The Skunk and the Owl

This story comes from our travels in Argentina:

We climbed to the top of the tallest rock formation jutting up from river rock covered valley. The uniquely high and squared angles of the towers could be seen far down the road. The blocks appeared neatly stacked in the distance but when on them, we needed to climb many smaller rocks crumpled around the base. The goal was the arch near the top made of three angular rocks; we could see from the road.

The arch faced the valley and was the shelter from the full sun. I smelled skunk as we approached it. It seemed wrong to smell skunk so high and far from the road. Why would a skunk be up here? I’ve not smelled skunk when it didn’t come near a road, dog or my bike.

In the arch, was a Sancturario with offerings of bottled water, candles and a framed painting shattered and faded, maybe of a woman. The offerings sat in a triangular structure 2 feet high, made of wood and protected by metal sheeting. Extra wood lay around it, maybe of previous structures.

To support myself entering the arch, I has to use certain key holds to balance. We noticed the hand hold rocks were smoothed from touch in the exact places we put our hands for support. This space has been a destination for people a long, long time.

The worn rocks hand holds would takes thousands of hand touches to smooth like this. How many hundreds of years had people been climbing this place to look out, offer and wonder? It’s the place from which you can hunt, plan and see the weather. I thought of a presentation in Bogota, Colombia about how indigenous sacred places were co-opted during Spanish colonization to make conversation to Catholicism seem less foreign. Was this one of those places?

We climbed above the arch and sat on the top. There were bird droppings on the pointed rocks with views. Mike had found stones worked into sharp edges down below. Our dog Gypsy climbed up all the way except for the top rocks. We took photos of all of us there, silhouetted against an intensely blue and cloudless sky. Nothing above us on the horizon.

We climbed down, noting the smooth handholds on the dark hard rock. How many hands,  how many years. It’s a human need to climb a rock placed like this in the land.

As we came again through the arch, again the skunk smell. This time we noticed one more offering near the structure. An owl pellet! A large, gray oval with one small mammal bone coming out one end. How long does a skunk’s spray last?

The smell was on the rocks. We imagined a battle here. The owl brought the skunk from below? The skunk was released briefly in the Sancturario, ran but had no escape. He sprayed and fought. The owl won. The owl offered the pellet.

Or, it could have been a longer event. There are many hiding spaces in the arch. The skunk may have spent quite a bit of time fending off the owl. Can an owl eat a whole skunk? Where is the rest? Isn’t that bone too small to be a skunk’s? Maybe, he got away.