“You say you’re not too tired of this life / and it’s not gonna matter if you fall down twice”

“It looks like a mop, a bundle of ponderosa pine needles, a mobile hairstyle. It takes a while to find the front end, the side with the two dark eyes. Teddy bear eyes and a short snout. Doesn’t give a damn, just stays there and watches me as I crawl closer. They cannot throw their quills, as some people fear. The quills will become loose during a confrontation and readily fasten into the skin of the attacker, but they won’t be hurled in your face from across the forest. I inch closer and rest my chin on my hands, looking at the porcupine. If I could ever be this calm, I think, if I could ever lay myself down on a fallen aspen and be so quiet, then I would know something. Peter Blue Cloud wrote, ‘When the porcupine goes night walking, he doesn’t look behind himself and say, “Ah, yes, I got my quills with me,” he knows what he’s got.

“… [later] I look up and see the porcupine suspended over my head. Thirty feet up in an aspen tree, it is wedged between branches. The tree is flying, taking to the wind like a kite. Aspens are built to bend. Their long, nimble trunks have the consistency of hard rubber and the bark is as flexible as skin. Again, the porcupine is unfazed. It lies against the branches so well that even in the wind its legs dangle apathetically. Claws are unhinged like baby fingers. It regards me as it swings above. It blinks.

“… Don’t be misled by their casual manner of hanging from trees far overhead. They are no daredevils. Porcupines do fall. Autopsies of porcupines have revealed common falling-related injuries, including one porcupine that had a four-inch pine branch permanently lodged inside its body long before it died. The truth about porcupines is that they fall more often than you think.

“… Sunset comes. The wind is cold now and I’ve been watching an essentially immobile porcupine for too long. I almost shout something, but I don’t. The porcupine continues to hang on. Not for dear life. It just hangs on, trusting that the tree won’t drop it.”

The Animal Dialogues, Craig Childs

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