Of Skunks, Chaos, and Funny 1, 2, and 3
So on the upside, I learned several things, thanks to not one but both dogs being sprayed by a skunk yesterday morning at 4:00 a.m.
For one, I did not know that skunks belong to the taxonomic family Mephitidae.
Word nerd that I am, that little ‘meph-‘ caught my attention: my mind went straight to “Mephistopheles,” the name for a demon in German folklore with a front-and-center role in Faust.
Turns out that some think that the meph- comes from the Hebrew מֵפִיץ (mêp̄îṣ) which, according to a quick glance at Wikipedia, means ‘scatterer, disperser.’
That fits [she writes, just after her early morning caregiver for son Karl arrived, took one whiff (a whole day) post-skunk-blast, and says, “Ohhhhhh. You poor thing….”].
But that might not be the whole etymological story, nosiree.
Not only do skunks belong to the taxonomic family of Mephitidae, but their specific genus is Mephitis.
That comes from the Latin, says my favorite go-to geek site Etmyonline, which says that actually, the word stems from the Late Latin mephitis/mefitis, and means “noxious vapor.”
(It/she also happens to be a Roman goddess whose sole responsibility was to guard earthlings from noxious gasses from the earth—her shrines are found sulfur fissures [my sister noted that poor Mephiti absolutely got the short straw when it came to doling out goddess duties)].
Depending, then, on whether you etymologically bend the word history to include the Hebrew or not, given that skunks are from the taxonomic family Mephitidae, Genus Mephitis, the way I look at it, skunks either incarnate “noxious vapor dispersed widely about,” or “noxious vapor squared.”
Bottom line, and in English: man it’s been a rough, stinky 24 hours.
4:00 a.m., Gimli (he’s the extremely pathetic-looking big red dog below) howled to get out.
So, fine, I let him out, though I was not just a little grumbly about it.
Immediately, he and Chutzpaw shot to the back left corner of the dog run.
Rustling, barking, whimpering ensued.
And pretty much immediately, they shot back my way, Gimli in the lead, and threw themselves onto the back patio in hopes of getting what I’ve come to believe that even God might not be able to remove, no matter what those songs and Scripture say about even the worst sins being washed away.
And definitely immediately, I used adult language, and somewhat loudly, not sure whether I should direct it at my hounds, at the vile skunk(s), or God who created them all.
A quick 4:15 a.m. Google search of “How to get the #$%@^! smell of skunk off of dogs” revealed that hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and Dawn does the trick.
Naturally I had no hydrogen peroxide (I picked that up later in the day, along with lots more baking soda and lots more Dawn for lots more Washings of the Pups).
So after a quick google search of “hydrogen peroxide substitutes” I whipped up a batch of apple cider vinegar, baking soda, and Dawn, and I brought the dogs downstairs, one at a time, and I doused them, and then I put them back in their kennels, put myself back into bed, and tried to repress what had just happened for the measly 45 minutes I had to sleep before I had to get up.
A little side story is that at 2:00 a.m., two hours pre-skunk, my son Karl had an episode of something called ‘myoclonus.’ It’s a sudden expression of involuntary muscle movements—hiccups, say, are a mild form of myoclonus, as is that sudden jerk that you might feel as you are trying to fall asleep.
Karl’s are significant, though, and rock his whole little body—even his eyeballs and eyelids are affected.
They only happen every 4 to 6 weeks, and we don’t know why.
Naturally, it happened right before the skunk/dog episode came to pass.
When I told my daughter Else about the whole series of unfortunate events, she looked at me, and grinned, and said, “You know, Mom, nothing you say surprises me at all. Of course this all happened at once, because we are we.”
And then she baked dozens and dozens of chocolate chip cookies to help mask the Eau de Mephitis that had enveloped our house.
