An old fellow I met while hunting at Hart Mountain had been a logging camp push [boss or foreman], and one evening around my fire he started telling a story about needing to hire help during the Depression: "I told the woman there at the employment agency to send me five men, but if they were wearing caps and belts, she'd better send ten." He was then wearing suspenders as did all of the loggers I knew. Belts were for cowboys.
I, too, wore suspenders while I lived on the Coast, but over the years I found a belt a little more comfortable, a little easier to maintain. So when I attended a Stihl chainsaw service school in 1982, and the technical rep offered each of us our choice of suspenders or belt buckles with Stihl's logo on them, I took a buckle, which was four inches long, two and half inches high, and heavy; it was cast from white-metal and then bronze plated. It was also a buckle I could wear and not be ashamed of around acquaintances: it wasn't silver, and it didn't have Alaskan gold nuggets tacked to it here & there as if its wearer had all of his taste in his mouth.
Over the years, the buckle wore out a couple of belts. I bought an older house in Idaho, and I married again when my daughters thought I was ready (I jest, but not really — Dad, you’re old enough to leave home), and I again began to keep a flock of laying hens. I live (1999) at forty-seven hundred feet elevation. Nights are always cool, even in July. Nevertheless, my wife wants to sleep with windows and doors open … one night she jabbed me in the ribs and said, "Something is wrong with the chickens."
I woke up enough to hear that the hens were squawking about something. I leave a light burning in the chicken house all the time, and they squawk somewhat regularly at night, usually about a cat walking on the roof of their house. So not wanting to, I get up and step to the open backdoor from where I can see into the lighted house.
The hens are certainly having a fit about something, but they are all on their roosts and I can't see anything on the floor. The door to their covered pen is shut. So I head back to bed.
I have no sooner laid down than my wife said, "You gotta go out there and see what is wrong. Something is wrong."
Because of the coolness of the nights, I have taken to sleeping in a T-shirt.
I get back up, pull on jeans, and slip my bare feet into a pair of oxfords. So with shoelaces flapping and holding my jeans up with one hand—I don't take time to buckle my belt—I hurry out to the henhouse to satisfy my wife that everything is okay.
Stars shine as only they can at higher elevations. There wasn't a light on anywhere in town other than in my and my neighbor's henhouses. (We live in a town of 700.) No one was awake at 12:30 Sunday morning.
When I opened the gate into the chicken yard, I smelled skunk. Not too strong, but I shouldn't be smelling any skunkiness. Now hurrying, I stepped into the henhouse and found a skunk in a nest box eating eggs, and I wished I had a gun with me.
A big female, the skunk apparently sprayed with her butt against the inside of the nest box when I opened the gate into the chicken yard. She sprayed too early, thereby missing me before I saw her. But I don't realize she has sprayed until I see the sputter of green droplets that occur when a skunk tries to squirt after having fired and before it has fully recharged its load.
I wasn’t as quick or as foolish as I once was when I grabbed, by the nape of its neck, a trapped raccoon growling at me. I might or might not have been able to grab this skunk without being bitten, but too many skunks here carry rabies and I wasn’t interested in getting the shots. So I pulled off my belt in one continuous motion which was almost as fast as Dad could get his belt off—and turning my belt around, I swung the heavy Stihl buckle as hard as I could at the skunk's head as she tried to jump down from the nest box.
I just missed her skull, hitting instead her snout.
She twisted back around so her butt again faces me, but she hadn't recharged her scent sack. All that she could discharge was that sputter of green droplets that didn't carry.
I stood behind her, poised to strike again. And neither of us knew what to do. She was inside the box so I couldn't hit her head with the heavy buckle, and she had to expose her head to escape. Her sack was empty. And even if it wasn't, my nose had already become accustomed to the odor.
Again she tried to jump out of the nest box. Again I struck too early, hitting her snout instead of her skull.
She now bled from the side of her snout.
And my wife comes to the backdoor in her purple nightgown to see if everything was all right, to see why I hadn't returned to bed.
"Bring me a rifle, the .250. There's shells for it in the red box."
Minutes passed with me poised, the skunk sputtering, and the hens squawking. My dogs had started barking, which started neighbor dogs barking as far away as on the ranches at the edge of town. But still no lights came on in neighboring houses although I couldn't imagine why not.
Holding the little .250 Savage upright as if it might bite, my wife entered the chicken yard, but wouldn't come into the henhouse. I took the rifle from her, and hoping that I didn't awaken neighbors, I dispatched the skunk with one shot.
Even after the report of the shot faded, no light came on anywhere in town. Except in my henhouse and in my neighbor's, the town was dark. Only the stars shone—and the yard light of a ranch across the river.
"You're not coming into the house with those clothes on," my wife said as I stepped onto the back porch.
I looked around to see if I could be seen as I dropped my jeans on the porch and stripped off my T-shirt. If there is anybody looking, they are doing so from darkened houses.