The western spotted skunk, our native shy and polite member of the skunk tribe, in search of disease-carrying rodents. \i photo by Jim Anderson
The western spotted skunk, our native shy and polite member of the skunk tribe, in search of disease-carrying rodents. \i photo by Jim Anderson
When I rolled into Bend on a late afternoon in September of 1951 on my trusty 1947 Harley 74, Bend looked like a little backwater town about to die.

The two big sawmills that made Bend a Big Town in Central Oregon were about to throw in the towel. Shevlin-Hixon, one of the two sawmills that came rolling into Central Oregon from Minnesota on the railroad, had cut all their timber the homesteaders put aside for them at the turn of the century, and Brooks-Scanlon was about to do the same.

However, today we can see that Bend had a lot more than sawmills going for it in 1951; it’s not only survived, but has grown to enormous proportions and is known everywhere for its beauty, sparkling winter recreation areas and healthy beer businesses.

But the one thing that hasn’t grown proportionally throughout Central Oregon is the overall population of western spotted skunks. When I first arrived here they were underfoot everywhere, almost literally. Once the homeowners of Bend found out I wasn’t afraid of skunks and could remove them from unwanted locations without the usual rewards skunks leave behind when disturbed, I began getting calls about once a week.

The only skunks in Bend today are those big, nasty-smelling, non-native striped skunks…

People who had chickens were among the most bothered by those charming little stinkers; not only did the skunks have fresh eggs on their menu, but delicious, disease-carrying white-footed and house mice for dessert, the mice taking advantage of all the lay mash and scratch scattered about.

My landlord of those Good Old Days was Dean Hollinshead and his dear teacher/wife Lily. They’ve both gone out among the stars and their home’s foundation caved in, so the dwelling Lily had built with the houses she purchased from the World War II Conscientious Objector’s Camp at Wickiup Reservoir are also gone.

Lily and Dean started the Rim Rock Riders horse club, and every summer they’d take their beautiful Tennessee walkers and go on a trail ride. When they did so they’d ask me to watch the ranch, which meant feeding horses, milking the cow and taking care of the chickens.

One night I was late getting to the eggs and found a visitor helping herself to them when I arrived: a cute, little northern spotted skunk. “Ahhh, excuse me…” I said to her as she was in the process of lapping up egg yolk from an egg she broke, “but Dean and Lily didn’t say anything about sharing eggs with you…”

She answered by stamping her front feet at me, which meant she was very annoyed and if I didn’t get out of her hair she was going to give me the works. So, I quickly apologized and retreated.

To break the skunk of her coming to eat eggs and making a habit of it I arrived at the chicken house an hour earlier, fed and watered the hens and collected the eggs. But guess who I met coming in as I was going out?

Then an idea hit me. I got it into my mind that in the year 2019 (if I was still taking in nourishment and knew it) I’d brag about the time I petted a wild spotted skunk on my 25th birthday.

So, I got a small dish and the lawn chair, a good book, my strap-on caving light, and started skunk training. Each night I’d come into the hen house, call the skunk, place a fresh egg sunny-side up in the dish and wait for her majesty to lap it up.

It almost took a week, then, one night after my, “Here skunk, here skunk…” routine, she came into the hen house very cautiously and smelled the egg in the dish. That did it, from then on she was waiting for her handout. Yes, she was a “her,” and as cute as a bug’s ear.

Each night I sat reading my book aloud, headlight shining on each page and seated in my lawn chair next to the egg dish, and soon I was allowing my hand to slowly descend just over her back.

Then, on March 27, 1953 I touched the fur on her back.

Up she came! Right on her tippy toed front feet. I closed my eyes and held my breath, afraid to move in the chair, except to gently lift my hand. After what seemed an eternity I took a short breath and opened my eyes. Nothing in the air but chicken odors. Wonderful!

So I touched her fur again, and up she came again! But this time she dropped down on all fours in a couple of seconds and went back to, “lap, lap, lap…” So we played that game for about another 10 minutes until she got bored and walked off, as it turned out, for the night.

Next night we went through it all again, but this time she was very patient with me; no leaping to her front legs, just a slight shudder, and within five minutes I was actually petting her! I’d done it, I had petted a wild spotted skunk and got away with it!