Notes from Napa

Monday, July 26, 2010



If you do, you are one of the lucky ones. Not many folks in Napa Valley get to smell skunks anymore. You may think that's a blessing. The odor can be, shall we say, a bit pungent. But it's an odor I miss--for it brings back such fond memories.

It seems like nothing refreshes memories like olfactory sensations. We can visit the favorite haunts of our past--see what they look like--listen to the sounds--but nothing crystallizes those memories like the smell of place. It might be the smell of moldy hay in a barn you played in as a child. The aroma of Grandma's cakes or the aftershave that your father used. There are so many aromas that take one's mind back in time to memories, both good and bad.

That's why I love the smell of skunk--and miss it so. Back in the 50's we were city folk who had purchased 12 acres out past the dump in the boondocks of Conn Valley. To get to Sheriff Simpson's old house, what we called the "Lazy J", we had to drive up a mile dirt road. The road was rough and pot holed. As we had no four wheel drive, we would often get stuck in the mud on the way up and on the way down. The closest people were a mile away. Rustic was what the Realtor called it.

My mom used other words.

We were surrounded by three thousand acres. The closest house was (and is) a mile away. Cattle and sheep grazed. The land teemed with wildlife. Nature was keeping things in balance. And yes, man was one of the predators. All the neighbors shot. There were hundreds of antlers nailed to the barn. Quail and dove were everywhere. Buzzards scoured and cleansed the landscape. A drive up the mile dirt road was like a safari ride. We'd cross Conn Creek and out from under the berry bushes would scurry coveys of quail. Jack rabbits, ears a flappin', would jump out on the road and run on up ahead of the car, zig zagging back and forth.

At least one deer (and often a small herd) would be startled--leap the barbed wire, and lope off through the underbrush. At night the animals would indeed freeze in the headlights. We'd hit the horn, blink the lights on and off until the raccoons, rabbits, deer and occasional coyotes got out of the way.

Skunks were the worst. They'd be out on that road at night and wouldn't move for love or money. They'd turn their back to us and, oh so slowly, waddle on up the road--often with babies in tow. Well, honking or blinking lights would only induce them to lift their tales, and as city folk, that was something we wanted to avoid.

Occasionally we'd see a fox, but never a bear or cat. As they were dangerous to the sheep and cattle man had whittled them down. With their demise, the lesser animals multiplied and flourished.

Not so today. Drive up that road these days and there are no animals. No rabbits jump out ahead. The buzzards have moved on. Nothing to clean up. The coons and foxes are gone. Coyotes no longer bay at night. There's a deer or two, but no more skunks.

Where'd they all go? They aren't the victims of civilization or vineyards. There are no more houses near us than than there were in the 50's. They're gone because man has become P. C.


Yes, hunting has virtually ceased in Conn Valley as it has in most of Napa county. Many think that's great. Many consider it senseless murder and slaughter. Well the rabbits, the deer, the ground squirrels, the coons and of course, my pals the skunks--they've all been slaughtered all right--but not by man. Cats rule the hills now. Call them pumas, mountain lions, cougars--they're all the same--and they are brilliant killing machines. They've over saturated the habitat--slaughtering all the lesser animals--and now that man isn't shooting them--they have no major enemies.

They got one of our calves a couple of months back. And sightings are now common as they get bolder and come down near homes. How they love dogs, kittens, lambs, and of course, skunks. They have multiplied, and the hillsides which we walked for hours on end, are now a little scary.

It will be a while before a hiker or jogger is claimed by a cat. But it's coming. We no longer let the kids wonder off as far as we used to.

So what's the point? Nothing really. It just interests me how many government and ostensibly good environmental programs have unintended consequences. Man, be he the Indian of two hundred years ago, or the White man of today, is unfortunately a part of nature--and must be figured into the equation.

The evil, white male, meat eating, murderous hunter, protected a lot of lovely, delicate, beautiful creatures that no longer grace our hillsides, because in our wisdom, we won't let him kee
p the cats at bay.

We've made a choice. Call me crazy, but I side with the skunks. I like their smell better than these programs and sentiments which have destroyed the wildlife we once enjoyed.