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The Porcupine
by [?]

Among our wild animals there are three that are slow-moving, dull-witted, and almost fearless,–the skunk, the opossum, and the porcupine. The two latter seem to be increasing in most parts of the country. The opossum is becoming quite common in the valley of the Hudson, and the porcupine is frequently met with in parts of the country where it was rarely or never seen forty years ago.

When the boys in late fall now go cooning where I used to go cooning in my youth, the dogs often run on a porcupine or drive him up a tree, and thus the sport is interrupted. Sometimes the dog comes to them with his mouth stuck full of quills, and is then compelled to submit to the painful operation of having them withdrawn.

A sportsman relates that he once came upon a dead porcupine and a dead bald eagle lying upon the ground within a few yards of each other. The eagle had partly torn the porcupine to pieces, but in attacking it with its beak it had driven numerous spines of the animal into its throat, and from their effect had apparently died as soon as its victim.

The quill of a porcupine is like a bad habit: if it once gets hold it constantly works deeper and deeper, though the quill has no power of motion in itself; it is the live, active flesh of its victim that draws it in by means of the barbed point. One day my boy and I encountered a porcupine on the top of one of the Catskills, and we had a little circus with him; we wanted to wake him up, and make him show a little excitement, if possible. Without violence or injury to him, we succeeded to the extent of making his eyes fairly stand out from his head, but quicken his motion he would not,–probably could not.

What astonished and alarmed him seemed to be that his quills had no effect upon his enemies; they laughed at his weapons. He stuck his head under a rock and left his back and tail exposed. This is the porcupine’s favorite position of defense. “Now come if you dare,” he seems to say. Touch his tail, and like a trap it springs up and strikes your hand full of little quills. The tail is the active weapon of defense; with this the animal strikes. It is the outpost that delivers its fire before the citadel is reached. It is doubtless this fact that has given rise to the popular notion that the porcupine can shoot its quills, which of course it cannot do.

With a rotten stick we sprang the animal’s tail again and again, till its supply of quills began to run low, and the creature grew uneasy. “What does this mean?” he seemed to say, his excitement rising. His shield upon his back, too, we trifled with, and when we finally drew him forth with a forked stick, his eyes were ready to burst from his head. In what a peevish, injured tone the creature did complain of our unfair tactics! He protested and protested, and whimpered and scolded, like some infirm old man tormented by boys. His game after we led him forth was to keep himself as much as possible in the shape of a ball, but with two sticks and a cord we finally threw him over on his back and exposed his quill-less and vulnerable under side, when he fairly surrendered and seemed to say, “Now you may do with me as you like.” Then we laughed in his face and went our way.

Before we had reached our camp I was suddenly seized with a strange, acute pain in one of my feet. It seemed as if a large nerve was being roughly sawed in two. I could not take another step. Sitting down and removing my shoe and stocking, I searched for the cause of the paralyzing pain. The foot was free from mark or injury, but what was that little thorn or fang of thistle doing on the ankle? I pulled it out and found it to be one of the lesser quills of the porcupine. By some means, during our “circus,” the quill had dropped inside my stocking, the thing had “taken,” and the porcupine had his revenge for all the indignities we had put upon him. I was well punished. The nerve which the quill struck had unpleasant memories of it for many months afterward.