Tucson, Arizona is a small city nestled in a gorgeous desert ringed by mountains, remnants of an old volcano, and the city lights are stunning on stormy nights like this one. So tonight, on my way home from visiting with friends, I decided to embrace my childhood and geological heritage and head up Catalina Highway into the mountains to marvel at the nighttime view from the Babad Do’ag lookout point up at mile marker three.
Everything was going so well at first. I had all the windows down and the music on but (for once in my life) turned low, and there was a storm brewing to the south and I could just catch flashes of lightning off in the distance beyond the city as I navigated the winding mountain road up toward the lookout point.
I was going to stop at Babad Do’ag, like I said, except that for some reason red and blue lights were flashing as I approached and I saw a couple of cop cars stopped at the lookout, and I decided that for the sake of my own tranquility and enjoyment I would just move on and find a better spot higher up on the mountain to stop and revel in the beauty of the night.
It was dark out, obviously, and there were enough cars on the road that I didn’t have my high beams on. So when something small and dark entered my field of vision, I barely had enough time to slam on my brakes. Seriously, this was the hardest I’d ever put my foot down on a pedal in my life. The smell of burning rubber wafted up into my car and my purse flew onto the floor at my side and the distant car behind me got far closer in the rearview than I would have liked, but I narrowly – narrowly – avoided hitting the skunk that then meandered out from under my bumper and happily went on its merry way into the night.
I was a little shaken, but after I was sure the critter was well off to the side of the road I continued up the mountain. I made it a couple more turns before I decided enough was enough and I didn’t want to risk any more heart-attack situations in the pursuit of a nice view I’d seen plenty enough already. So at the next pull-out I turned around and headed back down the mountain.
At this point I was going five under. I took extra precautions as I neared the area where I’d just seen the skunk, hoping to see it earlier than I did last time even though I was pretty sure it would avoid the road completely after it almost died.
But here’s the thing about skunks – from the side they’re pitch black. And while I was driving away that bastard had turned right around just like I did, and it put itself square in the middle of my lane again on my way back down the mountain.
If I thought I slammed on my brakes hard the first time, I was mistaken. That second time I hammered that pedal to the floor so hard I was pretty sure the car was going to snap.
But this time I was heading downhill. The skunk went under my bumper and I felt a little jitter even before the car stopped, and by then I just had to keep moving because it was already past the wheels.
I wasn’t totally sure if I really hit it. The skunk was in the exact center of the lane so maybe the car just went over it, maybe the jitter I felt wasn’t real, I didn’t know. I turned the car around again and headed back up the mountain to check because if the skunk was injured I was damn well going to take it to a vet.
But alas, when I got there the poor skunk was lying slumped in the road, and as I slowed to examine it there was no movement, nothing. Two other cars had come down the mountain while I turned to head back for my skunk, so it might have been one of them that did it, but I’m pretty damn sure I was the one that really killed it.
I didn’t end up stopping at any lookout points. The cops were still at my favorite spot as I passed them for a fourth time on the way back down the mountain, and I thought to stop and tell them about my poor little skunk, but they looked quite busy with whatever delinquent they’d cornered up there in the parking lot so I let it go.
So really, in the end, I went up the mountain tonight to kill a skunk. That was pretty much the sole existential purpose of my well-intentioned detour this evening. I think I’m going to probably go cry a little and sleep it off and try to convince myself it wasn’t my fault.