A few days ago I was driving along a country road in Texas when I saw a dead porcupine by the side of the road. I seem to come across porcupine-shaped road kill about once a year since moving to the Hill Country outside of San Antonio.
This time, as I sped by that quill-covered roadside monument, it occurred to me that I have never seen a live porcupine in the wild. In zoos and wild animal parks, yes; lying lifeless at the side of a road, yes; alive and in nature, no. That fact seemed odd to me, given how much time I have spent hiking in the woods. It is true, of course, that porcupines are quite rare in California, where I have done most of my sylvan exploring. But I have also spent hundreds of hours hiking in the woods of New England, Wisconsin, and Texas, where porcupines are relatively common. Yet they must have something against me because they have never revealed themselves to me in all of their spiny splendor.
As I drove along that country road, I wondered to myself if I would ever see a live porcupine in its natural state. With no sightings in 53 plus year, my odds didn’t seem too good.
The next day after my porcupinal reveries, I was hiking along the Guadalupe River at Mo Ranch, a Presbyterian conference center outside of Hunt, Texas. As I meandered under a canopy of live oaks and other trees, I notice on the trail in front of me a curious collection of oak twigs and leaves. The leaves were still green, which suggested that something had only recently ripped them off the branch. Looking up to see what might have done this damage, I noticed a large, round, ball of quill-covered fur. There, right above my head, was a sleeping porcupine. (Photo: One of the sleeping porcupines.)
I looked around at the other nearby trees and saw two other porcupines on a nearby branch. I was close enough to see their chests moving in and out. They were breathing, apparently fast asleep. (I since learned that porcupines regularly sleep in trees.) I tried to see if I could rouse one of the animals by speaking loudly, but this attempt failed. I did not want to yell or throw a stick at the porcupines, so I simply enjoyed watching the three of them in their trees.
How strange, I thought, to discover these beasts on the very day after I wondered if I would ever see a live porcupine! I wondered if it was just good luck, or if I had some sixth-sense experience the day before, or if God simply chose to bless me with a porcupine sighting . . . or three sightings, to be more exact. At any rate, I was thankful for the experience and its surprising timing.
I wonder how many times in my life I have walked under sleeping porcupines without ever seeing them because I didn’t lift my eyes off the trail long enough to enjoy the scenery around and above me?