I see lots of tracks and other signs of animal activity when I am walking in the woods. Those “other signs” are usually poop, although I did see a spot today where a coyote lost its cookies and, believe me, it hadn’t been eating cookies. I came this close to taking a picture of it but didn’t. I kind of wish I had now but it’s probably better for everyone that I did not.
I did, however, take pictures of some other animal signs that I saw while walking through a stand of rather large balsam and hemlock trees.
These branch tips, scattered all around, are a sign that a North American Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatus) has been feeding in the tall trees. They will eat bark if they have to, but green branches, especially on a mild winter day, make the climb up worthwhile. Table manners are not high on the list of porcupine priorities and what we see on the ground are the crumbs and leavings from one porcupine’s trip through an arboreal all-you-can-eat buffet.
Now, I have been known to do perhaps just a bit too much thinking while I walk. Once, on the Appalachian Trail in Maine, with a heavy pack* that included fuel and priming paste for my cooking stove along with a generous supply of strike-anywhere matches, I forgot all about running into bears, moose and even humans as I worried about taking a tumble down a steep rock face and hitting bottom, landing on the matches and setting off a small, backpacker-size explosion. With that in mind, you might understand my trepidation as I stood there, looking up into the trees as the afternoon wind kicked up.
I just can’t help but wonder if anyone has ever been hit by a falling porcupine (from 30 feet up it has to hurt, even without the quills) and just what are the odds of it happening? I imagine they would be just about the same as me exploding at the foot of a cliff in the Hundred Mile Wilderness but, even so, I didn’t stick around to find out.
*I also used to wonder how many pounds of helium I would have to carry before that pack weighed nothing.