Posted by: jefriesen | August 17, 2010

Peppermint Memories

School starts this week for many families in the land of the Oregon Trail and for many junior high and high school students, this means one thing: drama. In addition to the normal hassles of actually having to study for classes, our junior high and high school students may face the embarrassment of wearing the wrong shade of nail polish or (if you are an upper-classmen) actually treating a freshman as a real person. But back in my day, we really knew how to embarrass ourselves. In fact, I was an expert at it.

You see, when I was in junior high and high school, my brother and I trapped. That is to say that we intentionally placed spring loaded mechanical devices in private wildlife management areas with the express purpose of catching the potentially overpopulated furbearing wildlife animals and . . . um . . . killing them and removing their hide so as to line our pockets with cash (I tried, but there just isn’t a politically correct way to describe trapping). We weren’t particularly good trappers, but we were diligent. Every day during fur harvesting season we would drag ourselves out of bed at five a.m., stumble to the car and drive to the small pond where we had placed our traps. By the time we got to the edge of the pasture, the eager anticipation of a beaver, muskrat, raccoon or mink waiting in our traps was, as the song says, “dancing in our heads,” so as to remove all of the morning cobwebs. For a 13 year old boy, It was like having Christmas every day for three months.

On one particularly crisp December morning, we waded through parts of the small beaver pond, from trap to trap, checking to see if we had caught anything the night before. We hadn’t. But as we walked up from the water to check one of our land traps, we heard something rustling in the leaves in the direction of one of our spring-loaded mechanical fur harvesting devices. Our eyes lit up. A catch! We crept up on the location, hoping to get a glimpse of the raccoon we were sure that we caught. A raccoon pelt in good condition at the time paid from thirty to seventy five dollars, and we were already spending it in our minds. But as we got close enough to see the animal clearly, it became evident that it was not a raccoon. The animal with the long black tail and white stripes was clearly a Mephitis mephitis (Latin for: “an offensive stench”). In other words, a skunk.

Nor was that our only skunk of the day. Apparently, there had been a mini skunk convention in our wildlife management area, and all of the skunks who stayed long enough to dance on tables and swing from the chandeliers decided to step in our traps as well. In all, we caught seven skunks that morning. On the positive side, it was our largest catch ever for one day of the season. That was the only positive side. There were a few negatives, the least of which was the fact that on the market, skunk hides weren’t worth anything. So our main concern was how to get rid of the skunks and reset the traps without becoming targets of critters’ anxiety, so to speak. There was only one efficient way to do this and it involved our .22 caliber Ruger and a steady eye.

Now normally, skunks are clean animals. They don’t like wasting any of the 15 cc’s of the odiferous fluid that serves as their last defense. Scientists say that skunks are reluctant to use this weapon, but there’s something about being killed that makes them lose their discretion. So when we dispatched the first skunk, the smell was immediately obvious. Anyone who has ever driven within a mile of a dead skunk on the side of the highway is familiar with the distinct aroma. But something curious happened by the time we finished taking care of the seventh skunk: we didn’t notice it. As a matter of fact, we both agreed that we smelled rather like peppermint.

We got home late that morning. Seven catches was a large catch for us. Thus, we didn’t have time to take a bath before school started. But that was okay, because WE SMELLED LIKE PEPPERMINT. However, just to be safe, we traipsed upstairs, opened the medicine closet and lathered ourselves in dad’s cologne before heading to school, because it ought to be obvious to the average observer that English Leather and peppermint smell better than peppermint alone.

I got to class and sat down. First period was science class and that morning we were watching a film. Within ten minutes, I was alone in my darkened corner of the room and the rest of the desks were scooted as far as possible from me. The instructor stopped the film, turned on the lights and said “Jeff, I’m sorry, but it’s getting a little intense in here. You’re going to have to go home and take a shower.” He gave me a pass and I took it into the principal’s office. Amazingly, the secretary didn’t even ask why I needed to go home. It was obvious to her. By now, my peppermint illusions had been shattered; even more, I had publicly embarrassed myself in front of girls who would later turn me down when I asked them out on dates.

So kids, as you enter school this year and realize you’re wearing the same shoelaces as your rival, remember: it could be worse. You could smell like ‘peppermint.’

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