Saturday, July 4, 2009

Porcupine Quills and Riding Mowers

Things get a little crazy up here in the North Woods on these big holiday weekends. The population on the roads and waterways explodes. For the local economy, they say it provides a very big boost. It can be tough on the wildlife, though.

On Friday morning, July 3, I got a rescue call from the Northwoods Wildlife Center. Several people had phoned in that there was an injured porcupine on the side of the highway.

Porcupines are one of those animals that seem to thrive up here. It is not uncommon to see dead ones on the shoulders any time of the year. They are nocturnal and pretty slow moving, so it's easy to drive up on one at night and hit it before you can avoid it. Evidently that is what happened to my rescue victim, but this one was reportedly still alive.

Now one of the rules of the rescue driver that is set in stone with zero tolerance for rule abridgment is that there are to be NO pictures taken of the injured animals. The animals are stressed enough without flashes going off and lenses being pointed in their faces. For those of you unfamiliar with a closeup view of a porcupine, I am borrowing a very good photo from Click on the photo for a full-sized view.

Anyway, I loaded up my trusty tote and paraphernalia and headed out to the scene. It was supposedly lying along the north side of the road somewhere in the 20 miles between where I live and Rhinelander. I had my doubts as to whether it would still be alive by the time that I found it, and if it was, it most likely would have wandered off into the woods again.

I passed several that were obviously long dead and decomposing. Then about seven miles east of Rhinelander, I spotted it not a foot off the blacktop. I pulled over, got out and walked up to it. It sure looked dead. I gave it a slight nudge with my toe, and it curled up a bit tighter. So it was alive. I saw a wound on its flank that didn't look too serious, but who knows what internal trauma it may have had.

I then went back, got my tote, a heavy sheet, and my welding gloves. I covered it with the sheet, gently picked it up, put it in the box, and headed on in to headquarters.

I must admit that this porcupine handling was done with a degree of trepidation on my part. Several years ago, on one of the coldest nights of the year and after a very rare overindulgence in social drinking, a friend told me, "Ya know, porkypine quillsh are worth a bundle on the innernet."

I said, "You gotta be kiddin' me. Toothpicks are a lot cheaper and easier on the gums."

"Naw, man. They use 'em fer joolry an' decoratin' and stuff."

"You may be right, by gosh. I have been hearin' a lot about pierced ears and pierced unmentionables. Heck, I know where I can get some right here, right now."

Not long before that, I had been out in our back 40 to show a visitor a junky old hunting shack that the boys of the previous owners had thrown together out in the woods. When we got there, we found that a porcupine had taken up residence in one of the top bunks and seemed to be pretty well ensconced for the winter. It was no big deal to me because I was never going to use the building, and it really didn't matter if the porcupine gnawed it to the ground if he wanted to.

Well when my buddy told me that the quills were like a pot of gold, in my slightly alcohol-addled mind, I decided to go out and offer that porcupine nice warm room and board in our basement in exchange for an occasional quill harvest.

So I donned my Carhartt overalls and hat and gloves, grabbed a feed bag and decided I'd just stuff it in the sack and bring him on home.

You'd be amazed at how strong, belligerent and pig headed an indignant quill pig can be when rousted from its chosen cozy spot. Suffice it to say, that I returned home with an empty bag and hands and wrists that looked like pincushions. And yes the quills did penetrate the fabric in sufficient numbers that my coat and gloves may as well have been stapled to my body with an electric staple gun gone wild. There was no way to take them off without pliers and helping hands.

Ah well, I haven't overindulged since then... and I didn't even find a buyer for the quills.

Nah, nah, what's done is done. That was then, and this is now. Older and wiser.

I got the injured animal into the animal E.R. They got it tranquilized and injected antibiotics and dexamethasone, and we're all hoping for the best.

I do happen to have a sheet of spare quills in case any of you creative souls out there feel some inspiration.

They are hollow and can be dyed and used like you would use Indian beads. Here are a few examples from the Internet of things created with them:

I might be talked into harvesting a few quills from the road shoulders if anyone is interested. There are a lot of creative people out there.

Which brings me to my final holiday find. The summer holiday weekends are also huge times for garage sales. This weekend, on my way to the animal E.R., I spotted a riding mower for sale. Boy, if it weren't for an injured victim in my car, I would have been sorely tempted to buy my wife a "Green Movement" 4th of July gift.


  1. Thought I was already following you...but then I stopped by and here you had all these new posts that hadn't shown up in my reader.

    Looks like porcupines made quite an impression on you. (Too bad it bled!)

    Great post.

  2. I love reading your stories! The quills are beautiful. Do hope the porcupine survives. We see them hit by the side of the road up here too. Also deer, skunks and turkeys. Don't see many raccoons hit. The highways are not kind to the wildlife.

  3. I grew up on the northern prairie: "why did the chicken cross the road?" - "to prove to the gophers it can be done! In the summer the highway is littered with gopher carcasses for as far as the eye can see, and that is a long way on the prairie. Great writing as usual, really did enjoy getting to see your wonderful sense of humor. Thanks for sharing, peace for all

  4. I am glad you rescued the poor little porcupine. I hope he lives...or she.

  5. Our towns are clogged right now with vacationers too. I felt so bad this morning on the way home from town-someone had hit a tiny fawn. Two miles up the road, it was a turkey. They can't seen to slow down!

  6. OMG! A riding lawn mower, I couldn't stop laughing. My DH had to see what was so funny...he was wondering how it steers? :)
    All these years I was flushing those quills pulled from dogs' faces down the toilet, I could have retired by now for sure!

  7. Interesting story. So sad about the animals... they are no match for our autos... your animals & the ones Sue mentions in her comments. Here it's armadillos. Greetings from Texas.

  8. Oh... and the riding lawn mower is a real HOOT!

  9. Cool, we don't have porcupines around here. I had no idea people made things from the quills.

  10. I have to tell you I read your post a day ago but was so disturbed by the pork-e-pine quills in the hand that the painful chills were running down my spine. Worse than ripping out hair... But I had to come back and say that lawn mower bicycle peaked my husbands interest. He said he thought it would be a great thing to have around here. I think NOT. LOL. But funny and made me smile.

  11. Your blog is a very good read indeed! That's an awesome mower!

  12. I think NOT. LOL. But funny and made me smile.
    Getting a Payday advance is just a few steps away

  13. Hey nice of u to save the porcupine man