Being a relatively new resident of North America, amusing beasties such as raccoons and skunks still have me pointing and exclaiming with delight. I am still not 100% sure of appropriate creature encounter behaviour. I think I’ve got the basics of bear etiquette down – it’s all in the claws, apparently – and just a couple of months ago I found out that I didn’t need to be fearful of cougars and mountain lions and pumas, I can just pick one and panic, since it turns out that it is just the one crafty beast with a whole litter of aliases. On my travels I’ve also learned that “cougars,” in pejorative North American terms anyway, are also predatory older ladies with a penchant for admirers somewhat younger than themselves. That’s a whole different thing to be afraid of. Despite being at the age when I could probably qualify as one, I’m afraid I can’t offer any advice on how best to evade their pursuit. Our pursuit. It’s probably in the claws.
Soon after I moved to the Pacific Northwest, a local tabloid ran the headline, “Rabid Skunk!” above a photo of a sketchy-looking skunk caught in the kind of bleary-eyed paparazzi-snapped pose usually reserved for the latest freefalling pop disaster du jour and her posse as they cascade out of the week’s chicest emporium. I don’t know whether this provoked exaggerated skunk fears on my part, but on the occasions that I’ve been loping home at night and seen one scurrying about the streets, I’ve pelted off swiftly in the other direction, a look of near matching rabid terror in my eyes. Looking at this wee face on the other side of the window is the closest I’ve ever been to one of the ominously striped critters. It’s an odd experience. If you took a skunk and asked an obliging taxidermist to make you a hot water bottle cover out of it, this is pretty much what it would look like.
Once, when I was an urchin, I was at a puppet making class in Glasgow Art Galleries and inadvertently went through the wrong door, finding myself in the galleries’ taxidermy workshop. It was a more intensive educational experience than the puppet masters probably intended and not one that I’ve ever forgotten. Polar bears look disconcerting inside out. Looking at the sporran display in the Kilt and Thistle Shop in Salem, Oregon, the furry faces look disconcerting, too, in a different way. It seems somehow less dignified than lopping their heads off and sticking them up on the wall. I stand for some time taking in the row of fine North American creatures, parceled up into sporrans.