Friday, June 11, 2010


Witchwood Cottage - 28, 2005

For several years, a distant relative allowed us to use her cottage in the woods of Martha’s Vineyard. It’s a rustic little place that started out as a beachside hot dog stand during the Depression. Over time, it got moved across the island to the family’s Witchwood estate, where two bedrooms, a bathroom, electricity and hot and cold water were added.

We really liked visiting the cottage. There’s no heat or air conditioning. But it’s homey in its own way and, best of all, it sits on a wooded bluff overlooking Katama Bay.

You have to watch for ticks at Martha’s Vineyard. All those beautiful woods and fields are fill of them, including the dreaded deer ticks that carry Lyme disease. But you get in the habit of checking yourself and your pets for ticks.

It’s not so easy with skunks.

Someone warned us about all the skunks the first time we visited Martha’s Vineyard in 1980. It’s said they run rampant on the Vineyard because there aren’t enough great horned owls on the island to keep them in check.

Over the years we were able to stay clear of the skunks for the most part. One year we were driving back from dinner “up island” and hit a skunk on a narrow country lane. Let's just say our call wasn't popular on the ferry back to the mainland the next morning.

Fast forward to 2003. We were at the Witchwood cottage in late September. The cottage has screen around the cinder block foundation to keep animals out from underneath. But skunks are crafty little buggers and had found a way in. We’re pretty peaceable when it comes to wildlife, though, and figured that if they’d stick to their area and we to ours we could avoid trouble.

One night after everyone else went to bed, I stayed up late reading. Instead of taking the trash bag out and putting it in a garbage can secured by bungee cords and a cinder block, the housemate charged with cleaning up after that night’s dinner had left the garbage bag sitting out on the front stoop.

About 11:00 p.m. I heard something moving around outside. The front door was closed, but looking through the window I could see a skunk moving toward the trash bag. I flipped the outside light on and off a few times in a futile attempt to warn him off. But the skunk kept coming.

I finally turned out the light and went to bed. The next morning when I got up at 5:30 a.m. to go for a walk, I looked out the front window and found several skunks still outside finishing up the trash bag feast. I wondered if I could scare them away by making noise, but dismissed that idea when I realized it would wake up everyone else. I considered throwing a bowl of hot water at them through the front door screen, but the mere visualization of that idea prevented me from trying. Eventually, the sun edged up to the horizon and the skunks wandered off of their own volition.

Katama Bay, 2005

I left to take my walk. When I returned a few hours later, everyone and nearly everything we’d brought with us was out on the lawn in front of the cottage. My housemates looked like survivors from some kind of cataclysmic event. Even our dogs looked stunned.

It seems that after I’d left for my walk the skunks had ambled back under the cottage and gotten into a fight either among themselves or with something else. Whatever it was, they’d sprayed the whole underside of the cottage with their pungent scent. It didn’t touch anything of ours. But the stink was everywhere.

One of the housemates had seized on the idea of covering the skunk odor by making coffee. Let me tell you here not to try that if your place is ever sprayed by skunks. If there’s anything worse than the stink of skunk spray, it’s the smell of strong, fresh coffee on top of the stink of skunk spray.

We eventually decided to open everything up and let it air out. We went off to the market to see if we could find something to help us. Turns out the local remedy for non-direct skunks hits is Fabreze. So we bought a half dozen bottles and sprayed it on practically every item of furniture and clothing. I don’t know which was worse, the smell of the skunk or the smell of the Fabreze.

Yes, I do. It was the skunk.

Witchwood Cottage - 21, 2005


  1. Oh, maaaan! That's a riot. I think I read once that tomato sauce is supposed to take care of the smell, but I always wondered--so you pour it all over your furniture? I'm clueless--I hope never to need that information. What a beautiful, charming place, that cottage--the light in this last photo is stunning.

    If we ever have strong-smelling foods like fish or broccoli or whatever, I put out small bowls of white vinegar, and that takes smells out. Maybe if you put out gallon containers it would help for skunks.