My Favorite Porcupine

We named him Darius. I’m not sure why. I said we needed to come up with a name for our pet porcupine and Karl suggested it.

Every morning and every evening Darius would waddle out from his spot under the chicken coop and eat apples. For a wild animal, he was surprisingly docile. I could walk close enough for pictures. He would look at me blandly and continue munching his apple.

We first saw Darius when I let our dog out of the house one evening. Maggie ran straight towards the chicken coop. I watched her do her play-with-me dance that she does with our cat sometimes. A crouch, a pounce, a jump back – tail wagging the whole time. When I went to investigate, I saw the porcupine.

“Call Maggie,” I yelled back to the house, and the kids did. The last thing I wanted was a visit to the vet for quill removal. Fortunately, Maggie is fairly obedient and went back inside. Darius waddled into the woods.

On successive nights, I watched him squeeze into a gap underneath the unused chicken coop.

I warned my brother and sister-in-law about the porcupine. They have two puppies that are still learning obedience. Bear and Bozeman might have been more aggressive in wanting to play with a porcupine.

Toward the end of Darius’s visit, he stopped going under the chicken coop. He stayed under the apple tree all day, nose toward the trunk, sleeping.

One day, someone threw an apple at him.

“Why did you do that?” I asked.

“I wanted to see if he was alive” was the response.

He was.

But his behavior worried me. It’s not normal for a porcupine to sit out in the open all day.

I called the animal control officer.

“I can come right over and shoot him,” he said.

“I was thinking more along the lines of trapping him,” I replied. I couldn’t stomach the thought of him shooting Darius.

Years ago the police came to shoot a sick raccoon in our backyard in Cooperstown. We saw it staggering around in broad daylight. My boys watched from the window while the policeman “took care of it.” But nobody was attached to the raccoon. We hadn’t watched him eat apples or named him or anything.

The animal control officer said, “I can’t get a trap there until tomorrow morning.”

I walked up to explain matters to Darius. He was still sitting nose-to-the-trunk under the apple tree, but he bristled right up when I approached. It was the first time I had seen him do that. I decided not to tell him. I just studied him a while, wanting to store him in my memory.

Later in the day, I saw him trekking across the backyard and into the orchard. He picked a dwarf apple tree and climbed it.

Later Bud saw him the street and head down into the pasture.

In the evening, Bud and I walked around the apple trees in the pasture looking for him. I called animal control and told him the porcupine was gone.

“He was my favorite porcupine,” Mary said, when I told her.

“Mine, too,” I said.

That’s what happens when you get to know somebody.

 

Rescues

I draw the line at worms. I don’t rescue worms in the driveway after it rains.

Mary does that.

One day this spring she went to my brother’s house to feed his puppies and take them out, and it took her much longer than usual.

“Was there a problem?” I asked, picturing some sort of puppy mischief.

“No,” she said, “I rescued a worm in his driveway. Then I saw another and another. I couldn’t stop.”

I rescue red efts when I see them.

They’re just so darn cute.

More often than not, though, I see eft fatalities (eftalities?) as I walk our road.

One day in May, Mary and I found a confused turtle on the lawn. It was heading up the hill, away from the river and the road, but it had a long way to go before it reached any shade.

I texted my brother. “Hey — would you like a turtle to take into the classroom?” He’s known as Mr. Science, and, in the spring, often brings nature-y things to school.

By the time he answered, though, the turtle was gone.

A few days later I saw what I think was the same turtle crossing the road.

“No!” I yelled to it, and turned to bring my groceries in the house. When I got back out, I was too late. The turtle had already been run over by a car.

Sadly, I picked up the poor turtle, its shell cracked and turtle blood oozing out, and carried it across the road to our compost heap. I nestled it down in a little shady spot, returning it to the earth — ashes to ashes, dust to dust, you know, but without a true grave.

The next day, when I brought compost over, the turtle was gone.

Honestly, I thought a predator ate it. Or maybe the crows who are always raiding the compost decided to have a little turtle meat with their moldy bread.

Fast forward to today. I was waiting to cross the road to get the mail while a steady stream of cars drove past in both directions.  After the last car, I took one last look down the road to make sure the coast was clear.

A turtle was crossing.

I sprinted to save that turtle.

The crack starts by its head and arcs left to its front leg

How it had made it as far as it did with all those cars was a mystery to me. When I carefully picked it up to carry it across, I saw it had already been injured in the past.

Was it the same turtle? The cracks in the shell were exactly where I remembered them.

I brought it across to the compost heap. It’s a safe place.

I visited it later in the day. It was in a different spot and had fresh injuries.

I guess turtles are slow learners.

Or the world is a dangerous place.

Or both.

Lately we’ve had a new visitor to our yard. I promise not to help it cross the road.