My Prickly Attachment to a Garden Invader

Writer Kate Krautkramer offers an essay about the emotional attachment she developed with a porcupine that invaded her vegetable garden.

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NOAH ADAMS reporting:

Sometimes even the most polite guests may not understand when they have exhausted their welcome. And that can be especially true for visitors who aren't human. Writer Kate Krautkramer shares the story of a porcupine who took hospitality for granted.


Nights were frosting already when the porcupine came down the hill and started nosing around our yard. Since the porcupine stayed a few days, I assigned him a gender and began to love him. A foot tall and grayish brown, the porcupine looked like a waddling ball. For the most part he kept his quills flat along his back instead of flaring them and he drug his tail behind him like a prickly little trailer. Alone in the day husband at work and the children at their activities I sought the porcupine's opinion. Not just about the weather and what he thought about the turns in the Supreme Court, but also about important things. Like the meaning of shelter and nurturing.

I started to compliment the porcupine. I said I respected his audacity when he lumbered across the open yard at mid day. I noted that he retained a look of dignity even while freeloading under our shed. One day my neighbor drove down. You want me to shoot that porcupine for you? he asked. It's going to cause you a heap of trouble, you know. Get under your car and eat your brake lines. Chew the paint off your shed. The porcupine looked at us, his nose pointed and sniffing the air. His eyes dots of black indifference. He's cute, I said.

I lowered my eyes. Defending a porcupine was the cultural equivalent to admitting a love for rats. My neighbor pulled up the bill of his baseball cap. All right then, he said, and he thanked me for the wire before he walked away. But my enchantment with the porcupine was doomed. The next week out in the garden I removed the protective covering from a young patch of spinach. The porcupine chomped it down to the roots. It's bad behavior to eat people's food, no way to show your gratitude. I scolded the porcupine while I squatted a few feet away. Later, we herded the porcupine into a box.

My husband pushed him gently with a snow shovel and I held the box on the ground until he walked in. We drove up a county road a mile to a place where we liked to cut wood. The kids wailed from the back seat. What if we never see him again? When I opened the box, the porcupine didn't look at me. We finally had to lift an edge of the box and dump him out. I waited for him to do something. Particularly I would have liked for him to stand on his hind feet and wave goodbye. I wanted that porcupine to mean something. But autumn was over and he had to find food and maybe a home. He walked away, up hill through the inch or so of snow and disappeared under a tangle of aspen logs.

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ADAMS: Kate Krautkramer is a writer living in Yampa, Colorado.

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