Smelling a Skunk in the Woods

I smelled a skunk today.

skunkI was sitting there in the woods staring at the water sluicing over a little rock slide in the stream, bubbles forming in the eddy at the bottom, swirling in circles, joining together, then—pop!—disappearing. I was musing about the Jack-in-the-pulpit that grew next to the path, how I’d seen its brilliant red berries there amid the detritus of the forest floor long into the fall until they were finally buried in leaves and I decided not to keep excavating them. Perhaps the poor plant did need to go to sleep.

Then I became aware of that particular piquant scent.

I looked around, but saw nothing. Which doesn’t mean there was nothing there, of course; the forest has a way of hiding things, I know. There’s an opening among the roots of the fallen tulip poplar next to where I sit. It’s possible, I suppose, that someone was hiding out in there for the winter.

More likely the critter came by in the night and left its calling card, I thought. Maybe that was who left those wet prints on the Bridge to Terabithia that I noticed as I crossed that plank over the marshy spring this morning. Maybe it was just passing through, long gone by now. The scent wasn’t so strong really, was it?

The metaphor of smelling a skunk stuck with me, though. As I watched those bubbles dancing in the eddy, that odor made me think about intuition, how too often I don’t pay attention to those nagging feelings that prickle in the back of my mind, thoughts that something is not quite right here, not what it seems, not what I want. I thought about how too often I have ignored that voice inside, found ways to explain away the unwanted notions. And I thought about how often hindsight has reminded me that perhaps I should have paid more attention.

And then, there in the woods, that scent wafted by again.

I couldn’t see anything, couldn’t identify the source, couldn’t rationalize this experience with some observable fact. But I knew I needed to leave, needed to get out of this place that might suddenly turn ugly, knew it in that deep, intuitive part of me.

As I climbed back up the path, across those planks I call the Bridge to Terabithia, past that place where the Jack-in-the-pulpit will grow again come spring, I was grateful for that smelly critter, for that tangible reminder to listen when my gut says pay attention.



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