I’ve been watching a documentary series on Netflix called “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.” I’m only on the second episode – “The Last Refuge” – but I highly recommend it to anyone who is an American or a nature lover. The imagery alone is worth the watch. There is some stunning footage of Yellowstone and the redwoods. I can’t watch programs like this for long without getting the itch to go outside. I turned my computer off, put hiking clothes on, and went into the forest.
Now, porcupines have been coming up a lot recently. Weretoad told me that he saw one walking too close to the road one morning. People were talking about porcupines at work. While researching other animal bones, I saw a photo of a porcupine skull online and mused at how interesting it looked. The day before, I told my husband how I wish I could see a porcupine in the wild in the forest rather than dead on the road. I explained that, when I’m in the woods, I sometimes pause and look up, hoping to see one sleeping on a branch.
I had only intended to take a short walk. I just wanted to refresh myself. The forest has always been a natural medicine for me; it is a cure against any mild depression I may have developed. I made an offering to the local spirits, then, as so often happens when I step across the hedges and into that otherworld of green, I felt the pull to go deeper. The further I go, the more at peace I feel. It’s difficult to truly escape the hum of motors, but if I can put a significant distance between myself and the sounds of dribbling basketballs and rioting children, I feel better. I like to go to the rocks overlooking the field where I found the deer skeleton. I feel so isolated there. It’s refreshing.
I walked up to the top of the ridge. I went to a now familiar patch below two large pines. I so often find little bones there. Indeed, there was another fresh corpse. I saw the teeth glistening through a mangled mess of blood and fur – some small rodent. Something must live and stalk in the trees above. As I was investigated the latest kill, I heard the snap of twigs and I froze. My hand instinctively went to my knife just in case. On the other side of the ridge, only a short distance away, I saw a medium sized creature moving through the grass. My first thoughts were, “porcupine!” A sudden fear gripped me, though, and I worried that it could be a raccoon – a creature known for having rabies, especially when out in the daylight. I tensed. It got closer and I saw how rounded it’s body was. It lumbered and my heart tightened. I worried it was a bear cub. Curiosity fought with pragmatism as I considered heading home right away. I stayed, watched and, sure enough, my first instincts were correct – it was a porcupine! He waddled to a pine tree and, for some reason, sat on one of its large roots and stopped. I moved a little closer to get a better look. He didn’t move for awhile and I worried that maybe he was sick and had chose this spot to die. I snapped a twig as I sat down – now directly opposite the porcupine but at the top of the ridge. He looked up and we stared at each other. You’ll probably laugh to know that I spoke to him. I said I was not there to hurt him. All the same, he was probably annoyed by my presence. He waddled to another tree. My gosh, porcupines are so clumsy looking on the ground! He inspected this new pine tree and, almost immediately, a red squirrel jumped to the lowest branch to scold him. I laughed and watched this for some time. Red squirrels are very territorial!
The forest was so alive at dusk. Along with the squirrel and porcupine, bees hummed from flower to flower. The mosquitos, not quite returned to full force for the year, were very aware of my existence . I smelled the musk of a skunk on the wind and worried about meeting it. A crow flew from one tree to another. A hawk of some variety landed on a branch directly above me for a split second before diving back into the canopy. My spirit was both singing and crouching worriedly. Who else might be watching me?
I once more moved closer to the porcupine – following it along the ridge. It grew tired of the red squirrel’s chatter and found an unoccupied pine tree. Just to show me who was boss, he puffed up to show himself in all his spiny glory. He spun around to show me his dangerous behind. He reached his front paws up and gripped the bark. Though slow and graceless on the ground, the porcupine is a mighty climber – noisy too. He was nearly to the top in a matter of seconds. He found a suitable branch and settled in. I apologized for worrying him and thanked him for letting me watch. They are truly remarkable creatures. I think we can forget the majesty in our own backyards. We tend to dwarf North America’s fauna compared to that of Africa, South America, and Australia. I was so excited to see a porcupine in the wild instead of on the road or in a zoo. To be so close to something usually so elusive was magical. It was a dream come true!