There is a funk in the woods. By that I don’t mean some groovy tune, I mean it smells. Stinks. Like a hairy, hygienically-challenged creature is in there. If you walk across the field and down the hill to enter the woods at what looks like a dark opening in the left center of the photo above, you come nose to odor with the creature.
I have lived on this farm and traveled the woods for forty-seven years and never smelled this before. The aroma is like sour den: animal sweat and glands and warmth with a little spit and urine mixed in for good measure. It is so strong, it permeates about 200 square feet of woodland. The smell has been in this area since early spring, April or so. On still days it hangs in the air so you must hold your breath as you pass by or be nasally assaulted.
We have been scratching our heads and querying our friends and neighbors, trying to understand the funk. I even have a call in to the game warden. Maybe he will get back to me about the “animal smell” in my woods, right after he wraps up the latest poaching ring.
What once used to be my favorite forest stroll has become a source of dark imaginings. What animal could make such an effusive stench? How big is this thing? Are there, instead, several small ones contributing to the miasma? Where the heck are they? No sight or sound of this creature is evident, only the olfactory impression.
It does not smell like skunk. Not even faintly. Once I owned a descented ferret, for a short time. Until my husband said it had to go because it was so whiffy. The creature in the woods does not smell like a ferret. I presume a larger member of the weasel family, like a fisher, would have a ferrety fragrance about it.
This reek is a conundrum. It reminds me the most of dog; long unwashed bedding of a long unwashed dog. Except more feral. So maybe this critter is actually a den of coyotes or foxes or even a brush wolf? When coyotes are around, they can’t help themselves. They yip and howl on a nightly basis. You know if there are coyotes. When foxes move in, they tend to stalk my chickens. No evidence of this so far, knock on wood. So maybe it’s a brush wolf? They are rare, almost fabled, in Maine. They are big. I may have seen one, once. It was taller and longer than my 110 lb German shepherd.
Or is the odiferous thing a bear? I’ve never smelled a bear. Research tells me bears are not so foul. You are more likely to smell the rotting groundhog carcass they have stashed for lunch than to catch the scent of Ursa. I know there are bears on our farm, their scat turns up on trails sometimes or their handiwork in a torn-apart hornet nest. Seems like if this were bear fetor, I’d have noticed it in the past.
In the photo above, the dead limbs of a very tall white pine are just visible in the top center right. They look a bit like antlers jutting up. This tree is huge, at least seventeen feet in circumference, maybe eighty feet in height. Several years ago it was struck by lightning and killed. The towering skeleton of wood is an ideal place for many wild animals to build a home. The dead tree is central to the area of the funk. Maybe something moved into the tree this spring? A huge colony of raccoons? Could they make this pervasive pong?
Raccoon sign has always been common in our woods. The banks of the small river running through the farm are riddled with raccoon prints. I have smelled young raccoons when they were brought into the vet clinic where I used to work. They were not offensive. Maybe a big nest of them can become rank?
I have investigated the vicinity of the funk as much as I dare. If it is a large and dangerous animal, I don’t want to meet it. From a distance, I can spot no holes or piles of brush that might shelter an animal. The mystery deepens. I am reminded of tales told in jest of the skunk ape, a pungent eastern relative of Bigfoot. As I said, the mind conjures darkly and creatively when there is no easy explanation.
Sure hope the riddle can be solved soon. Perhaps with the help of the game warden? Right now we are too cautious to venture into our own woods. A very sad thing, indeed, to be frightened of a smell.