When my roommate, Molly, and I went camping on Brighton campus, I was prepared for the possibility of being woken up by the Boston College Police Department in the middle of the night. I was not prepared to wake up to Molly aggressively poking my shoulder and scream-whispering: “Grace, there’s an animal right outside the tent, and it’s moving around a lot, and I don’t know what it is.”
I bolted upright and asked the only relevant question: “Do you think it’s a skunk?”
“I don’t know—I mean it’s either a really big squirrel, or it’s a skunk,” Molly replied.
Our low-key camping night had just turned into a high-stakes part three of my fraught and long-suffering skunk investigation. I’d never felt more alive.
I had first resolved to camp on Brighton campus the night Molly and I moved in for junior year. Molly came crashing through the door to our apartment at midnight on September first, throwing down a long, red tube before squeezing the life out of me. Once she released me from her clutches, I pointed at the red thing and asked what was so special that it got moved in first.
Molly shrugged, said “It’s a tent,” and walked away.
Of course it was.
I called after her: “Where do you think we’re going camping without a car in Boston, Molls? Brighton campus?”
A beautifully stupid idea was born.
A little over a month later, I flopped down on my bed at 9 p.m. on a Friday and screamed into my pillow. My thesis was systematically destroying my capacity to function, my internship scheduled me to work 16 hours in one weekend, and following COVID protocol meant I felt seriously deprived of interesting social engagements. I needed shenanigans, and I needed them now.
Brighton camping would be my salvation.
Like all daring adventurers, I began by tackling some logistical hurdles. From what I can tell, the legality of camping on BC’s campus falls in a gray area. (If it doesn’t, and it’s blatantly, totally, completely illegal, then everything you’ve read so far and what follows is purely hypothetical. Also, sorry Mom.)
A cursory Google revealed the long and interesting history of camping on college campuses, which consists of two main branches: protest camping of the Occupy Wall Street variety and tradition-based camping. Ours was not noble enough to fall under the former and not institutionalized enough to belong to the latter. Camping felt similar enough to a picnic—a clearly admissible activity—but also like something that we were supposed to intuit to be verboten. After some deliberation, I decided Brighton camping falls under college students’ favorite law: “ask forgiveness, not permission.”
Molly and I packed duffle bags full of blankets, suited up in winter coats, and grabbed my trusty camouflage headlamp. I insisted we bring the celebration cowbell (the cowbell I ring when good things happen to myself/Molly/anyone because the world is a dumpster fire and I need gratuitously stupid, positive things) and our most-used pink kitchen knife in case we needed to defend ourselves. (Defend ourselves from what, you ask? A Tesla backfiring. A purebred golden retriever escaping an idyllic family home and coming to give us kisses. A group of kids pretending not to be smoking weed. Brighton is full of danger.)
Eventually, we dragged all of our gear out to Brighton lawn. No one even looked twice at the two girls walking down Comm. Ave. with overstuffed bags and a long, lumpy red tube, which proves that no one else ever cares about what you’re doing—even if you’re the main character of your own column. Duly noted.
Molly and I picked a site between some trees and pitched our tent with only a medium amount of struggle. We then curled up in our blankets and debated life’s big questions, like how we think we’ll die (Molly: in her sleep; Me: a freak accident) and whether we should have brought snacks (a resounding yes). After a few hours of wholesome but largely uneventful hanging out under the airplanes and satellites, we drifted off to sleep.
This sleep was efficaciously interrupted by the aforementioned Molly-poking-me-and-whisper- screaming-about-a-potential-predator-or-skunk-friend.
After Molly sounded the alarm, we huddled together, eagerly watching the animal’s blotchy shadow move around the perimeter of the tent. I wondered whether the cowbell or the knife would be more useful in the face of what, in the best case scenario, was E.T. (I would give him the cowbell as a gift) and, in the worst case scenario, was a baby demogorgon (I would wield my tiny pink knife with the same sexy confidence as Steve Harrington wielding his nail spike baseball bat). Before I arrived at a definitive plan, the creature rounded the corner, stepping directly into the moonlight.
There, silhouetted against the wall of the tent, was the cartoonishly-perfect, completely unmistakable outline…of a skunk.
I grabbed Molly’s arm and let out a small, joyous shriek.
The skunk rustled closer to the tent, pushing against the wall. It was trying to get inside. The skunk, it seemed, was hunting us.
At this point, we were losing our minds. I had never even dreamed of this level of contact. I started recording a video, which is visually useless but contains priceless audio of us wondering if we would get sprayed, fervently debating the greater spiritual and metaphysical implications of this encounter, and keeping a running commentary of its exact location in relation to us.
Eventually, when it seemed like the skunk had shuffled away, I unzipped the tent and pushed my way out. There, waddling off towards the seminary, was the skunk to end all skunks. Fat with a glossy, onyx black coat and a fluffy tail that swayed hypnotically with every step, s/he was glorious. No offense to Mod Man and his compatriots, but Umberto could never compare. If Umberto is Rubinoff, Transcendent Brighton Spirit Skunk is Absolut. It is what it is.
Watching it fade into the distance, I turned to Molly and asked: “Is this what being high feels like?”
It felt like transcendence mixed with confusion and awe and disbelief and adrenaline. It was Rocky Balboa going the distance. Robert Angier realizing Alfred Borden’s true secret. John Bender with his fist in the air.
So, you know, very low-key. Not over-dramatic at all.
I realize that this entire series of events seems absurd. The prospect of a skunk trying to enter your tent and spray you should be fundamentally undesirable. It also just seems highly improbable. I can’t explain why the universe fills my life with implausibilities (although I’m not complaining), but the reason for my skunk-sighting-induced elation is simple: cosmic closure.
One year ago, I was obsessed with seeing a skunk. I actively sought one out over the course of a two-part investigation and hated that my search ended in failure. Sure, I said that the people I met along the way made it worth it, but I always felt unnerved by the incompleteness of it all. So, when a skunk literally pushed its way into my life exactly one year and one day (even I don’t believe this) from the publication of the last skunk investigation article—long after I stopped searching and re-invested my energy in equally asinine but more fulfilling ventures, it felt like the perfectly ridiculous end to a perfect, ridiculous story.
The skunks did it again: they restored my hope for the contemporary universe. God, they’re annoying that way. It’s actually becoming cliche. Just when I was ready to write off this year as an exercise in futility—a crapshoot beyond saving, fraught with thesis struggles and social isolation—the skunks intervened, bringing me some unexpected joy, a really good story, and hope for more idiocy yet to come. They showed me that what started as a stupid joke is still a stupid joke. Right now, when so much is literally life and death, I’m really grateful for that.
To close the skunk hunt for good, I’ll paraphrase Dick King-Smith: Patience is a virtue. Virtue is a grace. Grace is Boston College’s long-suffering (but now triumphant) investigative expert on skunks. And skunks are the hopeful heroes we don’t deserve. May they pester us forever.
P.S. You may now refrain from sending me drunk texts/photos/dms/videos about/of the skunks you see. You’ve collectively sent enough content for a medium-length documentary. I’m good, guys.
Featured Graphic by Ally Mozeliak / Heights Editor