CELEBRATE THE SEASON:
by Mary Lou Healy
by Haydn S. Pearson
Killington's Seventh Heaven
First Tracks at Stratton Mountain
IN THE FARMHOUSE KITCHEN:
Savory Side Dishes
For Your Thanksgiving Feast
by Wayne Kelley
EVERYTHING WOOD HEAT:
What's Wrong with My Woodstove?
by Daryle Thomas
VERMONT BY HAND:
Painting With Wood
by Kirt Zimmer
DO IT YOURSELF CRAFTS:
Make A Gift Basket
Just in Time for the Holidays
INTO THE OUTDOORS:
Hunting: The Last Opening Day
by Mike Williams
Hunting Records and Information
Including Deer and Moose Hunting Season
by Heather Behrens
A Prickly Subject
by Heather Behrens
VERMONT WEATHERVANE BOOK NEWS:
Spanning Time: Vermont's Covered Bridges
Perfumes, Splashes & Colognes
Guide to making fragrances at home
GET OUT AND ABOUT:
Vermont Country Calendar
Statewide Calendar of Events
Blue Ribbon Events
Detailed information on selected Vermont events
EXPLORE OUR OTHER SEASONS:If you didn't pass through Rural, Vermont to get to this site you may want to make a small detour.
It's worth the trip!
We welcome your comments, suggestions, and questions.
or call: 802-645-9631
RD 1, Box 680
West Pawlet, VT 05775
©1996-97 Vermont Weathervane
All rights reserved.
A Prickly Subject
by Charmaine Kinton
I padded down the center of the road, enjoying the emptiness of the midnight highway. My senses were triggered into hyper-awareness by the dark and by the night air, filled with the richness of late autumn. I could identify the scents of moist leaves, dying plants, and the wet-rock smell of the brook; the chuckle of running water came hollowly through the half-naked trees. My sneakers made no sound on the damp road.
The sound of branches tossing in the wind brought me up even more alert, for there was no wind. Yet there ahead was an apple tree in the front yard of a darkened house, one of its lower branches in motion. I approached cautiously, scrunching up and down and sideways in an effort to peer through the leaves.
By the lights of the general store across the street I could make out a largish chunky dark shape wreaking havoc in the apple tree. The sound of snapping branches sounded loud in the night. Whatever it was, was apparently having an unreasonably desperate craving for apples.
My first thought was raccoon, but something didn't seem quite right. I could make out the silhouette of a thick tail but there was no hint of rings. And I couldn't recall raccoons being that fond of apples, or of having so little finesse in gathering them.
I continued to stand and watch for some little time, feeling sympathy for the owners of the apple tree, and presently the sounds subsided, to be replaced by the scratching of claws against bark and a musical rattle. The lumpy shape descended tail first down the trunk.
I had finally begun to guess, and as it emerged from the tree's shadow it resolved itself into familiarity: chunky body, head low, tail dragging, spiky coat - a porcupine.
I held still, but apparently the porky had no plans of running away. On the contrary, he was as much interested in me as I was in him, and as I stood there he navigated a slow and winding but determined course across the yard, across the gully and right to my feet, where he stood peering obliquely and intently up at me. I stood peering intently back at him and for an instant, communication occurred. I won't reveal what was said, but visions of a leg full of quills and porcupine tooth incisions vanished at that moment from my thoughts.
Having decided I passed inspection, the porky about-faced and wandered back across the lawn, and with frequent pauses for apples, eventually vanished beneath the deck and around the corner of the house.
Porcupines are in the rodent family. Their scientific name is Erethizon ("irritable") dorsatum ("back"). They are famous for their quills, which are actually specialized hairs. They can be up to four inches long, cream colored, and have a hollow main shaft. The base is constricted and the tip, usually dark brown or black, is needlelike and covered with hundreds of tiny, diamond-shaped scales which act as barbs.
There can be as many as thirty thousand quills on a porcupine, but may be far less; individuals vary.
The quills are loosely attached to the skin and so are easily dislodged, but they cannot be thrown. However, an irate porcupine can swing its heavy tail with surprising quickness and if the tail makes contact with the adversary it will leave behind a dose of quills.
The quills, once imbedded, absorb moisture and the barbs on the tips enable them to work their way inward with the aid of muscle contractions, as fast as an inch a day. They can be fatal if they penetrate vital organs.
The quills have another use besides what the porcupine uses them for, however. Native Americans used them to create all sorts of artwork, decorations and jewelry, often dyeing them lovely colors.
Porcupines prefer mixed hardwood and evergreen forests and are mainly nocturnal. During the day they hide in trees or dens. They have little to fear from most predators and are quite nearsighted as well as mild-tempered. This combination makes them rather friendly animals.
They have good hearing and sense of smell, and are sensitive to vibrations. They fall prey mainly to fishers, lynx, fires and automobiles, and occasionally to respiratory disease.
Their diet includes all sorts of plants, vegetables, fruits, and the various parts of many types of trees; and, of course, apples. They are extremely fond of salt and will stop at nothing to get it; they will eat almost anything which has been handled by human hands enough to have absorbed salty perspiration, and will also chew up discarded deer antlers.
They are good climbers and are also able to swim.
Males and females are similar in appearance but males are heavier.
Breeding usually occurs in November and December. Porcupines have an elaborate courtship ritual, during which they make good use of their extensive vocal capacity. They can moan, chatter, whine, bark, trill, snort, grunt, hoot, meow and sob.
The single baby is born in spring in a den, complete with fur. Interestingly enough, although there is nearly always just one baby, female porcupines have four mammary glands. The babies only stay with the mother for about five or six months. Life expectancy is around ten years.
When I was in college I did a report on porcupines, including dissection of a road kill which revealed an incredibly long intestinal tract to allow for digestion of the fibrous vegetarian diet. People had many questions about porcupines for me, but I discovered that one particular one tended to pop up over and over: "How do they mate?"
Charmaine Kinton writes from the Vermont Institute of Natural Science in Woodstock, Vt.