Last December while exploring a southwest facing slope that had a lot of exposed bedrock ledges and crevices I heard a distinct noise in the distance. It was similar to the cry of a cat with a little whistle tone blended in. The noise was fairly continuous and it certainly peaked my curiosity so I went off in the direction of the noise to see if I could locate the origin of this mystery sound. After climbing over some slippery areas of bedrock, covered with white and green lichen, I noticed a large flat area about 60 yards down slope that had several large boulders that had peeled out of the bedrock face above. The unusual noise seemed to coming from that general direction so I decided to climb back around to a narrow ledge on top of the overhanging bedrock so that I could get a clear, unobstructed view of the area. Climbing along this narrow schist ledge was a little treacherous but I could not resist given the nonstop noise below me.
From above I could see several porcupines, a little unusual in the light of day, and they appeared to be scurrying about. One porcupine in particular was making all the noise, and those around this individual were all trying to give her what appeared to be loving attention. I remembered reading long ago female porcupines were very vocal while attracting courtship from male pursuers. This seemed to fit the classic porcupine mating ritual. Before long several fights broke out between the males. One very large male seemed to be dominating the other two males. The fighting was intense and from my perch I could see a dozen or so quills sticking out of one of the lesser males face. Who would have guessed that porcupines were not immune to their own defense system?
The fighting went on for quite some time. All the while the female kept cheering the males on with her caterwauling whistle. The large male kept chasing away the two lesser males. He would drive them away and they would immediately try to sneak back to the female using a clandestine route and then the dominant male would push them away again. It was an interesting game. The dominant male appeared to be tiring because he was outnumbered and keeping the other two potential lovers away was quite a task. To make matters worse, one of the smaller males was much faster than the large male and could squeeze between the large male and a boulder faster than the dominant male could cut him off. In the end, after an hour or more, the lesser males either got tired of getting their fanny’s kicked, or they just plain decided that nothing was worth this abuse and stopped their pursuit of the female. They did not leave the vicinity, rather they stood on the edge of some imaginary boundary appearing to be sulking at their lost opportunity.
The dominant male then turned his attention to the female. She wasn’t exactly hot to trot. Maybe he needed to use a different after shave or something because she truly seemed disinterested in this mighty pursuer. The large male kept trying to nuzzle up to the female, face to face, but she kept walking away from the poor chap. After some time she began a change of heart and would actually stand still facing this potential partner. Her nose seemed to be working overtime. She would lift her head into the air and twitch her nose. I wondered if she was trying to see if this guy had the correct pheromones, I mean this seemed a little more scientific than the after shave theory, but when he got closer she would walk away again.
Dark was on the horizon and I didn’t want to climb out of this area in the blackness of night so I headed towards home. I never found out if this dominant male got lucky. I wondered if she was more interested in one of the younger fellows lurking in the background. You never know who you are going to fall in love with.
After a 30 minute walk I came through the back door of our house. My wonderful wife was cooking some home made soup on the stove. As I leaned over the stove smelling the soup I looked over at my wife. It must have been my imagination but I thought I could see her nose twitching. Only time would tell.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in December of 2009.