Every night they come. The prickly, pear-eating porcupines. There are four of them–possibly a family. They hang out in the trees just beyond our property during the daytime, and venture forth after sunset. When the moon is full, you can see their dark rounded shapes under the pear tree, munching the pears.
My dog is fascinated. A hunter by breed, she watches the nightly dinner party silently, desperate to stalk them. A recent encounter proved rather expensive, so I keep her tethered, only letting her watch from a distance.
Merriam-Webster defines porcupine as: any of various relatively large slow-moving, chiefly herbivorous rodents having sharp erectile spines mingled with the hair and constituting an Old World terrestrial family (Hystricidae) and a New World chiefly arboreal family (Erethizontidae)
Again according to M-W, the origin and etymology of the word porcupine is: Middle English porke despyne, from Middle French porc espin, from Old Italian porcospino, from Latin porcus pig + spinaspine, prickle. In other words, a porcupine is a prickly pig. Like pigs, they are also purportedly delicious, though I have never had occasion to eat one.
At the moment my heart is very conflicted over these creatures. On the one hand I find them to be rather cute. When they look at me with their shiny round black eyes, they remind me of the guinea pigs I had as pets while growing up. And if you don’t get too close, they also seem pretty harmless–and much less of a nuisance to humans than say, woodchucks or skunks. The couple of times I have seen a baby one up really close, I had a very strong urge to reach up into the tree and take it home.
But unfortunately these creatures can be destructive. Very, VERY destructive. On my property alone they have already destroyed a peach tree, a plum tree, a cherry tree and several pine trees, all of which my husband and I planted. They climb up into the boughs and chew on the tender new growth, leaving the broken branches strewn about on the ground below. Like beavers, their front teeth never stop growing, so they have to wear them down by gnawing–on wood. Their favorite place to do this is in my barn, where a once-three-legged stool is now a one-legged stool, apple baskets look like sieves, and wooden-handled gardening implements are the perfect height for oompah-loompahs. And don’t even get me started on the porcupine poop. Suffice it to say, porcupines are not a farmer’s best friend.
So my husband has engaged another neighborly farmer (a Mainer of course) to trap the beasts, and dispose of them. On the one hand I will be glad to be free of these unwelcome guests; but on the other, I will feel guilty, and more than a little remorseful, over having indirectly caused their demise. Because the only thing they are guilty of is doing what nature intended for them to do. We can hardly say the same of humans.
So every night when I see them, I say, “Run away! Run away little porcupines! Run to safety before its too late!” For my own sake, I hope they are listening, so that when the farmer comes with his traps and his gun they will be nowhere to be found.