This evening, while sitting at the picnic table at the top of the back yard, I saw one of the skunks that I suspected was living under the storage shed. I watched it pulling up grass and dragging it back into its nest area for about 5 minutes. I was practicing staying silent and still, although I did take advantage of a second when it was down in its den to grab the cat so I could make sure she wouldn’t do anything we would both regret. When the skunk started heading down a path that would take it within inches of my foot on the picnic bench, I thought about stomping or something to scare it away before it got too close and startled itself when it realized I was there. But just before I tapped my foot, it took off in another direction, circling down to the kennel and ducking under the deck.

A few minutes later, when it reappeared, I thought for sure that it knew I was there, so I didn’t tap when it started heading towards my sit spot again. When it got to the path directly in front of the picnic table, about 3 feet away from me, I realized that it must not know I was there, and by then it was too late to stomp, as it was close enough to startle and spray. I’ve been sprayed once before, from a distance, and that experience was enough to let me know that I wouldn’t like to repeat it from 3 feet. So I just shuffled my foot a little bit. Fortunately, the cat was also silent and still. But when the skunk heard my foot shuffle, instead of backing off a little, as I was hoping it would do, it came closer to investigate. I didn’t realize that they must have very poor eyesight. The skunk came all the way up to my toe, hanging off the edge of the picnic bench (I was sitting on the table), to sniff my shoe. I held my breath and my heart was racing. It was sniffing, and then raising up on its front feet a little, trying to get a good smell of the rest of me. I don’t know why it took so long for it to sniff. I’m guessing that because I had the cat in my lap it might have been a confusing mix of smells. Also, the smoke from the woodstove at the neighbor’s house was drifting down the hill, which may have also muddied the smell.

It looked away for a second and I took advantage of that moment to raise my hand to cover my nose and mouth, partly to keep any possible spray out of my mucous membranes, and also because my heart was racing so fast that I was having a hard time keeping my breathing silent and I was hoping to muffle it a little. The skunk turned around, not with the tail pointed directly at me, but with it pointed pretty near me to the right. It paused there for a second, walked back past me to the left and paused again with tail in the air. All through this, I stayed still and so did the cat. Finally the skunk headed down the hill a little ways and took an alternate trail past the compost pile and into the woods.

So this is an excellent example of my fear of stealth. I don’t necessarily think that I’m good enough at it to get away with being completely unseen when the skunk walks within a couple inches of my shoe on its way down the trail. So is it better to just make my presence known at the beginning and avoid any possible confrontation, although also ruining my chances of an up close encounter or even of watching unobserved at a distance for a while? Or do I try to stay unnoticed as long as possible and risk being sprayed from a foot or two away when the skunk suddenly realizes that I’m there?