The skunk under the bridge

The skunk under the bridge

The following is a guest post by Rob Fletcher, originally written for his blog At Your Best. It is about our experience rescuing a stranded skunk, and I couldn’t have written anything more perfect about this beautiful and poignant moment.   I’ve also included a video of some of the skunks I have been caring for at the wildlife rehabilitation facility that I volunteer at. Please enjoy. 

Another 90 degree summer day, another work day done, another evening summer swim in the books. I left the water at the base of the bridge of the Millers River and started up the bank when a movement behind me caught my eye. I turned and saw an adolescent skunk huddled on the concrete ledge about four feet off the ground. It peered at me for a moment then tucked its head back into its body, flattening itself against the wall and shaking lightly. A list of swear words had been spray painted sometime earlier in the summer above where it lay – a neat juxtaposition of the priorities of importance of animal and human realm.

I called Laura. Laura volunteers at a wildlife rehabilitation place locally and is studying to get her license – she’d know what to do, how to help. Then I sat on the bank looking at the skunk while waiting for Laura to arrive. It was beautiful. A white crown and broad white striping on its young back. It was quiet down there, just sitting and being near this scared, stressed, uncomplaining little animal. Something settled in me that moment.


Young skunks having a meal at a wildlife rehabilitation facility. See below for video footage!

Laura arrived with a pet carrier, a broom, a blanket and a can of cat food. It took a while, cat food in carrier, open door, blanket over the carrier to create a safe, dark cave, and Laura quietly, calmly, patiently sweeping near the skunk until it finally backed into the cage. Laura carried it upstream and found a quiet spot in the woods near the water’s edge. She opened the carrier door but the skunk didn’t want to leave. She had to tilt it until it finally came out. As soon as it realized where it was it shuffled into the underbrush, vanishing to the human eye back into nature.

Laura thought that it may have been stuck up there a while. Skunks can climb a little bit , and it probably scrambled up to escape something attacking it. But the smooth surface of the concrete, surrounded almost entirely by water, probably made it too difficult to climb down. It was probably hungry and dehydrated, and definitely very stressed. I was proud of Laura – her first successful rescue mission.

I had had a good day of work previously – lots got accomplished. But nothing felt like the skunk experience. The work had me at one level, then the skunk helped me sink way down. Its quiet vulnerability released an internal wall and I felt such a deep tenderness. And to help, to be of use, felt so powerful. I could see why Laura is attracted to this kind of work.

And I was reminded again of the deep power of purpose – of aligning our actions with helping something beyond ourselves. Seeing vulnerability makes it easier to do. It unlocks that tenderness we’re all capable of. How can we be of use? How can we notice vulnerability around us? How can we let down our guards to show our vulnerability? Vulnerability is the cornerstone of trust, of connection. There is some part of each person we meet today that is huddled into itself, scared and shaking. After all, we are all animals.

Longing to be Wild

Longing to be Wild

Well, autumn has tip-toed in, slowly creeping up on us until we were left with no choice but to wave goodbye to the bright buoyancy of summer.  The days are marked by the familiar cool crispness that makes you long for simpler bygone days, and the chilly nights draw you in toward the cozy warmth of home.

Admittedly, I have mixed feelings about the fall. It’s a time of unparalleled beauty here in New England as the trees hum with the vibrancy of the season, steadily rising into a crescendo of golden and scarlet splendor.  And yet, the days grow shorter, darker and a sweet and haunting melancholy settles in with the amber autumn sun.


Autumn on the Millers River in Erving, MA

I have been trying my best to reap the rewards of my summertime efforts out in the garden.  The tomatoes are being canned, vegetables blanched and frozen, potatoes dug and stored, beans dried and shucked, herbs dried, and so forth.  It’s a time to plan ahead and make sure the nest is prepared for the coming winter.

No doubt, the non-human animals are preparing as well.  I can tell you that we have released the skunks and the fox at Medicine Mammals (the wildlife rehab facility that I volunteer at), so that they will have ample opportunity to forage and find dens before Father Winter rolls back in.


Peek-a-boo!  Now this little guy has a den of his own out where he belongs.

I have seen the fox dancing through the tall grass, casually scratching his chin while sitting in a hollow, and scampering playfully as the golden sun shines warm on his thick, soft fur.  I see the joy he feels at being free and wild, and nothing has ever seemed so beautiful and so right.

