Friday, February 20, 2009

Studying skunks (and other stinkies)

Last week we stayed at our dacha until the sun had almost gone down. That meant we were walking back after dark. As we passed through the patch of "woods"* before the railroad tracks, we smelled something. Will and I simultaneously said, "Skunk?" To which Jaan and Raia simultaneously answered, "What's that?" I started telling them about skunks. It didn't sound scary to me, but for some reason they were absolutely terrified. As in, they were crying and expecting a skunk to jump out and eat them all the rest of the way home!

I remember how a trip to the zoo and long time spent studying the crocodiles there really helped them get over that fear, so as soon as we got home, I looked up pictures on the internet. Still scary. So, I Googled "skunk nature documentary" and found an incredible PBS show online. We watched the first part that night, and Jaan and Raia were able to go to bed with their fears relieved. The next night we finished watching, and now there aren't any fears left. We're all obsessed! Well, poor Papa didn't watch with us, so he has to hear constant stories of what we saw.

(Funny note: Asya had been too busy to nurse much almost all day at the dacha. She was enjoying the skunk show, sitting in my lap, pointing and commenting, until we got to the part where they feed orphaned baby skunks. She saw the milk all over their faces, flopped over sideways, demanded milk and didn't look up again.)

Now that we know everything about skunks , we know that what we smelled that night wasn't a skunk. So, what was it? We've asked around, and people have said ласка or хорёк, weasel or polecat (?). Although, the further I've gone with looking up animals in that family, the more possiblities I've found, and the more confused I've gotten with Russian, Ukrainian and English names. Will said that it's the first time we've tried to identify a critter by smell. It was probably a weasel (ласка), just because that's the most common stinker around here.

Now, this week's nature challenge just happened to be about skunks and badgers. (Did that really just happen, or did Barb do it especially for us? ) We had already watched the documentary, so we headed into some of the reading. I've been saving the Burgess Animal Book for later, but I thought Jaan would enjoy a taste of one chapter, so we opened it online and listened to it on Librivox. It was a little over Raia's head, but Jaan loved it.

Raia drew the cutest skunk ever, from this photo:

(Be sure to click through the link and look at Raia's skunk. Note the photo tags. ) We really enjoyed the artistic process. She noticed that the skunk's face is shaped like a triangle, or, as she said, "like a piece of pizza." Her drawing doesn't really capture that, but you can see the other triangle that she found: the black one, between the white stripes. Asya and I drew a polecat to go with Raia's skunk.

* There are no real forests in this area, because it's all empty steppe land. However, when they built Dneprorudnoe, they did an incredible job of planting trees. Some areas almost look wooded. . . if you don't turn your head to see how the trees grow in rows, sorted by kinds.


Mom said...

What a delight to read of your nature studies! Of particular note is the fact that you use knowledge to combat fear. (Certainly there is also a spiritual lesson here.)

I see tremendous resemblance between Raia's skunk and the photograph--what an artist you are, Raia!

Anonymous said...

Well done Raia! The CM approach to nature studies is really excellent isn't it :)
Phyllis, I hopped over from Charming the birds blog as I was interested in your comment there about what you plan to use to teach your children about Lent. I couldn't get the link to work. Can you tell about it here perhaps?
Glad to know things are going well for you now, I was last in touch when you were leaving Russia. I can't believe you have shoots in the garden... we have a good three feet of snow here still.
Greetings from Gill (in Norway)

monica said...

oh, they do that here too with the planted trees. rows and rows of poplars in precise order, like soldiers. its a remanent of communism, i think. i do appreciate the forest feel, but when i see those trees so perfectly straight, i feel like i stepped into an orwell novel. eek

Baba Julie said...

What a wonderful story! And, I didn't know that ALL of the creatures you mentioned MADE a smell! I always think SKUNK, too! Great picture, Raia!! Aunt Leetra will soon be there to enjoy all of this with you!! We are praying for a wonderful visit for you all!! Love, Baba Julie

Barb-Harmony Art Mom said...

Great nature study again this week. I love how you weave it into your everyday life and make so many connections. The process of nature study is so much more important than the actual identifying the animal. Look at all the information you learned just from that one experience!

You are doing a great job and your children are going to have a wonderful appreciation for God's Creation as they grow up.

Loved the journals too.

Thanks for sharing your entry,
Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Tracy said...

LOL My husband wants a skunk as a pet. We used to have a ferret, which is in the same family as well. Not sure how to find them, but I know they come descented and all that. ;-)

Lindy said...

I always thought I was smelling skunks and learned that fox urine has a very similar odor. I was able to determine, by prints, that what I thought was skunk was fox so when I smell that odor I'm never sure who's been in the yard! We also have weasels and fishers which probably smell similarly! One night I was trying to get our cat in when I realized I was calling a skunk that was eating grubs in the back :) The cat was happily sleeping on the bed. We had a great lunch with Leetra today, I'm sure you'll have fun while she's there. Love, Aunt Lindy

A day in the life... said...

phyllis - so so happy Leatra is coming!! I know you'll have so much fun.

just wanted to send you this link for a free e-book - i always enjoy all the good links i get from you blog!

A day in the life... said...

BWAHAHAHAHA I forgot the link

yeah i used to be blonde ;)

Shannon and Alex said...

Such an enjoyable entry to read!

DaDaHaZaReJe said...

Hi Phyllis! As you can imagine, you sent the Rigel family on a skunk hunt. Jesse already has a great skunk adventure story from our time in PA - he seems to gather the most extraordinary adventures! - anyway we had to watch the documentary. Had to...couldn't help ourselves. Did it that very day on our lunch break. Now Jesse wants more.

I also agree with your mom - what a wise Mama you are to study the very things that frighten. That's such a good pattern to set for a lifetime of meeting the scary things head on.