The Gentle, Prickly Spirit of the Forest

We've been spending quite a few of our Sundays this summer on the road, and this one was no exception. We had plans on this day to visit family in the Johnstown area. And so our day included a lovely lunch at Off the Rak, a restaurant in Ebensburg, followed by a family visit, topped off by a swim at Prince Gallitzin State Park.

My husband's father's widow, whom we visited, is a dear woman. You do not know her but her birthday gift to me several years back funded the purchase of the original Canon PowerShot SX 40 HS camera that started me out on Blip. (So you can thank her too, if you've enjoyed my pictures on these pages!)

She will be having hip replacement surgery early in September, and so the actual purpose of our visit was to see how things were going with her, and to coordinate schedules and plans surrounding her surgery and after-care. And so we did that, and we had a very nice visit. She is not looking forward to the surgery. However, her activities of daily living cause her pain, so she is glad to be addressing the issue and moving on.

And then we had our swim at the park, and we found it rather crowded at the beach - we're not usually there on a Sunday afternoon, but apparently everybody else is! And then the early evening arrived and it was so lovely out that my husband and I decided to take a short hike in a gameland not far from Prince Gallitzin State Park to enjoy it.

And who did we come across in our travels but the gentle, prickly spirit that you see in the photo above: the North American porcupine, or quill pig, as some people call it. It was obviously a young porcupine, rather dark in color, and it was quietly - happily - eating clover blooms in the middle of the grassy trail.

I have seen porcupines before, but none lately; and none that I can remember from as close a vantage point as I did on this day. Adult porcupines may have 30,000 or more quills. That's pretty impressive! The quills cover the entire porcupine, except for the underbelly, face, and feet. Contrary to popular opinion, porcupines cannot shoot their quills at other creatures. However, if pursued, they can release their quills, causing great pain to the inquisitive pooch's nose.

Porcupines are rodents, like beavers, and they are famous for chewing on wood. In fact, I saw a restroom at Bald Eagle State Park a few years back that had apparently been very tasty; for all of the wood on the outside had been chewed to bits by porcupines! How do I know this? The park service had placed a notice nearby about the porcupines, blaming them for all of the damage. The note went something like this:

Dear Patrons,
Please excuse us.
For the porcupines,
They are intransigent . . .

Or something like that. My husband and I were so amused by the note that we copied it down and made it into a song, which we sing unto this day. I can't make this stuff up! This story is entirely true! Why do we sing songs about porcupines? Because it's FUN, that's why!

Porcupines are also good climbers, and if startled or chased, they will frequently head up a tree. But this one was very mellow and unperturbed by our presence. (Their vision also isn't very good.) Only as my husband and I both approached it did it slowly leave the path and wander off into the weeds.

But upon our return trip down the path a while later, the little critter was back in its original spot, eating flowers! And so we got to spend another minute or two observing it before it once again took shelter in the nearby weeds.

And it was on our second sighting of the creature that I got this shot. Although it was probably just looking philosophical as it was hunting down more sweet clovers, the porcupine almost seemed to be making a sad face in this photo, as though to ask, "Why won't anybody love me?"

This is the only song I know of that is specifically about porcupines, and it's a fun little Neil Diamond tune called Porcupine Pie. I did look up the meaning of the song, hoping for some story about Neil Diamond encountering a wild porcupine (and what a meet-up THAT would be!).

However, the online source explained that the tune is "satirical in nature and meant to be quite humorous without an exact philosophical meaning." So let's presume, shall we, that someone has made a lovely pie out of clover flowers, specifically for this lonely little fellow to enjoy. A porcupine pie, indeed! Mangia!

P.S. My husband's steak salad with extra ranch dressing at Off the Rak was even prettier than what I had, but the extra photos area includes a picture of my lunch on this day: French dip, which included roast beef, onions, and Monterey Jack cheese on a French roll with a delicious au jus dip and a side of fries. Once again I say . . . Mangia!  :-) And in case my picture has made you hungry, I'm including a link to their menu.

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