One of the things that’s really hard for me during The Dark Months is how much less time I get to spend outside.  Like the fox, I long to be wild.  Like the bears, I long to hibernate.  I wonder, what animal wisdom can I take with me as I face the winter ahead?  And what wisdom can I gather during these brilliant weeks of fall?


Here is the fox shortly before his return to the wild



Bat Rescue and My Introduction to Wildlife Rehab

A few weeks ago, I was preparing for my camping trip to Prince Edward Island, going in and out of the house carrying various gear and accoutrements.  All at once, I noticed the sliding door seemed to be stuck.  I looked down to see what was obstructing it, and was surprised to see a small brown bat stuck in the track.  The poor little thing!

I freed it from the door, but it was laying in the track, trembling and baring its tiny fangs at me.  Who could blame it?

I felt just terrible. I scrambled to find a cardboard box to scoop it up in.  As far as I could tell, its body and wings were fine, but it looked like I might’ve run over its tail with the door.

There are two kinds of bats in Massachusetts, little brown bats and big brown bats. Little brown bat populations have plummeted by 90% in some areas due to white nose syndrome.

There are two kinds of bats in Massachusetts, little brown bats and big brown bats. Little brown bat populations have plummeted by 90% in some areas due to white nose syndrome.

Once I had the bat in the box, I ran to my computer to find the number for a wildlife rehabilitator.  I admit, for the last several years I have had the list of Massachusetts rehabilitators bookmarked on my browser in case I ever needed it, and because of a general interest in wildlife rehabilitation.  I had often thought of contacting one of the rehabilitators to see about volunteering, but you know how it goes.  Life is always busy and things get put off.

I called Loril Moondream at Medicine Mammals, a rehab facility about 20 minutes from my house, in Wendell, MA.  Fortunately, she agreed to help, and I sailed over with my little bat friend and guiltily handed him over.

When I returned from PEI, I called Medicine Mammals to check on him. “I just released him yesterday,” Loril said.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Bats will return to their colony as long as they are released within 50 miles.  My little bat friend was no doubt back in his own turf and hopefully doing just fine.

While I was on the phone with Loril, I asked if I might be able to volunteer there.  “We can always use volunteers!” she said emphatically.

And so, my story has a happy ending both for myself and for the bat.  I have been going to Medicine Mammals once a week to help take care of the animals, and I can hardly wait to see them each time. Currently, there are 10 baby raccoons, 4 baby skunks, 1 baby possum, 3 adult raccoons, 2 porcupines, and a young fox.  And I am completely in love with all of them!

Biter, the possum. Don't worry, he doesn't really bite.

Biter, the possum. Don’t worry, he doesn’t really bite.

To be clear, I understand that these are wild animals and not pets. Baby animals do need love and handling, but these guys are mostly beyond that phase.  I mostly just do what needs doing and let them be, aside from ogling them and talking to them in my ridiculous voice that is reserved especially for cute animals.

The skunks have grown a lot just in the last few weeks. Fortunately, they don't spray the hand that feeds them!

The skunks have grown a lot just in the last few weeks. Fortunately, they don’t spray the hand that feeds them!

The fox is one animal that still likes attention.  I love seeing him excitedly bounce around his enclosure before sliding in to have his belly rubbed.  He likes to take my hand in his mouth and play-chew it – not hard, just the way a puppy would.  Needless to say, those moments are magical.  Last week, I even brought him a mouse that my cat, Buster had caught and left by the door.  I dutifully saved the mouse in a ziploc bag in my refrigerator (I know!  Ew, right?) until it was time to go over to see the animals.  Mr. Fox snapped that mouse right up!

Mr. Handsome standing still for a split second

Mr. Handsome standing still for a split second

One of the adult raccoons also needs a little extra care.  Mealtime for her requires hand-feeding on my lap, after which she curls up in my arms for a snooze.  I absolutely adore seeing her little face snapping up the food as I hand it to her, and feeling her hefty weight against me.  As you can imagine, it can be hard to tear myself away!

Many of the animals will be released in the spring.  The fox will most likely be released in the next couple of weeks.  Even though I will miss him, I’m excited for him to start his journey in the wild, where he belongs.

I can see that I am going to learn a lot at Medicine Mammals. In fact, I already have in the few short weeks that I have been there. Not only that, but I think that my experiences there are going to feed some deeper part of me.  Maybe, on some level, the bat and I were rescuing each other.

Daryl, the fox, one second before he tried to eat my camera. With a face like that, who could mind?

Daryl, the fox, one second before he tried to eat my camera. With a face like that, who could mind?