Fair Warning: There will be no replacing of letters with asterisks beyond this point! There are also three photos of interesting, strangely hairy poop in this post. Tolerant, indulgent readers who make it to the end will be rewarded with a few pretty pictures of ice.
Once, long ago, I sat in a tavern with some coworkers, sipping root beer and swapping stories. A man at the end of the bar to my right squinted at me and slurred, “Hey! You don’t know shit!”
This was unfortunate because if he had been seated to my left he would have seen the patch on my sleeve signifying employment at the local zoological park and indicating what was actually an intimate and far superior knowledge of shit. Not realizing what he was in for, he wiggled his index finger and taunted me once more. “You don’t know shit!” he exclaimed.
“As a matter of fact,” I began, hitching up my uniform pants as I stood, “I do know shit.” I then proceeded to recite every term for shit I could think of, from spoor and sign to crap and beyond. I told about finding peacock feathers in elephant shit and the defensive defecation of large pythons but I didn’t get a chance to expound on the eucalyptus-laced dung of koalas or the flung-poo antics of monkeys because the man at the bar staggered over and cut me off.
Actually, he cut off my air by punching me in the throat, but that is not the point. The point is that I am neither surprised nor particularly bothered when someone leaves a message on the answering machine telling me they found some very interesting, strangely hairy poop in the woods and that it was such interesting, strangely hairy poop that they felt compelled to carry a large sample of said poop to my porch, leaving it on an overturned bucket, cradled by a lichen-covered tree branch.
There are those among us who would take one look at this strangely hairy poop and say, “Them’s Sasquatch turds, for sure,” but they would be wrong. The clue to the source of this poop is found in its contents.
Those are porcupine quills. The softer, hair-like quills that fringe(d) a porcupine’s belly, to be exact. This poop is fisher poop.
Natty Bumppo would be proud, I think.
[Daniel Day Lewis portrayed Natty Bumppo in the movie Last of the Mohicans but by that point in James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales he (Natty Bumppo) was known as Hawkeye.]
The fisher (Martes pennanti) will eat just about anything it comes across, including porcupines. By concentrating its attack on the face, a fisher can weaken a porcupine enough to flip it onto its back, exposing the porcupine’s poorly protected belly. Fishers have also been known to force porcupines to the flimsy ends of tree branches so they fall to the ground and are killed or at least stunned and unable to fight. Fishers will also eat snowshoe hares, grouse, and turkeys, but you have to respect a critter that will take on and eat a porcupine.
I suppose a certain respect is also deserved for pooping porcupine quills.
And now, those pretty pictures I promised.