Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Finding My Way To Porcupine

The icicle-clad cliff, topped with hemlocks.
I still remember the terror I felt during the first year of my wilderness immersion program, Anake, in Washington state. My instructors wanted me to wander. Wander?? Just go out into the woods and follow my curiosity? With my sense of direction?!? Hell, no, thank you very much.

And yet that wasn’t my real answer. I was drawn by the call of the wild, so I did wander. Short forays at first, longer ones with friends, then alone on my bike and in my running shoes, until I had the whole area between the Mosswood Marsh, Kayak Lake, Osprey Swamp and Lake Margaret mapped. Mapping was my savior.

The other day behind Ann’s place here in Jericho, Vermont, I wandered around and discovered a breathtaking cliff, at least forty feet high, partially composed, it seemed, of glacial erratic--strange rocks randomly placed, deposits from glaciers long since melted and gone. I was enamoured…and yet the sun was fading. I decided to take a different route home, and clinging staunchly to my intuition and the daylight I had left, I made it.

A couple days later I was determined to find the cliff again to look for porcupine dens. I struck a different course, and using the sun as well as my compass I estimated where the cliff would be. With my faith in my intuition and Anake navigation skills singing me onward on the one shoulder, and my critical nay-saying self on the other, I made my way through the forest. I discovered deer beds, red maple stands and red squirrel trails until—yes!! Just over that hill was the exact spot that I was looking for.

What a success. I have come a long way. Hey, I still frantically call my little brother sometimes from a thousand miles away to ask him to look up directions on his smart phone for me. I forget travel routes in my own neighborhood, in which I lived for 18+ years. But today, I was triumphant.

The cliff was mesmerizing. Icicles, moss, swirling quartz deposits and well-hidden cobwebs danced together in the mid-afternoon sunlight. While I was looking for the porcupine dens on the warm, south-facing side of the cliff, I stumbled upon a fantastic bear bite on a striped maple. Wow…the secret lives of animals that exist all around us.

Bear bite! My finer points to the mark of a canine as the bear turned its head sideways to grasp this maple.
I scoured the west half of the approximately 50 yard long cliff, perplexed that I hadn’t found any hideouts of my quilled friend. Finally, as I walked downhill toward the eastern end, the cliff turned even more directly toward the south, and there it was: a perfect porcupine grotto! A rectangle carved into the rock with a load of porc scat there. Another smaller, more hidden den was nearby, again containing lots of the fibrous, deer-like scat (but bigger).

Porcupine scat

Porcupine Grotto--note 8" L shaped ruler on the ground.
Thanks, porcupine. Thanks, glaciers. Thanks, Creator. I’m loving exploring this wild, snowy place, and feeling not quite so lost in it as I've felt before.

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