My wife and I used to live up in the hills of north California, land of a thousand lawsuits, on a piece of land roughly a square mile in size. There were very few inhabitants, and everybody occupied their own little patch. It was very quiet and almost always peaceful. The few disturbances that arose were generally caused by an overlap between the wild animals and the people, but fortunately in the case of my neighbours these were peaceful events that usually ended up with the animals getting their way. After all, they were there first. Aside from that, no-one in their right mind really wants to cross a wild boar, bear or mountain lion that thinks you’re in the way. If you’ve any sense at all, you step gracefully to one side.
Our social life was a little limited due to the low number of inhabitants. To add a little variety, every so often people would get together in a building known as the ‘Community House’ to cook a meal, bring out guitars and so forth (for and so forth, read Jack Daniels, tequila and/or marijuana) and sit up long into the night chatting and singing. Great fun. This house, originally a hunting lodge for owners in the distant past, had a fairly complete kitchen and our bulk foods were stored there for communal use: big containers that were divvied up as needed. These included peanut butter.
Such was the esteem in which this stuff was held that it was purchased in 5-gallon buckets. Of course, peanut butter tends to…set. Hard. The top several inches was usually reasonably ductile, followed by about a foot of ‘perma-butter’, which required industrial strength mixing to break apart. Below this was ‘butter rock’, of such a consistency that if the Romans had discovered it they wouldn’t have bothered to invent concrete.
One morning, one of our neighbours trotted back over to the community house for something she’d forgotten to take home after a rousing time of it the previous evening. While there, she happened to notice the lid of the peanut butter bucket had been left lying against the wall, and the butter itself was uncovered. That’s just not a good idea anywhere, but especially so in an area where you hold your shoes upside down and bang them on something hard every time you intend to put them on, and where you can wake up one morning and find, as I once did, a dead scorpion under your pillow. Accordingly, she picked up the lid and went to set it back on the bucket.
I should mention here something about the lids on plastic 5-gallon Californian buckets. They were a real pain to get off. Such was the pain that once you had managed to remove it, you never again secured it tightly back into place. Peeling the edge of the lid up again, all around the bucket, was just no fun at all and often resulted in a broken fingernail or two. Just setting it back in place and giving it a friendly ‘thump’ usually worked fine – but clearly it hadn’t in this case.
Just as she was about to pop the lid back, she noticed a small black blob right in the middle of the peanut butter. She bent to look closer. ‘Wow’, she thought, ‘it looks just like a nose’.
Then she saw it expand…and contract again, ever so slightly. This was immediately followed by the thought, ‘my god, it IS a nose!’
She carried the bucket outside (having already figured out that we were now 5 gallons short on peanut butter) and carefully tipped it onto its side. Out came most of the peanut butter, followed by…a skunk.
Somehow the poor thing had gained entry to the building, found the peanut butter and removed the lid. But instead of pulling out a few paws full of peanut butter, it had fallen straight in (overcome by the fumes?) and been unable to climb out. It was probably the only skunk on the planet that never, ever wanted to see peanut butter again, and had only been saved from a peanutty, buttery demise by the ‘butter rock’ on which it had stood, on tiptoe (tip-paw?) all night. It blundered off into the woods, probably to spend the rest of the day cleaning itself and then to be shunned by family and friends because, well, it smelled funny.