Quills

This essay is from Two Farms: Essays on a Maine Country Life by Janet Galle.
2006. it is available at Gulf of Maine Books, Brunswick or from Apple Creek Farm.

          With the extraordinary amount of snow this winter, the wild animals in the woods around Apple Creek Farm are clearly impacted in their daily lives and routines. This week, we have been visited by an unseen and, as yet, unrecognized animal, but we know he is about. Tracks and scat reveal his nightly prowls, but we can’t identify him.
           In addition, the 13 acre field, an immaculate expanse of white, presents even more of a puzzle. While cross-country skiing two days ago, we came upon a series of “scuffles” in the snow. These upheavals had no tracks, not deer, not coyote, not our dogs, leading to them. They just appeared in the middle of  an empty field. Closer examination shows bird wings around the edges of the stirred snow. An owl? The local ravens? Did they catch the mouse? No blood, no feathers, but definitely some action took place.
           All of these signs reminded me of a long ago time at our first farm, when our now adult children were small.

IMG_4836February, 1982 Quills

          Life in the country produces inevitable confrontations with wild critters. By hook or by crook, these clever creatures of the forest world find ways to benefit from our presence. Fat raccoons grow fatter eating our corn and chickens all summer. One young skunk spent an entire spring sleeping next to the grain bin in the barn, undisturbed by our daytime habits. A milk snake, who preferred to keep cool wrapped around our dog’s water dish, would not stay out of the house in spite of daily evictions.

          Midwinter this year brought a porcupine. The porcupine, Erethizon dorsatum, does not hibernate, yet is not overly fond of snow. Once a cozy spot which provides warmth and food is located, he rarely ventures far afield. Our young Erethizon, as we were soon calling him, followed that pattern exactly. He established a den under our neighbor’s cottage with a short, direct path to our towering, tasty Scotch pine. We did not have many trees along our shore and this one was a beauty.

          One evening in late January, we spotted him munching away on the pine’s bark, and within a week the tree trunk was stripped bare. We tried to capture him with a salt-filled trap. No luck. Shooting was not a desired alternative. But as the snow deepened, and the tree’s condition worsened, we knew something had to be done.

20150222_154723          One day, at dusk we five — my husband Pete, the children, and I — set forth, armed for the confrontation. Our weapons? A broken hockey stick left over from previous raccoon engagements, a wooden club, a seven-foot length of giant tinker toys, a garbage can, and a smelt net. We positioned ourselves in a wide circle to block all possible escape routes as we advanced on the Scotch pine. If Erethizon hadn’t seen us coming, he certainly heard the nervous giggles, followed by shouts of “Quick! He’s crawling down,” and “Get him Mom,” and “Where’s the net?!”

           Porcupines do not climb very gracefully, up or down. Their powerful claws do the work going up. Mostly they tumble coming down. It wasn’t too difficult to scoop our porcupine into the smelt net. The harder part was keeping him there. Immediately he began hoisting himself over the net’s rim. Four of us danced around, keeping our distance, yelling worthless instructions to my husband, the net holder. Pete put an end to our foolishness with a sharp command to get the trap. Quick!

          We scurried back to the house and returned with our box-like trap, which at various times has contained raccoons, a skunk, several curious cats, and once thirteen chickens. It was the ideal spot for Erethizon. First, we dropped him into the garbage can, and then, with a tip and a push from the smelt net, our porcupine scuttled into the trap. The metal doors were locked, followed by five sighs of relief.

      20150222_152830    There remained one last adventure to complete our porcupine’s day — a truck ride (I imagined it was his first) to a distant deserted forest where he could nibble away to his heart’s content on some absentee landowner’s trees.
Meanwhile, I am becoming aware of a gnawing suspicion that close by a groundhog slumbers. His sleep grows restless as he grows thinner with each passing day. Undoubtedly, he is dreaming of my fresh lettuce and pea sprouts. I think I had better remove the quills from the smelt net. I may need it come spring, and not for fish.

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