A stubborn, lasting rain brought our world to a stop. At least my gardening effort was stopped when great drops of rain began with no warning. I made a mad dash for the shed, throwing the shallow box with my sweater and tools on top of the lawn mower.
It was still raining this morning when I went out to stow away the ladder I'd left leaning against the house. I began maneuvering it past the mower and saw a skunk surveying me from the box I'd thrown in. He was sitting on my sweater, his tail slowly swinging up. Just as slowly, I put the ladder down and backed out without closing the door.
I decided the mower was adequately protected and took the long way around the house so as not to startle the skunk, since the wide spaces between the shed boards made it easy for him to observe my movements.
I called the police and was told not to worry, that the skunk would go away as soon as the rain stopped. But the rain didn't stop. The weather turned cold again and I was glad I had left my sweater in the box.
I thought the skunk must be hungry; likely that was why he had been out so early in the season looking for something to eat.
The encyclopedia said that skunks feed on insects, mice, salamanders, frogs, and eggs of birds that nest low. I could provide none of these, but did have some bacon and fixed it for him. I hummed a little tune and put the food down near his box, then moved away slowly.
My next-door neighbor came out to her garage just then and saw the skunk. She called in alarm, ''There's a skunk in your shed!''
''Yes. He's been there since the rain began.''
''What are you going to do about it?''
''I called the police, and they said he would go away when the rain stops.''
She informed me that the weather reports said the rain wasn't going to stop for maybe two days.
''I'll call the police,'' I said.
Later, two policemen did stop to verify the presence of the skunk. I warned them to approach quietly.
''Just peer around the corner of the house. He's in the shed.''
The first officer did just that and immediately backed into the second officer who backed into my new syringa bush. Speaking over his shoulder, he promised to send a truck. I waited, but no truck came.
Friends telephoned their advice. The man at the end of the alley offered to bring down a trap and set it.
''A trap! I couldn't do that!''
''Well, it may be a female. She may produce a litter right there in the shed.''
I thought it best not to mention the bacon.
Each morning I've been lingering just long enough to meet a pair of dark little eyes; he had stopped raising his tail.
My neighbor to the right is a lawyer, and when I told him about the trap suggestion, he asked facetiously if I had a license to trap. When I said I had no such intention, he laughed and said he was glad to hear it, else I would have broken three laws.
''It is illegal to keep a skunk; it's illegal to do away with him; and it's illegal to release him,'' he said.
I said I didn't know how to release him.
''Well, when they come to serve the citation for breaking the animal ordinance, just tell them you're willing to go to court if you can take the skunk along as evidence.''
I gave up and called the state wildlife officials, who suggested the rodent people might help. But when I called them, the lady at the other end of the phone said they handled only mice and rats.
Sometime during the night the rain stopped. Only a little bacon remained, so I cooked it and was surprised to find my skunk was still there. I wondered if he'd been waiting for his breakfast.
Half an hour later, I glanced out the kitchen window and saw him waddling across the lawn in a preoccupied way, stopping at the pines, turning to rummage under them, perhaps looking for a grub for dessert.