Ebony and Ivory

Back in 1982 Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder released a tune called Ebony and Ivory, where they sang:

Ebony and ivory, live together in perfect harmony 
Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh Lord, why don’t we?

Recently, new neighbors moved in, and we’ve had to ask ourselves, “can we live up to that standard?”

I suspect that, despite any protestations to the contrary about being open-minded and unprejudiced, you too would think twice about these neighbors. In many circles, folks look upon them with trepidation; perhaps even fear. Normally associated with the dark of night and the smell of doom, seeing them walk up may well send folks walking the other way. And our new, brazen neighbors sometimes walk about in the full light of day.

Meet the neighbors…

Yes, there are six, maybe seven skunks in this photo. Count the tails. Click on any photo for a larger view.

I suspect this may have been a play date. Most of the time we’ll see one to three wandering about. This was the only time I saw six.

We all know that people (and critters) are the same wherever you go 
There is good and bad in everyone
We learn to live, when we learn to give 
Each other what we need to survive, together alive

They’ve taken up residence under the shed in my backyard. Like cats, they spend much of their day kicking back and snoozing, but from time to time they’ll come out and forage. Little do they realize they’re cohabitating with a guy that will shoot them on sight…

… with a camera, of course.

As far as I can tell, the ones I see are all juveniles. Mom may be around, perhaps she only comes out after dark. But you know how growing kids have enormous appetites and energy to burn, no matter the time of day.

Is it safe?

Mostly they’re oblivious to my wife and I when we’re in the yard, especially as they’ve learned we’re not out to cause them harm.

In earlier days, they’d almost always come out as a group of two or three. Sometimes they’d be scrounging for a bite to eat, sometimes just to take part in wrestling matches. (Sorry, as the “wrestling mat” was behind a fair bit of foliage, I have no good pictures. Imagine a wreathing bundle of black and white, with fluffy tails sticking out.)

While they usually stay near the shed and the foliage nearby, they’re starting to go further afield. And as they age, we see them less frequently.

You might wonder, aren’t we afraid we will get sprayed? Well, sure, maybe a little. That’s one reason we’re not aggressive with them, trying to chase them away. I may get closer than my wife to get photos, but I’m not exactly using a cell phone camera; I get the telephoto lenses out of the bag and get close optically. Physically, I probably haven’t been closer than 10-12 feet.

But ya know, sometimes it’s almost like they’re posing.

Wouldn’t you, if you were all bright eyed and bushy tailed?

The skunks aren’t the only supposedly nocturnal visitors to the yard. Sometimes the raccoons come by, and I’ve known them to hang out under the darkest depths under the deck during the day.

Modern camera sensors are amazing. I shot this one with my newest toy, a Nikon Z6. It works very well in low light – can you believe when I shot this I could see little more than the glint in Momma’s eye? (For you camera nerds, the raccoon pics are all shot at ISO 40,000 and doctored in post processing. That’s just nuts.)

It was also pretty dark under this bush, although lighter than the underdeck. Her pupils were dilated, letting in what light there was and reflecting gold. With teeth that I wouldn’t want to mess with, she looks fierce. But she was just hanging out.

This one was in the best light and shows the reason the racoons like to visit. A water source; a mini birdbath sitting atop a clay pot. I’ve never seen the skunks use it, but the raccoons both use it to drink and wash stuff (judging by the muddied water some mornings.)

I don’t know why else we’re so popular with the critters. We don’t feed them explicitly, although they might get a little seed from under the bird feeders. We’re not out in the country, it’s a standard city residential neighborhood. Maybe there’s something on the critter karma grapevine – those folks are ok.

And do all these critters get along?

They seem to. I’ve seen the skunks and raccoons headed on a collision course behind the shed, with no noise of tussle.

Maybe these “ignorant” creatures could give we humans a lesson. Treat the people and animals around you with respect, and they’ll reciprocate. It’s a lesson that seems lost on all too many human “tribes”, intent on throwing up boundaries, and painting whole groups with their same tarnished brush.

