Scents and Scentsability
With a prodigious yawn, Junior Bruin awoke from his nap. The warm sun and fresh air had made him sleepy. It had not been that long since he and Mama Bruin had come out of the den where he had been born and Mama had spent the winter hibernating.
He stretched each leg in turn, and then looked about to see where his mother was, and what she was doing. Mama Bruin was busy rooting in an old rotten log, searching for the crunchy white grubs that she loved so well. When she saw that her offspring had wakened, she gave a grunt of warning that very clearly said, “Don’t go wandering off too far on your own, Junior,” and returned to the all-engrossing hunt before her.
Junior didn’t pay much heed to the warning. There were so many wonderful and unusual things to see in this new and unexplored place. He pawed at a half-rotted log with indifferent success; somehow, it was more challenging than he expected to get out the little treats. Mama Bruin made it look so easy. Pretending that he didn’t really want any after all, he followed a racing beetle with his nose, bumping it every once in a while, sending it sprawling ignominiously.
Losing interest in the beetle, he found himself at the top of a grassy slope. He had never seen such a long way before (not that he could see much, for you know how short-sighted bears are) and had never guessed that there could be so much space. He romped along the edge, feeling incredibly daring, and then peered back over his shoulder. Mama Bruin had her back to him and was paying him no mind, so with a whisk of his stubby tail, he began to run down the hill.
Now, running down a hill is all very well, but you know what happens when you get going too fast. Yes, that’s right–soon Junior’s back legs were going faster than his front legs, and he started turning somersaults, head over teakettle. Junior was rather surprised and perhaps a bit frightened. However, he reached the bottom without coming to grief, and when he had picked himself up, and given a brisk shake, he felt rather proud of himself.
A sound of snuffling and crunching reached his ears, and he waddled off to see who it could be. About three steps away through the grass, he came upon another animal, who, like Mama Bruin, was excavating for grubs. At first, the other animal ignored him completely. But Junior was hungry now and very sure of himself.
“Hey,” he said, swaggering forward, “give me some of those grubs.”
“Fetch your own,” said the stranger, his voice muffled as he stuck paws and snout into a crack, and drew out a particularly fat and luscious maggot.
“But I don’t see why you shouldn’t share with me,” said Junior, his mouth watering. “Surely there’s more there than you need for yourself.”
And with this, the shiny-haired animal turned back to his meal. But Junior could not believe it. Why, this upstart, who was less than half his size, was impudent enough to refuse to share his grubs. He started to rush forward belligerently, and then he stopped, an instinct of caution momentarily over-riding his brashness. The stranger had raised his striped tail in the air, and was stamping his feet.
“I wouldn’t,” hissed the offended skunk, glaring at Junior. “Your friends won’t like you much if you bother me.”
“He’s right, you know,” came the sleepy voice of Bat from the stick where he hung upside down.
“Nonsense,” bragged Junior, with his nose in the air. “My friends would all agree with me that you are being utterly selfish if you won’t share with me. In fact, why don’t you just go find a different place to eat; I’m going to have this log for myself.”
But before he reached it, Mouse and Chipmunk squeaked at him. He turned aside to see what they were saying.
“Oh Junior, don’t mess with that fellow. He’s–he’s terrible!” whispered Mouse, covering her eyes with one paw.
“What’s so dreadful about him anyway?” asked Junior, looking puzzled. Chipmunk’s teeth chattered.
“I don’t know, but I’ve heard things–things to make you shudder, things to make you shake in your boots. I’ve always heard, ‘Leave black and white striped things strictly alone.’ Don’t you go near him, Junior.”
Junior Bruin looked uncertain for a moment, but then he swelled with self-importance.
“I’m not going to allow that creature to tell me where I can eat or not. He can just move out of the way.”
“Hold on a minute, Junior,” came the voice of Beaver, as he swam across to them. “Let me assure you that you will not be allowed to come into my pond and foul its purity forever, if you insist on following through with your ideas. Have some consideration, if you please. Besides, if you wash never so many times, it still won’t come out. Look at me. I’m as castored as ever, and I’m in the water all the time. No use, no use at all. So I suggest that you think before you consider polluting our neighbourhood.”
“Psst! Junior!” called Raccoon, making frantic motions with his paws in an effort to distract the young bear. “Here’s a nice log, with some beautiful grubs in it. I’ll share with you. Just leave Skunk alone.”
“Huh! You guys are all just a bunch of cowards. What can that little fellow do to me, a great big bear as I am! Just you watch!”
And so he strutted toward the log. If there was one thing he had learned in his first few days in the wide world, it was that bears were absolutely invincible. His mother was not afraid of anything; everybody else moved out of her way with a great deal of respect. Naturally, the same must be true for himself. Unconquerable! Victorious! Unquenchable!
A sudden greenish cloud of nauseous, stinging liquid flew up in his face. Coughing, choking, and gagging, Junior rolled on the ground in terror and agony. He didn’t know what terrible weapon the nasty animal had used, but he didn’t want any more of it. Bawling madly, he raced around, spreading the reek everywhere.
“Oh dear,” Mouse said, with a gasp of dismay. “What strong, offensive smell is this that smites upon my nose? Oh, where have I left my smelling salts? I fear I shall pass out from this shock to my system.”
And she held a tiny paw to her nose to block the worst of it. Chipmunk pretended to fall back in poisoned paroxysms.
“Who’s been mixing up the chemicals in the lab? It smells like a experiment gone badly wrong. Oh, is it you, Junior? We told you to leave Skunk alone. Why didn’t you listen to us?” cackled Chipmunk, pinching his nose shut.
“What odour passeth this way?” quipped Raccoon, as he groaned at the disaster. “Phew! What glorious noisomeness, what squalid fetor, what malodorous stench is this? Some sweet perfume, no doubt.”
“What is that terrible stink?” said Fox, coming upon the scene. “It smells like a half dozen polecats rolled into one.”
All the other animals pointed with their free paw to where Junior lay rubbing his face frantically.
“We have been forced to conclude,” commented Bat, from where he hung above, “that the diagnosis must be an acute encounter with mephitis mephitica. It appears to be creating quite a stink, in both senses of the word. But whatever the case, do stop talking about it. You keep waking me up.” And he deliberately closed his eyes with an exaggerated snore.
“All very well,” said Fox, burying his nose in his tail. “And what do you propose to do about this–this disgraceful redolence that hangs on the air?”
“Hey, everyone!” shouted out Raccoon. “Don’t they use tomatoes to neutralize skunk spray? Why not make Junior go roll in a patch of tomatoes?”
“Yes, yes!” squeaked Mouse and Chipmunk together. “What a wonderful idea.”
“What is a tomato?” asked Junior Bruin in bewilderment. Fox shook his head slowly.
“What do they teach youngsters these days? Fancy not knowing what a succulent, tasty, mouth-watering tomato is. But alas, my friends, you forget. It is not yet the season of tomatoes. You need ripe red tomatoes, not little green knobs no bigger than a pea. But don’t despair, Junior. They should be ripe soon–in about two months.”
At this, everybody groaned, and Junior was left to return to his mother in disgrace.