For a short time (1 ½ days) I had a pet porcupine. I was 13, going on 14, when I spent the summer of 1950 in Safford, Arizona with my Grandpa, George Sicks. I had never seen a porcupine and all I knew about them is that when they got mad or scared they threw their quills at you and you ended up looking like a pin cushion. I figured them to be pretty mean animals.
Grandpa sold Allis-Chalmers farm equipment there in eastern Arizona. He spent a lot of time on the road calling on the farmers and ranchers in the area. One day, he said he would be going south to make some calls. I couldn’t go with him because he had hooked me up with a job on one of the big farms in the area. When Grandpa got home that night he told me about his trip. To get to the area where he wanted to make calls he went south out of Safford and after a few miles arrived at the Pinaleno Mountains. As the elevation increased he got up into the pine forest. As he went over the crest of a hill, he almost ran over a porcupine in the road. It was standing beside the body of another porcupine that had been hit by a car or truck.
Grandpa went about his business but when he returned in late afternoon the porcupine was still beside the body as if grieving over the loss of its companion. They may have been involved in a mating ritual or, as we learned later, this may have been a mother and baby as the babies stay with their mothers until they are about 6 months old. Grandpa pulled over, got out of his car, and walked back to the porcupine. It didn’t move. Being afraid that the animal would eventually be hit by a car, Grandpa picked it up and put it in his car and headed for home.
When he got to the house, Grandpa told me what had happened. He had a big cardboard box and some chicken wire and we used them to fashion a pen. We got a bowl of water and some vegetables from the house, put them in the pen, and we were ready for our guest.
Grandpa was good with animals and believed that touching was the best way to establish a bond and begin communicating with them. As he got the porcupine out of the car he began showing me how to stroke its back as he spoke quietly to it.
The quills normally lay flat and needless to say, you should always stroke “with the grain” unless you want to deal with quills sticking out of your hand. We put it in the pen and I spent the rest of the evening sitting beside it and talking to it and stroking it. I didn’t get any reaction at all until I started rubbing the bridge of its nose. Then, it started leaning into it a little. I knew the animal was unhappy and scared so it was gratifying to get any kind of response.
I didn’t have to work the next day so I just hung out with the porcupine. It didn’t eat or drink or move around in the pen. Besides the other trauma in its life it couldn’t get any peace now because some kid was checking on it every five minutes. I talked to Grandpa about the situation when he got home that afternoon. He said that he had been worried about the safety of the porcupine but shouldn’t have interfered. He said he should have left it to Mother Nature to take care of business and we would have to make it right.
The next morning, Grandpa put the porcupine in the car and said he would leave it where he had found it. That evening, he told me that the remains of the other porcupine were still where he had seen them last. He moved the body several yards off the road and then got the other porcupine from the car and placed it beside its former companion. We were both sorry that we couldn’t have done more.
For the record, porcupines don’t throw their quills. They are passive little animals but when forced to defend themselves, turn their back to the aggressor and “bristle”, causing their quills to stand up straight. If the adversary persists and gets too close they whack it with their tail. That’s when the pain comes in.
This is a sad memory but I am grateful for the things I learned.
October 21, 2014