Mining is dangerous work. Every year, people die in accidents. To reduce the number of injuries and fatalities, the U.S. Department of Labor requires (M.S.H.A) the Mining Safety and Health Administration to inspect all mines. Workers must take annual training to teach them and to remind them how to perform their tasks safely. Specific training is required for any equipment with moving parts. For the next safety session I am going to suggest the miners be trained how to operate a doorknob. Every door in the building is functional. Each has a knob that turns so it is possible to open the door and to close it correctly. I don’t believe the guys understand how to work the device. Many times each day, I have to close the doors leading outside. I am not being prissy; a mine is a noisy, dusty place. It is best, for the electronic equipment and for me, to reduce irritants.
On a holiday weekend, operations shut down and the crew raced away from the mine not caring if anyone remembered to close the door to their break room. Days later, they returned to discover a large skunk standing in their break room. A raised tail and stamping feet encouraged all to scatter. After convening an emergency meeting at a distance far from the door, the men had a plan. Using items from their lunches, a trail of tidbits lured the squatter outside. The animal eagerly sniffed all the offerings and sampled most along a trail leading to an old storage shed. When the skunk and its hazardous tail disappeared inside, the door was shut trapping the skunk.
The men felt proud of themselves for handling the crisis without being sprayed. As they changed into work clothes, they traded ideas of how to remove the skunk from the shed and then discourage it from returning. One of the men dropped a tool and it rolled under the lockers. When retrieving it, he spotted a nest of papers. Curled inside were baby skunks, blind and defenseless. During the men’s absence for the holiday, the striped lady had remodeled their locker room into a nursery for her kits.
These men are open pit miners used to hard physical labor under the blazing Arizona sun. Their skin tanned to dry, dark leather, their hands thick with calluses and their hearts ... as soft as marshmallows. Once they discovered the babies, they removed anything they might need from their lockers and left the room. When the door to the storage shed opened, Mama ran to check on her babies. A barrier appeared in front of the break room with an out of order sign draped across.
Over the following weeks, we watched as Mama brought her children outdoors for lessons in life. Little puffs of black with white streaks down their backs followed her out the door and into a nearby wash. Many times a day, they marched in and out ignoring the people and the skinny calico warehouse cat viewing the parade from a safe distance.
When the babies matured and the family moved away, the break room returned to the miners. Once again, clothes hang on the backs of chairs, papers overflow the garbage can and the door is always left open.