Aki Doesn’t Chase the Porcupine

We return to this riverine forest, an old friend, and find it covered up in green. She‘s shown us everything before — mud and gravel, bare branch and twigs, rodent holes and glacier erratics. Today, the hottest of the summer, she hides everything behind a living wall.

If there are animals here they hide themselves as well. Once I hear a raven grumble then an eagle complain. Then only the buzz of insects. Without wind to blow them away, the mosquitos swarm over me when I stop to take a picture. The pest’s work shows in the resulting photos with their awkward framing and lighting problems.

The bugs don’t bother Aki, nor does the blinding effect of foliage.  A creature of the nose, the forest is still rich in smells. Only many hikes she trots behind me but today prefers to patrol ahead. Fortunately she passes a huge porcupine just off the trail without seeing him.

Startled by our presence the porcupine makes a lumbering escape deeper into the woods, the forest of sharp quills on his back the only thing showing above the grass. His noisy passage draws Aki’s attention and soon she is by my side watching the porky get away. She wants to give chase but honors my request to move on, saving both of us from an expensive visit to the veterinarian for quill removal.

Years ago, when I had a dog team in Northern Alaska, I’d keep them on a breezy beach in the summer where they could relax in the sun while wind kept the mosquitos at bay. Each morning they would howl when I approached with breakfast then immediately devour what food was placed in front of them. One day, after everyone’s food dish was full I noticed that one dog, the one dead center of a circle of dogs, was not eating. He couldn’t because of a mouth filled with porcupine quills. Somehow a porky had walked past the parameter dogs up to the victim dog, and then after filling his mouth with quills, passed back out of the circle to the woods.  The porcupine could have easily walked around the dog yard. Maybe he was trying to win a bet with the beaver or one of the weasels that lived downriver. Fortunately with a set of pliers and scissors to cut off the quill tips I was able to remove them all. The dog was finishing his breakfast as I was walking back to the cabin. I can’t see Aki being patience enough to allow me to remove quills from her mouth.

After our near brush with the porcupine we move over to the riverside meadow, now sporting a good display of blue lupine, yellow buttercups, and magenta shooting stars. The sun is high now, robbing the scene of its usual drama. While the river, grass, and flowers shimmer and shine, the mountains look to be painted on backdrop canvas. Two mature bald eagles appear to doze over by the riverbank until one flies away. The other tries to hide behind a clump of glass before making her own escape. Later we see them upriver sharing the top of a mid-stream snag.

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