Ebony and ivory, live together in perfect harmony 
Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh Lord why don’t we?

60 thoughts on “Ebony and Ivory

  1. Aw, what cute little fellas! I don’t think I’ve seen skunks up close before — they look like very chic squirrels.
    I think you’re right about critter karma. Animals seem to have a sense of who’s okay and who’s not. I bet you’re giving off some sort of positive energy. Either that, or they can just tell the difference between a gun and a Nikon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Historically, I’ve usually seen them only after dark, so this year has been unusual. And babies of all sorts are often cute – probably saves them from being strangled by Mom when they’re acting up. But the karma thing – yeah, there might be something to that. If not, I’d probably have long since been a landfood treat for some sea creature.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Skunks are so cute. We once saw a mother with five little babies walking single file past our deck as we were enjoying a relaxing summer evening. They are adorable to watch but why do they have to smell so badly???

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I sometimes wonder if that full set I saw early on really was from the same mother. Fortunately, there hasn’t been any eau de skunk fragrance since they’ve been around – I hope it stays that way.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Loved it, Dave. Fun. Skunks and raccoons have adapted well to suburban environments. As for being the peaceable kingdom, not always. I left some apple peels outside at night once along with my night camera to see what animals might be attracted. Of course, they came. First the fox, then the raccoon, and then the skunk. There was a bit of a disagreement between the skunk and the raccoon over who got the apple peels, however. I have this photo of the poor raccoon with it’s head buried in its paws while the skunk looks on, satisfied about a job well done. Unfortunately, our pick-up was in the line of fire. 🙂 –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, Dave! Definitely a battle you don’t want fought in your yard. Then there was the skunk who somehow made it under our house and let go when a flushing toilet startled it. We had to viv with that smell fo several weeks. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I suspect it’s not too often that the combination of skunks being raised, out in the daylight, in the backyard of a guy with appropriate camera gear occurs. And after a while my wife was asking, don’t you have enough skunk pictures? These were the best of the lot.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. pinklightsabre

        We had a black bear sighting on our small gravel road this week! First time, my daughter got a good “live” pic with her phone so you could see it moving. They’ve come for our cherry tree.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. “Dark of Night & Smell of Doom,” great incantation, Dave.
    I’ve seen plenty of skunks, but I’ve never seen a scene like that first shot, wow, think of the combined firepower. But both the skunks & coons are undeniably cute, especially that pair posing for you. Great pics!
    A couple of years ago, there was a nest of yellow jackets in the lawn at my parents’ house, that would swarm out when you tried to cut the grass. They found an entrance, but couldn’t seem to get rid of them. It turned out, the yellow jackets had appropriated a mole tunnel, and the next was eight feet away from the entrance. And they found that out, because a skunk dug up the nest, ate the larvae, and got rid of the yellow jackets. How the skunk did that, without getting stung to death, I don’t know, but Yea! skunk.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If I was poetic I’d have written the whole post in iambic pentameter, using “Dark of Night and Smell of Doom” as the lede. Fortunately, I’m not – saves me a lot of double, double, toil and trouble.

      I did get lucky, a couple times, when the skunks were more out in the open, and I was there, and had some new photo gear I just happened to want to try out. Lately we’re not seeing the skunks so much. After a run of at least once a day for 10 days or so, we haven’t seen them for two. Maybe they’re moving on. (Hopefully?)

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, a raccoon would be a bad idea. I know some folks have pet skunks, descented and with shots, but they can be a handful. And it’s not legal everywhere. I’m cool with the occasional, non smelly visit. It’s starting to look like they’ve flown the nest, so to speak – we haven’t seen them for 2-3 days.


  5. What a lovely narrative and wonderful pictures of your neighbors. I would love to see them around too and like you probably keep a very long social distance with them.

