It is that hour when the hilly horizon loses its glow, color falls away into dusky gray values, as Veerys, Hermit and Wood Thrushes usher in darker tones of early evening.
There is a softness to this time of overlapping day and night offering just enough light to see a dark form up in one of the gateway apple trees . . . a form out of place yet understood.
I know at once what moves within the shadowy mass of black and that it is the cause of the center canopy’s dying branches.
Walking down the hill, I arrive beneath the tree before the barbed beast has time to climb down . . . Granny apple in mouth.
Thus begins the ninth installment of ‘A Bestiary’ with a prickly tale of the North American Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum.)
Second only in size to beavers . . . their running mates in being the largest rodents native to North America, porcupines are good swimmers and like the beavers can use their tails to make an impact . . . where the beaver slaps water with a whack . . . a porcupine can wallop an attacking critter a painful if not fatal blow.
A porcupine tail also comes in handy at times for balancing.
There is no reasoning with a beast wearing a cloak of 30,000 hollow, sharp quills.
Still this knowledge does not keep me from trying . . . in a strong yet kindly amplified voice.
I stand below her soft and vulnerable underside and the flash of my camera reveals neat rows of teats, bringing to mind the question ”Where is the little one?”
The pups are born with soft quills that become hard and dangerous in about an hour after birth.
Pretty good defense for a youngster. They are also able to walk, chew and follow their mom within a couple of hours.
With such adaptability there is no wonder a porcupine may have only one pup a year. The young stays with the parent for about six months.
As I move to survey the area more carefully for a young porcupine, the mother climbs further up into the apple tree.
Climbing is another skill porcupines have mastered.
Here she displays a powerful weapon . . . her backside and tail of quills slightly lifted.
A porcupine truly is mostly a good natured being, who is not wholly aware of her full potential to harm.
She calls her thousands of darts to attention only in a defensive mode and cannot ‘throw’ a one in any direction except in myths.
About mid sentence of my explaining a readiness to share the apples and pleading with the mother not to eat the branches of the tree as well . . .
(witless request since craving wood is innate with porcupines, an herbivore, whose diet also includes buds, flowers, leaves, fruit and roots . . . not leaving much of a tree alive at times)
I note a smaller dark mass moving up the hill, with what appears enthusiasm, towards the ground I stand upon.
When approaching close enough to either catch a whiff or sight of me, porcupines do not have good sight but excel in hearing and sense of smell (remember it is dusk and darker than these images communicate,) the porcupine quickly stands,
does a quick turn about . . .
and heads back down the hill expeditiously . . .
while the mother looks on . . . too afraid to come down the tree.
Darkness begins to cover the landscape and I begin to feel silly with my now useless camera.
I decide to go up to the house to get a more suitable weapon and a flashlight, for I feel determined to protect my tree.
After about a half hour, I return with a long pole and flashlight to discover both mother and ‘porcupette’ up in the tree.
My pole is mostly useless . . . I had wanted to lightly tap the little buggers . . . but I give the beasts a good scolding before heading in for the night.
I want them to feel it is no longer safe to dine in my beloved tree.
The next morning I find the familiar array of small broken leafy branches under the tree.
I decide to wrap a net around the trunk and come back at dusk to check out the scene.
I do walk down earlier than the previous night and find the mother porcupine already high in the canopy of my apple tree. She raises her armor in my honor.
It seems my speech was of no consequence.
This third encounter finds the mostly nocturnal porcupine in no mood to be stuck up in the tree.
Using the entwined canopies of the two arching apple trees . . . the female porcupine moves quicker than normal and climbs down the clear trunk of the Golden Delicious apple tree that for some reason she has not chosen to nibble as yet.
Hesitating but a second . . .
She backs down and with more grace and speed than might usually be seen in the rather awkward porcupine, she hurries downward towards the bottom of the hill away from me and the apples.
There is an established brush pile just at the edge of the blueberry field . . . then further down closer to the forest entrance there is a pile of abandoned logs and a collapsed octagonal wooden foundation. I have not discovered their den but believe any of the above would suit.
She is taking no chances . . . having her quills up just in case I should follow. Clearly she feel threatened by my presence.
I feel this is a good sign and have a bit more hope for my tree, as I wrap the second apple tree trunk of my living gateway to the blueberry field.
This tale of the porcupine unfolded last summer and I am happy to report that my apple trees are no longer inhabited by dining porcupines.
I have not seen a porcupine this year . . . there are so many hundreds of trees for them to choose from and then there are the skilled predators.
Fisher cats, bobcats and coyotes have cleverly contrived methods of demise for unlucky porcupines.
I hope they are not too successful and that resident porcupines are able to live out their ten years or so along with other beasts that share this hillside wildlife habitat.
© 2012, Carol Duke. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us