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The Hydrophobic Skunk
by [?]

THE Hydrophobic Skunk resides at the extreme bottom of the Grand canyon and, next to a Southern Republican who never asked for a Federal office, is the rarest of living creatures. He is so rare that nobody ever saw him–that is, nobody except a native. I met plenty of tourists who had seen people who had seen him, but never a tourist who had seen him with his own eyes. In addition to being rare, he is highly gifted.

I think almost anybody will agree with me that the common, ordinary skunk has been most richly dowered by Nature. To adorn a skunk with any extra qualifications seems as great a waste of the raw material as painting the lily or gilding refined gold. He is already amply equipped for outdoor pursuits. Nobody intentionally shoves him round; everybody gives him as much room as he seems to need. He commands respect–nay, more than that, respect and veneration–wherever he goes. Joy riders never run him down and foot passengers avoid crowding him into a corner. You would think Nature had done amply well by the skunk; but no–the Hydrophobic Skunk comes along and upsets all these calculations. Besides carrying the traveling credentials of an ordinary skunk, he is rabid in the most rabidissimus form. He is not mad just part of the time, like one’s relatives by marriage–and not mad most of the time, like the old-fashioned railroad ticket agent–but mad all the time–incurably, enthusiastically and unanimously mad! He is mad and he is glad of it.

We made the acquaintance of the Hydrophobic Skunk when we rode down Hermit Trail. The casual visitor to the Grand canyon first of all takes the rim drive; then he essays Bright Angel Trail, which is sufficiently scary for his purposes until he gets used to it; and after that he grows more adventurous and tackles Hermit Trail, which is a marvel of corkscrew convolutions, gimleting its way down this red abdominal wound of a canyon to the very gizzard of the world. Here, Johnny, our guide, felt moved to speech, and we hearkened to his words and hungered for more, for Johnny knows the ranges of the Northwest as a city dweller knows his own little side street. In the fall of the year Johnny comes down to the canyon and serves as a guide a while; and then, when he gets so he just can’t stand associating with tourists any longer, he packs his war bags and journeys back to the Northern Range and enjoys the company of cows a spell. Cows are not exactly exciting, but they don’t ask fool questions.

A highly competent young person is Johnny and a cow-puncher of parts. Most of the canyon guides are cow-punchers–accomplished ones, too, and of high standing in the profession. With a touch of reverence Johnny pointed out to us Sam Scovel, the greatest bronco buster of his time, now engaged in piloting tourists.

“Can he ride?” echoed Johnny in answer to our question. “Scovel could ride an earthquake if she stood still long enough for him to mount! He rode Steamboat–not Young Steamboat, but Old Steamboat! He rode Rocking Chair, and he’s the only man that ever did that and was not called on in a couple of days to attend his own funeral.”

We went on and on at a lazy mule trot, hearing the unwritten annals of the range from one who had seen them enacted at first hand. Pretty soon we passed a herd of burros with mealy, dusty noses and spotty hides, feeding on prickly pears and rock lichens; and just before sunset we slid down the last declivity out upon the plateau and came to a camp as was a camp!

This was roughing it de luxe with a most de-luxey vengeance! Here were three tents, or rather three canvas houses, with wooden half walls; and they were spick-and-span inside and out, and had glass windows in them and doors and matched wooden floors. . . . The mess tent was provided with a table with a clean cloth to go over it, and there were china dishes and china cups and shiny knives, forks and spoons. . . . Bill was in charge of the camp–a dark, rangy, good-looking leading man of a cowboy, wearing his blue shirt and his red neckerchief with an air.