Common Ground: Crisis can stink as a learning experience

By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter

Sometimes it takes a crisis to learn things about one’s true character. For instance, one time I was visiting a friend who was working late at her office one night. It was getting dark when she mentioned that one of the workers sometimes stayed overnight in the adjacent warehouse.

This worker lived an hour’s drive away and didn’t have running water at home. “We call him Stinky Mike,” she said.

“One time the other workers put a bar of soap in his locker as a hint he needed to shower but he didn’t take it.”

She said his truck wasn’t there so he probably wasn’t staying over that night.

“What was that?” I asked.

There was a noise from the back of the warehouse.

“Probably just rats,” my friend said. “Unless… ”

It didn’t occur to me to argue whether or not the place was infested with non-native rats. It was the “unless” that got my attention.

“Unless what?” I said.

“Unless it’s Stinky Mike,” she said, “Maybe he’s been listening to us.”

“I didn’t say anything,” I pointed out. “You’re the one calling him Stinky Mike.” I was just an innocent bystander.

“He’s actually really creepy,” she whispered. “None of us knows anything about him except he came to Alaska from Kentucky. We never ran a criminal records check, but it seemed like he was running away from something.”

She paused and glanced to the doorway to the warehouse.

“What if he’s a serial killer and he’s been waiting in the back of the warehouse all this time?”

“What?” I asked. I thought maybe I might have misheard her and she said that there might be a serial killer in the back of the warehouse. Just then Stinky Mike stepped through the doorway with something that looked like a blunt object in his hand.

Now, if I were to guess what kind of a person I am, I would guess that when a stranger walked into the room, whether it was late at night or the middle of the day, I would say, “Hi, how are you?”

But, as it turned out, I was the kind of person who glances at my friend just before we both make a run for our lives and, in our haste to reach the door and the safety beyond, grab my friend by the arm and throw her to the ground in order to save myself from an alleged serial killer.

As she struggled to get up, I could tell that her fall was sobering. The panic she’d created was erased from the tone of her voice as she said, “Did you just throw me to the ground?”

I looked up at Stinky Mike, who was holding a not-so-ominous looking broom.

“Well, I was trying to get to the door,” I said. “I didn’t intend to throw you to the ground.”

“What are you girls doing?” Stinky asked.

His accent did not sound very Southern, and behind all the facial hair and dirt, he had very kind-looking eyes.

“I think you bruised my arm,” my friend said.

All three of us learned something right then and there. My friend learned that, while it might be funny to rouse another person’s hysteria, it could also be dangerous. Stinky Mike learned why it was that his co-workers put a bar of soap in his locker. He’d been wondering about that one for a while.

I learned that although I describe myself as very rational, and although I often imagine that should there ever be a Zombie apocalypse, I would be one of the well-armed and cool-headed saviors of my people, it turns out that it doesn’t even take a crisis to reveal a major flaw in my character. It just has to be a possible crisis. And now I’m actually pretty worried about a Zombie apocalypse.

Since this is an outdoors column, you might be wondering what this all has to do with the outdoors, so I’ll tell you. The spread of non-native rats could have a devastating effect on wildlife in Alaska.

Anyone who knows of the whereabouts of a non-native rat should make every effort to stop them from taking up residence. And it’s important to wash regularly so as not to be mistaken for a serial killer and distract others from non-native rat eradication efforts.

Christine Cunningham was born in Alaska and has lived on the Kenai Peninsula for the last 20 years, where she enjoys fishing, hunting and outdoors recreation. Her book, “Women Hunting Alaska,” was released by Northern Publishing. She can be reached at For up-to-date information on the “Women Hunting Alaska” book, visit Northern Publishing online or Women Hunting Alaska on Facebook.


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