose and draw long nasal breaths.

“Turning to me, she asked, “Do you smell that? It smells like smoke.”

I started sniffing and indeed, picked up a faint, pungent scent. I turned towards a row of books, and said, “It smells stronger here.” She leaned forward, close to me, and agreed. “I agree. But it’s a strange smell. Not quite like smoke.”

Another patron came close and asked what was going on. We told him, he sniffed, smelled nothing, then leaned closer. “There it is! But it smells more like skunk.: “Why yes it does,” the young lady and I agreed.

We went back to the desk and asked the librarian if any skunks had come into the library, say, to pick up a book on Virginia Wildlife or something. She seemed confident there had been no skunks on that morning – or any other one since she began working there thirty years ago. She smelled nothing.

As the line shortened, I set my book on the counter, she sniffed thoughtfully. “Yes, I think I’m getting the smell now.”

After securing her promise to have Animal Control come by and thoroughly search the premises, I left, got into my truck feeling self-satisfied with my efforts to smooth out a wrinkle in municipal harmony. I also noticed the odor was somewhat stronger.

I tentatively lifted my fingers to my nose and suddenly I knew the source of the skunk-smell.

As I drove home, I reviewed my morning chores, one of which is to check our traps… Oops! The other patrons of the library smelled the odor more clearly not because they were leaning closer to that row of books, but because they were actually leaning closer to . . . Me.

To protect our rehabbed wildlife, we trap raccoons [very predatory to our babies.]  We use humane traps, of course, and if we catch a possum or a skunk, we release them; raccoons are re-located. Now, back to skunks such as the one I had found that morning in one of traps.  Here’s a thought which may not have occurred to you: if you are ever called upon to release a captive skunk, you will want to use the utmost caution. [You may want to write that one down.]

Contrary to popular belief, skunks only spray as a last resort; they are ordinarily quite docile, much preferring to leave the battleground in peace than annihilate it with a blinding odor which lasts for days. Also, they don’t have to be on their hind-legs to deliver; they can spray from any position.  They will usually stomp both front feet as a warning their patience is wearing thin.

My little guy that morning did stomp, but never sprayed. [Heavenly Father, this act of kindness I can never re-pay.] However, being unable to escape the cage made him nervous; and when skunks are nervous they emit a little bit of scent which coats the cage. So when I released him, praying a mile a minute – never so dependent on Divine Providence – I failed to notice the faint, noxious smell on my hands.

To paraphrase an old song, 16 TONS, by Tennessee Ernie Ford,  “If you see me comin’, better step aside. A lotta men didn’t; a lotta men stink.” [Yeah, I know… day job; as a lyricist, I really smell. In fact, I smell anyway.]

So the little skunk gained his freedom, I gained a characteristic odor. So I tell you this in confidence – let’s not let it get around, okay? I was the skunk in the library.

Look for Lucky’s books locally and on-line: The Oath of Hippocrates; The Cotillian; A Journey Long Delayed.