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The sweet smell of success

Mountain Tales: First-hand stories of life in Tehachapi

A friend of mine, Manney Cowan, grew up here and lived in Tehachapi, and people used to pay him to live-trap nuisance animals from their yards and relocate them to remote areas. He'd trap raccoons that were peeling up sod looking for worms and other invertebrates to eat, or catching the fish out of people's ponds, or skunks that were under structures, that kind of thing.

One time he was catching skunks (there's seldom only one) that were living under a shed in Bear Valley Springs. I went with him to pick up a skunk and we drove up to the higher country to turn it loose. I had showed him before how if you hold a skunk up by its tail, with the body dangling straight down, it can't spray because the tail needs to be at about a right angle to the body.

We pulled off on a dirt fire road and Manney climbed in the back of his pickup truck, wearing just jean cutoffs and no shirt because it was a hot summer day. "Hey I could probably catch this skunk by its tail," he said, because it was backed up against one of the opening of the humane trap. "Do it! Let me get a photo of you holding it," I told him.

I was standing on the ground loading a roll of film into my camera while he lifted the skunk out of the trap by its tail. "Let me get out of the truck," Manney said, and as he jumped off the tailgate, the skunk's body swung up a little and its tail went down and suddenly I heard Manney holler "You! Mother! Trucker!" (or something similar) and he flung the skunk, which sailed through the air, landed lightly in the tall grass and scampered away.

"Dammit I knew I shouldn't have listened to you!" Manney yelled at me, with yellowish oily spots of skunk musk spattered across his bare belly. The overpowering skunk stench hung thick in the still summer air like a chemical bomb. I laughed uncontrollably, and was sorry I hadn't gotten the film loaded in time to photograph the priceless moment. Manney tried to rinse off the spray with cold water from a nearby horse trough, which did little to reduce the smell.

And then of course we headed straight to his house so he could shower? No, no we did not. First we went to the Bear Valley General Store to buy a couple of beers, with Manney cheerfully greeting people who had no idea where the skunk stench was coming from. Then we went on to Tehachapi and Save Mart, where again people throughout the store made comments like "Whew! Somebody must have hit a skunk."

Just another day in the life of a couple of Tehachapi bumpkins.

One of many memories Jon Hammond has of his late great friend Manney Cowan, a Tehachapi original.