The Confident Skunk

Did you know that skunks are very confident but not very courageous?

The night was warm for September. The singing chorus of crickets and dew-covered grass helped to muffle the sound my footsteps. Cautiously, I moved from the shadows of the forest into the moon-lit field, scanning for any signs of occupation. A few minutes of searching… and there it was! About 25 feet in front of me a skunk was browsing contentedly. It was easily identified as a stripped skunk by the white stripes running the length of it’s back. It was only about the size of a house cat, weighing less than 10 pounds.

Largely a nocturnal creature, the skunk sleeps during the day and hunts at night. It will often travel six miles in one night, homeless until the winter months when it finds a place to hibernate. On that particular night, I was able to find the skunk so easily because I had bumped into it earlier on my way back from work. This was the first and only time I had seen it in this location, so I ran home to grab my camera to see if I could photograph it.

A stripped skunk browsing contentedly for bugsWalking through the woods to the field at night

As I got my camera ready, he didn’t seem to mind. He must have found himself a good place for dinner with lots of insects, grasshoppers or potato beetles to feast on. Or maybe he was after a shrew or mouse.

Of course, shooting in the dark is kind of hard. Try holding a flashlight in the right direction while looking through the viewfinder of an SLR with a 300mm lens using manual focus without a tripod! It’s very difficult to get the focus just right; and you can tell in the pictures below. But eventually I found a way to do it and started shooting.

The powerful flashes from my speedlite kept up at a steady rate. I didn’t have to worry about it spraying me because I knew I was a safe distance away. The skunk wasn’t stamping its feet, the first sign of danger, or raising its tail or clicking its teeth. Along with growling, these signs would be tale-tell warnings that I was too close. It never even stopped to look up. It’s eye-stinging, clothes-stinking spray is accurate up to 15 feet so because I was farther away than that, I felt very safe.

Very seldom did it lift it's head; and when it did, I was usually not prepared.Very confident, just not very courageous.

So, why is a skunk confident but not courageous? If you think about it, the answer is actually very simple. Because of it’s powerful and accurate weapon of self-defense, it can go just about anywhere without fear. And that is one of the reasons why it is such a docile creature; it is confident. It is confident in it’s ability to control what goes on around him. However, because of it’s confidence, it will go anywhere. Like into the middle of the street. Or, more seriously, into a cage. Skunks are easily ensnared because they are not wary of traps.

In contrast, courage is doing confident things with wisdom. Courage is foreseeing what is ahead and acting in a way that prevents a worse thing from happening. The prudent man foresees the evil, and hides himself: but the simple pass on are punished. (See Proverbs 22:3.) Thus, a courageous person will stand up for what is right even when nobody else does. A courageous person thinks of others before himself. Sometimes, courage ends in death. Courage welcomes suffering that comes from doing right. So, let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap if we faint not. (See Galatians 6:9).


  1. Donald September 25, 2008 at 10:13 pm #

    That was really applicable and encouraging James. As I find myself in unfamiliar territory oftentimes here in Taiwan, it’s easy to make a mistake and all the more important to be prudent, look ahead, and discern between “honest mistakes” and those I need to make right. God bless you too with discernment and courage!

  2. Crystal September 26, 2008 at 3:05 pm #

    Thank you for such a good explanation of courage vs. confidence. I had never given it much thought before.
    Your story reminds me of some of the tales of Dr. Guthrie. Gratefully, what happened to Dr. Guthrie didn’t happen to you! 🙂

  3. Esther September 27, 2008 at 7:49 pm #

    I don’t remember what happened to Dr. Guthrie. Did he get sprayed?

  4. Robert September 28, 2008 at 8:41 pm #

    Neat analogy there, James! I agree with Crystal that it sounds a lot like something Larry Guthrie would share about. I think it would make a great story in a Character Sketch!

  5. Joshua September 28, 2008 at 8:44 pm #

    Super account there James! Reminds me of the cross reference to Proverbs 22:3 that the “fool rages on and is confident (Prov. 14:16).” May we always rely on the direction of the Lord vs. self-confidence.

  6. Crystal October 2, 2008 at 7:38 pm #

    Yes, Dr. Guthrie did get sprayed. He ignored the warning signs. Just like we ignore God’s warning signs at times.

  7. Crystal October 4, 2008 at 8:04 am #

    My memory wasn’t working that great either. While cleaning out a box I came across a book with CI stories in it. I looked up the Skunk Story. Dr. Guthrie did NOT get sprayed by the skunk, instead the whole side of his house – with open windows did.
    I’m sorry I put that out before making sure of my facts. I’ll double check next time.

  8. James October 4, 2008 at 10:45 am #

    Thanks for making that clear. His house getting sprayed is more funny anyway. 🙂

  9. Dad October 9, 2008 at 8:04 pm #

    Michael, Jonathan, and David were not as fortunate as Dr. Guthrie. While jogging recently one morning before daylight we scared up a skunk. I was just far enough behind them to miss the main attack. Although we did not foresee the evil, the guys courageously finished the run and cleaned up their shoes, socks, jeans, and feet.

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