Of Skunks and Autumn

I make friends quite easily, no matter how many legs they have.

This morning, I could hear a visitor approaching from behind as I walked, its claws clicking the pavement in a strange pattern. I assumed it was either small animal or a demure middle-aged woman with poor nail hygiene who decided to walk the dark trails without shoes. (It’s Springdale – you never can be certain.) Despite previous history demonstrating that it’s ill-advised to assume, I was certain it was a small dog, enjoying some early morning freedom after it had tunneled under a fence or chewed a leash loose.

More than once as I walked I could see eyes in the brush or in the clearings ahead. Like humans, most animals scurry away when they detect my presence. I saw no other human beings in the dark as I walked. It’s fun to imagine that there are dozens of them beyond the reach of my vision, either zombies or those suited for jobs such as purchasing clerks, engineers, school administrators, or bank tellers.

The small dog continued to pace behind me. I didn’t want to startle it so I refrained from turning on my phone light. As I walked out of the canopy of trees, lights dimly reached me. I walked a few more paces and stopped to say hello to the dog as it came very close. It was an adult skunk, its thick black and white fur puffed around its face.

Before you say something ‘adulty’ like “It could have rabies,” you are of course correct. Given last year’s election results, however, I’ve abandoned logic for a system I refer to as “winging it.” I had the sensation that the skunk sought some sort of interaction as it too stopped about 3 feet away from me, sitting on the grass next to the trail. For a brief second, the part of my brain dedicated to self-amusement thought it would be fun to lean over and place my headphones on the head of the skunk to determine if he understood music in Spanish and the stylings of Maria Conchita Alonso. It was at that point it occurred to me that the skunk could have rabies. I don’t mind the idea of the painful rabies shots if I were to be bitten, but I make it a point to avoid any avoidable interactions with nurses, long known to be associated with all manner of ill luck and tragedy. (This joke sponsored by National Nurses Week.)

I wished the skunk well and continued walking. The skunk decided to continue to scurry along behind me so I slowed my pace to see how long it might follow me. It ran behind me for at least 200 paces. I finally stopped and tried to take a picture of it. I have a beautiful photo of absolute darkness and shapes devoid of any recognizable structure to show for it. In other words, it looked exactly like 90% of all vacation photos ever taken and most action plans devised by one’s boss.

Since I was walking in another new place, there were a few places where I was able to practice faith in the continuity of things, as I couldn’t see the ground. I walked and tried to use the less-dark places to determine the path. I felt as if I were walking on a literal metaphor for life at that point. Above, the bright stars shone and the leaves rustled. It was my moment and mine alone. It is the last day of summer and I walked mile after mile to pay homage to the approaching cooler days, the kind which demands that you sit at the kitchen table to read a few pages of a good book, only to find yourself 9 hours later, living inside that great book and within your own mind. Summer is a time when extroverts rule the earth, whereas fall belongs to introverts, writers, avid readers and other strange beings.

It was just me. And the skunks. I’m not sure who was getting the better bargain.
On the way home, I had to wait a few moments as a snarl ensued ahead. Dozens of lights, the kind that always signal that someone is unexpectedly having a bad day, were blinking in synchronized alarm. As I neared the point of interest, I could see a man lying on the ground in the middle of the street as a few of our city’s finest attended to him. It looked like he had either been hit by a vehicle or that he had watched 5 minutes of the national news, both of which tend to result in such a trauma.
Don’t look at the calendar to confirm Autumn’s arrival. Go outside when it the sun sets and breathe deeply. You can already detect the slightly fetid smell of encroaching decomposition. The acceleration has commenced.

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