— Joseph Cannon
Subscribers to the notion politics can be a stinky business may find told-you-so validation in the story below as lived and breathed by State Sen. Mike Bell, a Riceville farmer and Bradley County native who has faced down a plethora of skunks over the years.
It is not my place to speculate on where he has come across the greatest number — Nashville or his McMinn County farm. Those stories will remain with him though certainly subject to interpretation by anyone with an eye for truth and a nose for that which troubles the sinuses.
The subject came up in idle conversation a few weeks ago over at the new Whirlpool plant during a media event and tour. The likable 9th Senatorial District legislator pulled me aside with a laugh and offered to share his own skunk story — similar to one I recently addressed in this column.
I was all ears. In more than 34 years in the communications industry, I have always enjoyed a good skunk story. Everybody has one, whether of the four- or two-legged variety.
Entering the blissful Christmas season, tributes to skunks and their toxic trails are hardly appropriate fodder for such lighthearted times, but Mike’s enthusiasm brought an air of intrigue. So I made an exception.
I welcomed the tale while pointing to the obvious — that “Inkspots” is a perfect setting for such nauseous journalism. He agreed. I didn’t take it personally.
But first, some background. Like my own noxious tribulations on a little piece of real estate heaven that we call home, Mike and his army of a family have battled skunks off and on for as long as Pepe Lepew wannabes have trespassed onto the private property of the innocent. His too is a story loosely dubbed, “Skunk Wars.”
On Mike’s farm have dwelled dogs, cats, cows, horses, goats, turkeys and chickens, as well as his lovely wife, Lisa, and five beautiful children, whose ages at the time of this great saga ranged from 5 to 16. He said nothing of harboring a partridge in a pear tree, but then again he wasn’t keeping exact inventory.
Per our agreement, Mike forwarded to me his aromatic account by email while inviting its use in this column. He was careful not to embellish, knowing full well I was licensed to do just that. Mike apparently has read this editorial page piece dating back to my first stint in newspaper work. So he understands its chosen purpose, as will I one day.
Let’s begin Mike’s narrative, but first this forewarning. It will lead to a Part 2 because of odoriferous detail. It won’t be the first time that’s happened in this column, lest anyone forget the recent 4-part recounting from the Great Snipe Hunt of ’74.
Speaking of snipes, I am confident an agrarian of the senator’s caliber has a few memories of his own. But that’s conversation for another day. Back to “Skunk Wars.”
The legislator’s account began in the fashion of a well-versed novelist.
“It was a warm and pleasant October evening ... ”
You’ve got to love that start. It reminded me of Snoopy’s first foray into writing in one of those televised Charlie Brown specials ... “It was a dark and stormy night.” Mike must have watched it with the kids.
“My problems with the skunks started when we got chickens,” the senator’s email began.
He had me at “chickens.” These foul fowl can be a problem — always grabbing the glory and hogging the spotlight. Just crossing the road gets a slew of inquiries from their legion of fans ... everybody wanting to know, “Why?” Go figure.
But back to Mike. This is his gig.
“I learned that skunks not only like the eggs, but they also will kill chickens,” he explained. “After having to dispose of the dead birds and explain to my 5-year-old daughter what had happened to her pets several times, I decided enough was enough.”
So this longtime state lawmaker did what had to be done. He made a decision and took action.
“I acquired a special skunk trap that prevents the skunk from spraying you when he is caught and declared war on the skunks,” Mike declared.
This low-key Republican wants peace as much as the next farmer, but when backed into a corner — especially a smelly one — even the most docile of men will raise a fist in self-defense.
I admire his convictions. Skunks, and the mere rumor of skunks, can bring a man’s ire like none other. Sometimes a man must take the fight to the skunk’s own backyard. Although technically, this was Mike’s backyard.
He continued, “Over the next couple of months, I caught about six or seven skunks,” Mike recalled. “Over that time, the nightly raiding of the chicken house slowly came to an end.”
And he added, “I thought the war was over and I had won.”
Silly, silly man.
No “Skunk War” of which I have ever fought has ended within two short months.
State Sen. Mike Bell will tell the rest of his tale next week in a second installment that we’ll tag, “Perfume From the Dark Side: Skunked Out of House and Home.”