Are You, Or Is Someone You Know, a Porcupine?

By []Bill S. Hart

I live in rural Maine and find I am interacting more and more with the animals and less with the humans in my life. I haven't heard any complaints from either group. When I say animals, I mean mostly wild animals, though there are a few dogs and cats who I know on a first name basis and who are on my Christmas list. One friend I made this year is Elvis. That's what I call him, I don't think his parents do.

Elvis is a young porcupine. I first met him this spring. My former sweetie and I would go out and watch the hayfield across the laneway in the evening. Elvis started coming into the field about an hour before sunset and would feed on the grass and roots. After a while, he got accustomed to us and we enjoyed watching him. It wasn't like he actually did anything particularly interesting. He basically just ate grass. Since I don't own a satellite dish and I read and write all day (so I don't feel like doing it at night) it was watch Elvis or twiddle my thumbs, so The Elvis Show it was.

I was sitting under the apple tree out behind the house a few days ago and Elvis came waddling through the wild grass and bushes. He walked within arm's length of my chair, and climbed the apple tree behind me. He was doing quite a bit of grunting and making what I believe were disparaging remarks. I don't think he liked the idea that I was sitting so close to the tree. I added insult to injury, so to speak, by taking a picture of him with my phone. He was sitting in the tree eating apples.

We hadn't seen each other for weeks and I thought he would like to catch up on current events, but he didn't. When I tried to strike up a conversation, it was pretty one sided.

Me: Hi, Elvis, long time no see. You've certainly grown since I last saw you.

Elvis: Grunt

Me: I've heard you calling at night, have you managed to locate a lover?

Elvis: Grunt.

Me: I haven't, either.

Another much larger porcupine came waddling along heading for Elvis's tree. It got within about 6 feet of me and spotted me. It made some very nasty noises and ran as fast as a fat, flat-footed porcupine can to another tree. I am obviously not on a first name basis with that one and it looks like I never will be because it is old and hide-bound and probably wouldn't consider having a human for a friend.

I started thinking about what life might be like for a porcupine and how they are misunderstood by humans and maybe other animals as well. We sometimes think that porcupines and skunks have a pretty silky ride because they have natural defenses that keep the world at bay. Porcupines have two enemies, humans and fisher cats. Fisher cats are the only animals that have figured out how to kill and eat porcupines and I won't go into the details because they're quite gruesome.

I have met people here in Maine who shoot porcupines whenever they get the chance. This is a practice left over from the days when logging was the chief occupation in Maine. There is still a healthy logging industry, but it no longer dominates the economy as it once did. Porcupine damage was the reasoning behind the slaughter of porcupines. I don't know just how serious the problem was, but I suspect it was over rated and used by some as an excuse to kill porcupines.

I'm not even sure that Elvis is a boy. He might be a girl for all I know. The trouble with porcupines is that it is very difficult to find out what sex they are unless you have some very thick gloves or a high threshold of pain. Porcupines like Elvis will tolerate your company, but their motto seems to be, "Friendly but not familiar." Can you blame them for keeping the world at quill's length? Once you get past those nasty quills, what do you have? A fat, slow, near-sighted animal with no defenses. Sounds like about 90% of the human race, doesn't it?

I think a lot of people are like porcupines. We grow some nasty quills on the outside to protect ourselves because we feel so vulnerable. The problem is that no one can get through the quills, not even people who would be our friends or lovers. Therefore, we spend our days and nights in solitude, always looking out for the fisher cats and dimwits who would hurt us just for the sake of hurting us.

So what else have I learned from Elvis? Elvis likes my company and tries to be friendly, but he just can't seem to get past whatever made him decide to become a porcupine. We sit out in the field in the evening, he in the apple tree and I below it. I talk, he grunts. It's the best we each can do and I am now content to let him be just who he is, a young porcupine with social issues, while he lets me be myself, a middle aged writer who spends most of his time with a porcupine.

You can read more of Bill's short articles and animal stories at Bill's blog, Lacey Blue and Bill Hart. []

Lacey Blue Days is a greyhound and the subject of Bill's next book, []Lacey Blue and Friends, a Greyhound Story

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1 comment:

  1. I can definitely relate to those porcupines!

    I admit, I am very curious about your book, and I'm very excited to see it will be offered as an ebook!