    That was a good point about lesson to learn from these critters, indeed!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great photos you got! I’ve rarely seen their faces that close-up. Odd fact: I do not dislike the smell of skunk spray! Once, when my dog got nailed, I wasn’t too happy about it, but a little whiff outdoors, on the road – ahhhh, happy car trip memories!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hadn’t either, until this event. A telephoto helps…
      I’m not a fan of Eau de Skunk. I think one died under the shed a couple years ago and it tool a while for the various bad smells to go away.

      Sounds like things aren’t going too well in Houston, virus wise. Be safe.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I love skunks—from a distance! When I was young, a neighbour had a pet skunk that had its scent glands removed so it couldn’t spray, which I think can’t be done now. It was very friendly though. Fantastic pictures!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Those are great photos! Skunks are actually rather cute, and so are raccoons. And I totally agree with your conclusion. It’s time to stop generalizing about groups of people….any group of people…..and just treat others with the same respect and compassion that we want them to show toward us. That would go a long way toward healing our broken country and broken world.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. People making blanket derogatory statements about other groups is a pet peeve of mine. Virtually every group I’ve been around has had a range of characters, from saints to a-holes (and sometimes it’s the same people on different occasions.) If we must criticise, let’s criticise bad behavior, not demographics. And even there recognize things aren’t always black and white. The song was simplistic, but was on the right track.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. As always, Dave, some wonderful shots.
    To the best of my knowledge, I have never had a sense of smell – either genetic or perhaps a very early head injury similar to what Alie attributes many of my characteristics. But I recall when I was a teenager encountering a skunk, not directly but soon after it sprayed, and still remember the odor was so strong I could taste it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve heard of skunks as pets, although I understand they can be challenging if they get bored, and don’t have a homing instinct.

      I guess since we don’t get any other company in these Covid days, it’s nice to have the critters come by.


  10. These photos are fabulous. I’ve never seen more than one skunk at a time, and at least half the time, they’re in the middle of the road in the same state as our unfortunate armadillos. It makes sense that as they mature they’d stop hanging in a group and begin scattering out. The baby possums that were around my place for a while were showing up in the middle of the day for birdseed and water, but it’s been several days since I’ve seen them now — they seem to have gone noctural, like good possums do.

    I have raccoon tales galore, including the story of one who boarded our sailboat one night via the dock lines and stole all of the Pepperidge Farm cookies. I wasn’t happy. As it turned out, that same raccoon had broken into the game wardens place on the barrier island, and was discovered in the middle of their kitchen table. He’d taken the lid off the peanut butter jar and was scooping the stuff out with his paws. You’d best be alert — the skunks may be wandering off, but that raccoon could be plotting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There seems to be a class of people who take pleasure out of running over creatures in the road. Kind of makes you wonder who the real varmints are.

      The skunks seem to be gone now, although now that we don’t see ’em anymore there’s a slight odor…

      We had another set of raccoons come by last night; a mom and three kits. I’ve seen them once before. I couldn’t get a shot of all four, but did ok on two of them. I noticed in my pictures that even their feet have long “fingers” – all the better to unscrew jars.


  11. Ha! I used to live in Shepherd’s Bush, way back, and at some point we got new neighbours, living in the no man’s land between our home and the QPR football stadium: a family of foxes. They were some really noisy buggers and had a habit of sitting outside my flatmate’s window, watching her as she slept. That she didn’t like, I can tell you.

    Anyhow, love the raccoons. Don’t know why, but I find them nice. Perhaps it’s because in Italian they’re called “Orsetto lavatore”, meaning something like “Little washer bear”. But I hear they’re pretty nasty?

    Hope all is well up there in Oregon, Dave.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t heard of urban foxes. Coyotes, maybe, around here.

