Mating Rituals


First appeared in Grainews on 27 March 2018
Dave and I celebrated a significant anniversary recently. We’d met in Banff, at a writing retreat. During that two-week span, he’d flirted shamelessly, held my chair, chatted me up, sat with me at meals, taken me swimming and to dinner, everything but serenaded me. For that, we waited ten years, and then it was an unlikely pair of romance experts who sang: porcupines.

We’ve had the sharp-quilled beasts in our neighbourhood ever since our arrival here on the farm nearly eight years ago, and my mom has regaled me often enough with tales of pulling quills from multiple dogs’ muzzles during her many years in residence. Recently, Jake, our golden retriever, not a barky dog, stared pointedly at the deck railing, then at me, then back at the railing. An intrepid porky perched there, then scrambled onto the Manitoba maple that overlooks the south deck. The next morning, the creature was gone, and so was a lot of the bark from the lower girdle of the tree.

A few days later, while I worked upstairs in my studio in the early evening just as the sun was setting, the silence was interrupted by an unfamiliar series of noises somewhere between a cat’s meow and a ewok’s squeak. Flashlight in hand, I stepped outside onto the upper balcony. Nothing out of the ordinary. But then I spotted two unusual lumps in the nearby maple tree, a particularly gnarly tree that my grandfather had planted as part of a windbreak in 1946.

On closer – cautious – inspection from a respectful distance, the lumps resolved into a pair of courting porcupines. He sat on a lower bough, and she, considerably larger, perched on what looked like a more fragile upper branch, and sang to her suitor. She’d never have made it past the first round of Canadian Idol, but there was a certain raffish charm to her vocal stylings, reminiscent of a torch singer like Billie Holliday scatting, or maybe Sarah Vaughn warming up. They were there in the tree, serenading, the next night, too.

The following days, with no sign of the courting couple, I took Jake outside and we had a closer look at the trees overhanging the fenced back yard where Jake chases tennis balls and plastic rings. The branches of several large trees – including the maple where the porcupines had balanced themselves – had been denuded; the trees’ second layer, the cambium, gleamed in the sunlight like polished alabaster.

The porcupines have not yet returned. Dave still doesn’t sing to me, anniversary or no. But we expect to see baby porcupines – rather unbelievably called “porcupettes,” (surely the cutest name for baby animals yet!) – in the neighbourhood later this year. Back in the kitchen, I decided to make pie to celebrate our anniversary. We can go back outside later and look for more lovelorn beasts, but first we eat.
Porcupine girl

“She’d never have made it past the first round of Canadian Idol, but there was a certain raffish charm to her vocal stylings, reminiscent of a torch singer like Billie Holliday scatting, or maybe Sarah Vaughn warming up.”


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