Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Rude Awakening

I often wake at 4:00 in the morning. From then until 5:00 am, when I typically get out of bed, I listen to the early birds -- the robins and veery -- initiating the dawn chorus, or our neighbor's rooster (come to think of it I have not heard him lately....), or other morning sounds such as the deep chug-a-rum of the bullfrogs. Usually I drift off to sleep again until the alarm kicks off National Public Radio at five o'clock.

My internal clock is wired for this early to rise behavior. It probably started in junior high, when I first began birding in earnest. Certainly it was by the time I was in college when I worked many projects doing bird surveys in the wee hours. Breeding bird surveys end by 9 am; after that it is too hot for the parents to be off their nests. To this day my best work gets done before mid-morning.

So, we enjoy the night sounds of summer. The windows are wide open at night, cooling off the house after a day of near 90 degrees.

This morning though, we both bolted awake at 4:00. Our nostrils burning. Wafting in through the window fan was the acrid smell of fresh skunk spray. Srini thought it smelled like burnt popcorn. I jumped up to shut off the fan. Skunk spray is detectable by humans, perhaps as far as a mile away. No doubt though that this odor came from a skunk just below our bedroom window. Skunks can't see well -- perhaps not more than 10 feet beyond their nose. I imagine that this was a young skunk, nervous in its wanderings, scared by something unseen, using its best defense to protect itself against an unknown enemy.

We heard no sounds. Maybe the fan muffled any noises, or perhaps our sense of smell, now on high alert, deadened our other senses. The fan off, the smell of burnt popcorn lingered. We slept fitfully until NPR rousted us from bed. I don't remember hearing the dawn chorus or the bullfrogs.

Let us hope that this skunk has now waddled off to some other yard!

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