Farm Life: Country Aroma

When I talk with people about living in the mountains, our conversations often drift into discussions about the sensory experience of country life, compared to the city.  I hear comments about the wonderful scents of the forest: air freshened by trees,  just before snow falls or just after a thunderstorm, the musty crunch of fallen leaves under hiking boots, the perfume of flowers and plants growing.  Rarely, does anyone mention the aroma of skunks mating, while smiling. 

Most people have smelled road-killed skunks, with an overwhelming sense of eye-watering distaste.  Country commuting does put you along the path of a lot of road kill.  Most of it is visual revolting, but not really aromatic, if you keep moving.  A mangled deer in the ditch, a bloated raccoon in the gravel, a squished squirrel on the pavement.  Unless the vultures are nearby, you will pass them, divert your view, and drive on.

Our first good whiff of vultures was driving over the pass between the Coves, WV and  Bayse, VA.  This is a steep dirt track, only passable with high clearance and 4-wheel drive.  I saw some large, dark birds perched in the branches of the trees growing on the downward slope.  This put them right at window level.  Wow, what a view of nature.  I stopped and rolled down the windows.  Ohhh! Vultures digesting road-kill just off the bank.  When you startle vultures, the disgorge themselves as they take off.  Not a pretty sight and a nauseating odor.  Quick, roll up that window and don’t let them fly over your vehicle!

We were puzzled when we first moved the mountains as to why a lot of the For Sale signs came down in Spring.  Spring, the season of babbling brooks, budding trees, and dogwoods in bloom.  Then we learned that Spring is when the farmers clean out their barns and compost sheds to spread manure on the fields.  This looks innocent enough from a distance on a cold day.  But, wait for that sunny day in the 60’s or 70’s F.  All that slurry warms up, turns your stomach, and burns your eyes, until the next rain storm pulls the nutrients into the soil.  I have a great talent for handing Linda her drive-home, garden-grown V-8 juice just around the corner from some field that was spread and fermenting.  She complains about the beverage service in the cockpit.

February is mating season for skunks.  Rather than the black-with-white-strip cat in the road, foretelling of the in-car exhaust issue you will soon face, mating skunks drop a canister of tear gas without warning.  This time of year we will smell 3 to 5 rounds of ferrel romance along our morning drive.  The scent is actually different from road kill.  All the skunk without the decay.  I will admit that I have come to look forward to skunk season.  While others peer out to see a groundhog seeing his shadow, I just wait for the whiff of skunks in love.  Ah! Six more weeks of winter.

Happy Valentines Day!  What reminds you that Spring is near?


About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
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4 Responses to Farm Life: Country Aroma

  1. The Vicar says:

    After reading about skunk aroma, I passed a dead skunk on the side of the road while driving home. Living in suburbia we don’t see a lot of wild life, but occasionally some animal wanders onto an overpass across a freeway and finds their escape routs limited by cement barriers and chain link fences.

    Since California doesn’t experience radical changes between seasons, it would often be hard to tell what day of the year it was by gauging the temperature, or looking at the sky. City life seems to attempt to contains smells or mask them over. I have to really work to associate aroma with life. I guess that’s why we are encouraged to “stop and smell the roses”.

    For me, the greatest reminder that spring is near is visual. We have a small apple tree in the back yard that looses it’s leaves by November. It sits dormant for just a couple of months before it’s delicate pink and white blossoms burst forth on every branch. This signals the approaching spiring as it is followed in rapid succession by the blooming of other trees like plum, ornamental peach, cherry, and apricot. In the few remaining orchards the ground will be carpeted with the bright yellow of mustard. It’s easily missed with windows rolled up and radios on.

  2. Momma E. says:

    This brought me back to my days growing up in the hilltowns. We could also tell about the skunks because they’d raid the chicken coop we had set up in the barn. You know you live in the country when the sound of terrified chickens wakes you up at 2am. (and you roll over and go back to sleep because you know its a waste of time to try and do anything about it) lol This was great, thanks! Donna

  3. Hermit says:

    Farm friends have told us similar stories. So, far we have not had skunks in with our goats and ducks (who have recently started stockpiling eggs in their next boxes. I cannot say the cats keep them away, for I have heard that cats and skunks are like cousins and will play with each other. Then, again our cats think they are goats.

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