      I was reading on raccoons, and it appears variations of “washer bear” occur in several languages, including a Latin classification. They do have that, “who me, would I steal that” look on their face, kind of impish. Last night we had a visit from a family of four, sitting/wandering atop the shed roof. The little ones were even cuter than Mom.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Foxes are so common over here, it’s incredible. I’ve probably seen 3 foxes in 25 years in Italy whilst over here in London I might see one every other week. I used to have a colleague, born in Guinea, who one day was walking back to home after gym practice; he saw a fox strolling down the road. He absolutely freaked out (in his own words, “monkeys, yes I’ve dealt with! But foxes? never!”); he saw a police car, flagged them down and told them that the fox was going that way… the cops looked as if he was high on something.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. I remember that song well. 🙂 But wow, what fun you’re having! I’ve never seen more than one at a time. Six!!! The photos are great – the raccoon ones as well. We had a family of racoons in a huge old tree within the boundaries of New York City when I lived on its northern edge. They were great fun to watch – once whenwe left windows open in the car overnight, there were racoons in there the next morning. Crazy. Your new toy sounds like a lot of fun. You wrapped this post up beautifully. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I suspect I’ll never see that many at once again. But frankly, that’s ok. They’re all gone now, and raccoon sighting are infrequent as well. Although I do have a couple more raccoon shots that turned out nicely. I really need to take the new toy on a walk somewhere – it’s getting tired of the back yard.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. They’re so cute! They must be very comfortable around you and your wife to let you photograph them. I wish we could see more animals here. We only see stray cats (fed by locals) and common birds. We can learn so much from animals. I particularly liked the last line of your post. I can totally relate to it!


  14. They are so cute! A whole family! We’ve seen a raccoon and a couple possums in our neighborhood. When we do we stand there, “Awww……” Wonder if we lived in a house out here if we’d have extra animal friends.

    Hope you and your wife are ok. Read about the truck driver who was trying to save a lady from getting robbed. We have a lot of crazy here. Even though we live one of the safest areas it’s kinda weird. We still barely go out. We’ll be heading to Manhattan a couple times before school starts because I’m feeling really trapped. Need to be around other people (at a distance). don’t feel the need to socialize, I’m an introvert just need to see a different crowd. I’m not used to staying out here so long.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was a temporary thing. We’ve seen skunks pass through in the past, as well as raccoons, but nearly always after dark. The family affair was a whole new trip.

      Despite the so called national news of Portland being one big riot, things are mostly normal here, apart from Covid. There is a relatively small group of anarchists making trouble in isolated spots. I don’t know if they’re simply too stupid to realize they’re being counterproductive, or just like making trouble. My wife and I have not been affected at all.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. that’s good. glad to hear you both are ok. we ventured in 2x to Manhattan because i just can’t take it anymore. we make sure to take the train when it isn’t crowded. yeah, there may be more crazy around but both times we really felt safe and fine. nothing too out of the ordinary except the weird way we are all living now. prob just people going around the boroughs taking advantage of the situation. but all the drama that it’s the 70s again is a lie. def a lot of anti asian sentiment. we’ve been fine but Vic is a big guy so not a good target. seniors have it rough. two Chinese people funded alarms for seniors. it’s to go off when attacked or harassed so they can get away or it can alert people nearby to help. two neighborhoods over from us, an 88 yr old grandma was set on fire (really surprised by this, did not think this would happen in Bensonhurst). anti asian flyers were plastered in my neighborhood and dyker (not surprised by this). the hate will get worse since the virus isn’t going away anytime soon. sigh.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Cute skunks. Not the first thing you’d normally think of. It was kind of fun while it lasted. We’ve never had the raccoons in the house, normally they’re just passing through or occasionally hang out under the deck. (Thank goodness!)

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I truly love this post, and seriously even my first reaction to this or to having skunks around my house would be alarm, but as you say we treat each other with respect and we live in harmony. And then your writing overall is such a great joy to read, the humor always brings a smile to my face. While I would hesitate living with a family of skunks, give me a raccoon family any day, I love their curiosity and beauty 🙂 Cheers to you during this winter season, and hope you are keeping nice and warm (and safe) with your loved ones, Dave. Take care and wish you a healthy and happy year ahead.

    Liked by 1 person

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