After last year’s high water, we were excited to see that our dock was above water, as we approached Grenell, in late May. We were eager to personally inspect our property after October’s devastating storm. Island people look out after each other, so several people had walked our property and reported lots of branches down, but no trees down and no damage to any of the boathouses or cottages.
The moment I stepped off the dock, I smelled mink, a pungent, eye-watering musk scent. The closer I got to the end of the dock, the more gag-inducing the stench. I thought perhaps a mink had set up camp under the dock.
As soon as we opened-up the skiff house door, we immediately knew that the scent was not coming from underneath the dock. Waves from the October storm had pushed the skiff house floorboards up. A group of minks saw this opening as an invitation: “Welcome! Spend your winter here.” Evidently they did. The minks had left, but their stink stayed.
I first saw a mink back in the 1980s. We were out for a family canoe paddle to Murray’s Escanaba Bay, opposite the Narrows. I saw this darling little creature gamboling along the shoreline. It was so cute! It had a sleek body, dark brown fur, and bright, inquisitive eyes. I had no idea what kind of creature it was. This was back before the Internet, so I was happy my mother-in-law had a whole shelf of field guides. I paged through Mammals: A Golden Guide and found a picture of the creature. It was a mink.
Over a decade later, around 2000, there was a mink who regularly visited us on Grenell. I saw the little fellow as it ran the same route every day, around the same time, up and over our front rock. It always had something dead in its mouth: snake, fish, vole, or mudpuppy. It seemed to be a little killing machine. One Fourth of July, we watched a mink disappear under the water and systematically, one by one, kill an entire family of ducklings. Suddenly minks didn’t seem that cute anymore.
By the mid-2000s, mink sightings were no longer rare. Apparently, the minks found our boats the perfect place to dine, store food, and relieve themselves. We weren’t the only ones on the island who had surprise castaways. One island family was startled when a mink popped-out from its hiding place on their boat while they were en route to Fishers Landing. We took our boat canvas into Weather Stopper and asked them to put extra snaps in an attempt to mink-proof our boat. The snaps worked.
I’ve read that minks will dig their own dens but prefer to occupy ready-made dens. Normally, they find an abandoned beaver dam, a muskrat burrow, a hollow log or as previously mentioned, a boat. They must have thought they stumbled upon a Mink Ritz-Carlton, when they discovered the opening in our skiff house floor, definitely a step-up from a hollow log. With the amount of leftover food and scat that was in our skiff house, we’re fairly certain we had an entire mink family squatting for the winter.
Minks don’t hibernate so they must hunt all winter. I’ve also learned that they can go into a killing frenzy and then bring food back to their den for a later meal. We found about twenty half-eaten fish and whole fish stashed in the skiff house. Apparently our minks like catfish and rock bass the best. We didn’t even notice the smell of rotting fish. It was completely masked by mink stench. I will say the little stinkers were pretty organized. For the most part, their fish were all stored in one place with a stray fish stuck over here or over there. Same for their scat.
Husband Gary removed the skiff house windows, opened the doors, cleaned up the mess, scrubbed the skiff house down with bleach water, and with any luck, the scent will be gone by the time this article posts.
I looked up the collective noun for minks and found two: a company of minks and a richness of minks. Neither of those terms seemed right to me. I propose a new collective noun for minks—how about a stink of minks?
By Lynn E. McElfresh, Grenell Island
Lynn McElfresh has written well over 130 articles for TI Life, and each one makes this editor happy and entertains TI Life readers. This one is no exception. Many of us have these cute little guys scampering along the shore... but few have a camera close-by to capture them so nicely. Bravo, Lynn.
To see all of Lynn’s island experiences, search TI Life under Lynn McElfresh. And, as an added bonus, a few months ago, we announced Lynn's first of nine novels... Grenell 1881, Her second novel is about to be published, and being "safe at home," we suspect she is working on Novel 3.
Grenell 1881 is now on sale in several River locations. Buy it, read it, and enjoy it! I mean it!