Our story left off with Jeannette, the wildlife rehabilitator, whisking our suddenly struggling porcupine down the hill for emergency veterinary care. Once in the compassionate care of Joyce, a vet technician in Guilderland, the ticks (a sign of a compromised immune system) were carefully removed from our girl’s face. She also received fluids, antibiotics and pain medication. With no concrete determinations that night, Jeanette wrote, “Joyce and I will do absolutely anything for her if the vet feels she has any chance of recovery.”
After my woodland birthday celebration on that snowy Thursday in October, our resident porcupine made herself scarce. Then, as Tim woke to let the dogs out on Saturday, he saw her nestled against the chain link fence with her quills pointed through into the dog yard. With the dogs crossing their legs in need of morning relief, an hour ticked slowly by before the porcupine finally wandered off again.
That night, the dogs nearly climbed the 6 foot fence, frothy white saliva flying this way and that, as they barked themselves into a frenzy. In the glow of the house floodlights, we saw our little porcupine curled up in a half-igloo just 3 feet from the fenced yard. As Tim and I dragged the dogs inside, the Newf nearly went through the sun room window in pursuit, leaving swipes of muddy footprints smeared across the glass. It took great effort, but we wrangled both dogs into the main house and slammed the door shut.
We were perplexed. The dogs were in danger with the porcupine so near. It was also dangerous for a porcupine to sleep in the open where coyotes are known to traverse.
Encouraging the porcupine to move on, Tim nudged her gently with a broom until she rambled through the powdery snow and over the rock wall 2 acres away. When she entered the forest with her oddly swift and rolling gate, we hoped she’d climb a tree for the night. It would mean safety for all involved.
At daybreak, the porcupine was back once more. Hunched near the cubby she built the night prior, her body rocked forward. Her hands rested on the ground. Tim gently caressed her back with the broom, bristle to bristle. No response but a downtrodden shiver. Our hearts ached not to be able to touch her directly, to comfort her. One would think our presence would incite fear, but this little porcupine seemed to seek us out.
I dialed friends and left messages with every nearby wildlife rehabilitator. Finding somebody home on a Sunday morning was proving impossible. I spoke mainly with answering machines.
The best we could offer our sweet girl were apples in hopes that she’d eat and hydrate. We provided the cover of a clear plastic tub tipped upside down. Tim propped one end for air flow and checked often that it didn’t get too warm in the sun. Mostly, we hovered a ways back to avoid adding stress.
The phone buzzed in my pocket. Finally, a call back. The woman’s name was Jeannette and she said she’d transport our girl. Terrific. But could she find a vet to treat her through all those quills? She’d get back to us.
The wait grew long. We watched the porcupine slump further until she was fully on her side, her front foot pawing at the air, her breathing labored, and a shiver running the length of her body time and again.
I called Jeanette back. She found a vet for Tuesday.
“That’s too long. She won’t last another few hours.” I hung up and cried.
Jeanette made the hour-long trek and tiptoed through the side yard snow with open-toe sandals, a pair of leather garden gloves in hand. “You got a lot more snow up here than we did,” she said as she donned her gloves.
We discussed the best plan for transport and Jeanette reached for our ailing visitor. “Sweet girl,” she said in a soft, motherly voice.
Quills made contact with Jeannette’s uncovered wrists without effect. Tim and I watched helplessly yet in awe of how easily the porcupine was moved. She lay calm and still without any sign of resistance, even from her one capable paw. I now believed , in full, that she trusted us to help.
We gave up our bin for transport and sent Jeanette with $100 toward vet care, although she said it wasn’t necessary. Ice cold tears spilled down my cheek as we watched the car roll back down the mountain. Our porcupine was in the best hands possible, but with her quick decline we held little hope.
In late October, I woke to a landscape glittering and bright in the golden sun of daybreak. It was the first snow of the season, and this particular day was my birthday. Through the window, from the warmth of my bed, I watched a rabbit making tracks as our Newf, Shamus, ate frosted crabapples straight from the tree. The view made me cheerful for the first time in a long while.
Last week, as I told of My Unlikely Encounter with a Porcupine, we left off with this darling, quilly little girl trotting through the deep woods as I skipped home filled with wonderment at our chance meeting. But that’s not the end of the story…
On an overcast Saturday afternoon, a dark, waddling shadow under the apple trees caught my husband Tim’s eye. “Hey. Your friend is back!”
I ran to the window. There she was, face-first in a shiny, red, fallen apple on the lawn, circling around it as she ate, not a care in the world. Unable to hold onto the fruit, she sank her long teeth into the ruby red flesh, re-angling for every bite. When only a bright white core was left, she abandoned it for the next apple.
I raced for the camera but there was no rush. This porcupine wasn’t going anywhere.
From the couch, Shamus, our Newf, glued his eyes on the spiky spectacle dancing through the plethora of Macintosh (his favorite food). Tim sat with him as I filmed, filling the camera with repeat rounds of circular porcupine paths. This went on so long, Shamus laid down at some point, dizzied by the crazy apple spinning, and Tim and I went back to watching television. On occasion, we’d check to see if she was still there, and she always was.
As daylight faded to night, we looked once more. The porcupine’s front paws walked up the apple tree’s trunk as she considered overnighting near the perfect breakfast spot. Almost immediately, she changed direction, hobbling a bit off kilter. Was she drunk? Her belly was certainly chock-full of fermented applesauce.
In a moment of clarity, she opted for the cover of the woods and, as she made her way, I silently thanked her for another visit, this time in the company of my family.
It was October 18th, 2011. The sun played peek-a-boo, ducking behind passing clouds and cheekily popping out again like a gleeful child. Bulbous shadows floated across the lawn in tandem with their fluffy white counterparts above. I absorbed the sights as if they were harmonious sounds, the clouds providing a strong bass line as melodious bursts of golden light trickled through the pines.
Then she arrived, hopping and bopping through this symphonic space like a tuba in the strings section. From a distance, she looked like a ground hog, or perhaps a beaver. But, no. She was a beautiful little porcupine.
Climbing the hill toward the house, she took a turn past the dog yard – which sent the dogs into an ear piercing cacophony. When she redirected, I grabbed my camera and followed with a wide birth letting the zoom bridge the gap.
Through the woods, we clamored over rotten tree trunks, rock walls, and through a maze of maple saplings. Leaves crunched under our feet – my footfalls in whole notes, hers adding a layer of syncopation. When she stopped under a wood pile covered in grape leaves, I circled around at a distance. It was my hope to head her off and see her precious face after following the spires of her tail this far.
We both sat quiet and still until that syncopated pace began once more. She was headed straight for me, although her poor eyesight sheilded me from view. I zoomed out as she drew near and hit my widest camera setting with her face still filling my view finder. My blood grew cold. I was really that close.
Taking one slow step back, the snap of a twig alerted her to my presence. We both froze for several minutes, her quills poised. Face to face in those moments, I watched with respectful curiosity. My pulse slowed as my muscles released. She winked and breathed. A sense of peace washed over us both. Then she turned and went on her way. I thanked her for her time and skipped across the sun speckled forest floor toward home.
This was my first up-close encounter with a wild porcupine, and it wasn’t my last.
For more adventures, be sure to visit my next post…