In fact, two weeks ago on our way to Outlaw Ranch in South Dakota’s Black Hills, after we had a half-day delay because I learned the day before that my tire treads were bordering on illegal (for the record, I bring my van in before every major trip for a check-up, and therefore had seen the good people at Sonju Motors twice in the previous month, once before we drove to and from Alberta, Canada, and once before we drove to and from Houston, Texas, and everything was hunky dory then, but apparently two back-to-back 2,100 mile trips do do a number on tire treads), and after we had to drive out to the Hills a day early from Sioux Falls, where we’d stayed one night with good friends who offered their company and their wheelchair accessible house to us, excepting that their house was wheelchair-accessible for a very different kind of chair, and so Karl got stuck on the front patio for a half hour while we rigged a temporary ramp situation up through the garage, and it became quite apparent that the whole operative “accessible” part of “wheelchair accessible”…wasn’t, so we had to pack up and leave early for Rapid, I apologized to my daughter’s good friend, who had come along with Else for the week at camp.
”I am so sorry,” I said to her.
”For some reason,” I said, “my little brood seems to be the vortex of chronic chaos. I truly apologize for the way that it is affecting our trip and you.”
”Are you kidding me?” she exclaimed. “My family never has chaos. This is so much fun!!!!”
And you know what?
She was right.
It was sort of fun.
Our family has a thing, we picked it up from somewhere, about how to think about certain events that come to pass…pretty regularly, actually…in our world.
Funny One is when whatever happens is funny now, and will be funny later.
Funny Two is when whatever happens is not funny now, but will probably be funny later.
Funny Three is when whatever happens is not funny now, and will never, ever, ever be funny…at least, ahem, not with the affected person in the room.
I am many things: Pollyannaish is not one of them.
I break out into theological hives when people suggest that we should be happy all of the time, and in fact I get fairly cranky about the whole idea.
All too often, Christians feel as if grief, lament, anger, exhaustion, and irritability are somehow expressions of unfaithfulness.
It’s a terribly unfortunate, and even terribly harmful notion.
Things are not what they should be, due to both external and internal realities, choices, and habits.
Regrets, wishes for do-overs, powerful losses, fears, yearnings, and even every-day annoyances do a number on one’s spirits, no question.
To deny that reality is not an act of faithfulness; it’s an act of illusion.
But to what end?
What’s the point?
Brother James’ answer does not seem to help my cause. Here he’s saying that we should encounter suffering with joy so that we can learn to endure…more happily?
2My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, 3because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; 4and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.
With all due respect, clearly James had not smelled anything nearing the mephitic horror on my hounds.
Let me be clear: “Nothing but joy” was not my emotional posture when I realized what had just taken place in the deep dark recesses of my dog-run.
Nothing but gagging, groaning, and expletives was more like it.
In related news, I suppose, with a nod to James, it’s worth noting that I am neither mature nor complete.
And I do lack for any number of pieces in my life I wish were present.
But somehow, we don’t lack for joy, here, despite chaos.
Chronic, chronic chaos.
Somehow, along the way, I think my family and I have simply come to realize that that somewhere in that space between Funny One and Funny Two is Life.
Obviously, there are all sorts of experiences of Life that belong in Funny Three, that aren’t funny in the least: devastating losses, and illnesses, and stresses, and injustices, and words and deeds that can’t be taken back.
And on more than one occasion, as I’ve often said, we do pray an exasperated “Come Lord Jesus, BE OUR GUEST” before our meals.
But we do so with a grin, come to think of it.
We do because on garden variety (a.k.a. dog-run variety) days, most of what could chip away at our spirits, our patience, our priorities, and our primary relationships happen in that Funny One/Funny Two zone.
One of the ways, that is, that we keep death, despair, and disgusting odors at bay is to laugh.
We will not cede any more wins to awfulness than we have to.
In so doing, we acknowledge the Ish, and we defy it (endure it, even) better with joy.
So neener-neener, Death and Stench.
(I told you I’m not mature).
You might have gotten my dogs.
But I got them clean again, and got cookies.
(Still, given recent events, fragrant flowers, heavy perfumes, and even random cans of Lysol Room Deodorizer are received with gratitude and joy…)