I found this YouTube video of a domesticated porcupine on Twitter yesterday:
It flashed me back to a backpacking trip in Jasper National Park in Canada summer of 2008. Matt and I inadvertently set our tent up on a lightly used animal trail, and we learned the hard way to *always* search your camp area for any sign of an animal trail and avoid pitching your tent near it. And especially not on it. A few hours after sundown, we were awoken to a weird huffing sound. Startled, I counted the huffs and realized that they always came in sets of 3, 5 or 7, always an odd count. It also sounded as if the animal was near to the ground or had a low center of gravity. It seemed to wander off, after three or four huffing sessions right outside our tent fly.
We drifted back to sleep. We’d been on the road for three weeks, driving from Portland, Oregon to Alaska, then back down to Jasper. We were going to drive all the way east to Ottawa, then back down south to North Carolina. And we were camping almost the entire way. (I think we spent four nights in hotel out of four weeks on the road.) In Alaska, we’d become hyper sensitive to being on the lookout for brown bears. The morning before we went to Denali, we awoke in a campground where we’d pitched our tent the night before in the dark. I realized somberly that we’d pitched our tent literally in a patch of blueberries and soapberries. While it was nice to have blueberries in our oatmeal, I couldn’t help but to feel sketchy because soapberries are a bear’s favorite summer food, according to a few rangers we’d met. So we’d become attuned to worrying about animal activity at night, especially since we were often the only tent-campers at most of the campgrounds we checked into. Everyone else was in bear-proof tin-can RVs.
So then, that night in Jasper, the animal came back again. Matt sat up and held the bear spray at the ready. I’d put my contacts and my glasses in my backpacking bag which was hanging 25 feet up a bear line about 100 yards from our tent, and I could not see a darn thing (hard lesson learned number 2). My vision, if it matters, is about 20-200. I literally can’t see the lines on my hands 10 inches in front of my face. “What kind of animal goes around announcing itself like this in the middle of the night?” Matt asked, about the fourth time the huffer swung by our camp. It was a sage question, I thought and right on the money. Obviously, whatever was out there was a.) making a habitual sweep of what was probably a nightly circuit path, and b.) possibly not too intelligent. Since we’d already been up for two hours listening to this thing huff and grunt, we opted to make a dash outside and relieve our bladders. Once safely back in the tent, we heard the animal emerge. While we thought it was off somewhere else on its path, it turns out that it was not too far away from where we made our night puddles. We listened as it began to lap at the spots where we’d just pissed. It was literally sampling our pee. Ew. On its fifth or sixth breeze-by of our tent, it scraped against the tent’s outer wall. Thoroughly tired, and mostly over our initial fear, we shook the tent from the inside and yelled as loud as we could. That seemed to do it. We heard the animal scurrying away, and it did not come back (that we know of).
Later, when we had some internet, I looked up the huffing noise and determined that our night terror animal was just a lowly porcupine. Though I think that had we confronted it that night, it would certainly *not* have acted all cute and puppyish, like Stinkers The Porcupine.