A few weeks ago, after Jill and I finished enjoying a nice romantic dinner, we decided to take her dog for a walk.
Across from our apartment is a major railway line, home to Toronto’s GO Transit commuter trains during rush hour and the future home of the express trains from downtown’s Union Station and Pearson Airport. The trail that runs beside the fence preventing access to the tracks is a favourite of Jill’s dog.
And the space between the train tracks is clearly a favourite walking path for skunks.
Because as we were enjoying our evening stroll, so to was the neighbourhood skunk.
Okay, I realize skunks aren’t rare in the way, say, a spirit bear is rare. But when was the last time you saw one? Alive? In daylight?
Well, for me, the answer to each of these questions is never. Almost never.
You see, two weeks prior, I had been getting ready for my speech to the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s Why Forests Matter event when I happened to spot this very same skunk enjoying this very same walk. But on that occasion I was rushing out the door and cursed the whole way to the event knowing I’d likely blown my one chance at photographing a skunk.
But alas the God’s were shining on me and gave me the second chance I longed for with my urban skunk. And I didn’t hesitate for a second.
Before Jill – or her dog – could process what happened, I ran like the wind back to our apartment and grabbed my gear, before running back outside (the elevator rides were painful, let me tell you).
Then I realized a small problem. The skunk was a bit too far away on the rail line to photograph from the walking path. I had to get onto the tracks.
This was not a big issue in and of itself, as there were no trains scheduled until the morning. But as they’re building new lines for the Airport Express, it is a construction zone, complete with fences.
How could I gain access?
Well, where the dump trucks enter the construction area there is a fence with a fairly high clearance from the ground. And after only about two seconds of hesitation, I slid on my belly under the fence and then pulled my camera bag under after me.
I slowly approached the skunk and attempted to get close enough for an image, but not too close so that I would disrupt its eating or get sprayed by it. Thankfully I succeed on both counts.
I won’t win any awards for the shots I took, as the light was fading and the backdrop was, well, not particularly remarkable, but I’m still incredibly pleased that I actually have a photo of a skunk.
In (okay) light.
As I got up to leave, it suddenly occurred to me that I wasn’t in Yellowstone, but in a fairly dense urban environment. I wondered if anyone noticed what I was doing.
The answer was a resounding yes.
I looked up to see people watching, laughing, photographing and looking marginally concerned about my actions. I was the neighbourhood entertainment for the evening.
And suddenly self aware (and a bit concerned that my, umm, unique entry onto the train tracks might, umm, not be totally, umm, kosher), I quickly made my retreat to the safety of our apartment, including shimmering back under the fence and hurrying Jill and the dog along in the process.
Needless to say, it was possibly my most unique photo shoot – for me and for those watching.