For today's post I've invited Erin Siracusa, the St. Lawrence University class of 2012 valedictorian, a fine writer and naturalist, to submit a little excerpt from her senior honors project about porcupines.
Tuesday mornings are “porkie wrangling” mornings, at least that’s North Country vernacular for the so-called catch and release tactics of biologists who harass porcupines. A short drive brings you to the edge of the Kip Tract, a parcel of forested wetland in the St. Lawrence River Valley. There are fourteen Havahart® traps along a prescribed path which winds through the undergrowth, all of which have been baited with half an apple the night before. The narrow footpath is easy to lose in the dark, often altogether disappearing for a few meters before reappearing on the other side of a swampy bog. But in the early light of sunrise there is a certain anticipation as you move through the woods, adjusting the weight of your pack across your shoulders and smearing bug dope, the mosquitoes already singing musically in your ear.
We do all this because we care about these animals, because we want to know how much fat they’ve stored and if they will make it through the long North Country winter, because we have a human preoccupation with obtaining knowledge and understanding the way the world works. We do it because these animals are poorly studied and even more poorly understood, because myths create misunderstandings and misunderstandings alter the shape of our interactions with the world. Because porcupines are killed as a nuisance species and a pest and most of the time hunters have no idea what they are killing. They kill porcupines because they are in the way, because they are slow and easy targets, because porcupines eat their maple trees and damage their sugar shacks or because they protect themselves from an overcurious dog. In doing this we break a barrier, we cross a line. Quills say get this close and no closer and we disregard that warning. I cross a line of objectivity when I hold a baby porcupine to my chest and watch it wake with the lethargic movements of a drug-induced sleep. We create a space in which the laws of nature are altered. We chase these porcupines around the woods with their drunken, stumbling movements, their motor function still impaired from the remnants of drugs in their system, plucking them off trees like misbehaving toddlers, afraid that they will get hurt if they try to climb too soon.
|Erin and her porcupine muse|