By Harold Thom – Nakusp, B.C.
I spent the winter of 1948-49 working in a logging camp near The Pas, Man. It must have been the coldest darn place on earth, but I was 17 years old, supporting my mother and five brothers and sisters. I needed the job.
The boss put me on a Caterpillar tractor skidding trees out to a landing and sorting yard. One morning I discovered a skinny, half-grown porcupine on the seat when I went to start my machine. He was curled up in a ball, happy to be keeping warm in the 40-below temperature.
Using a stick, I gently prodded him off the machine and carried on with my work. The next morning he was there again and he complained bitterly as I tried to nudge him off.
I used a stick to push him to the far side of the seat, then started the machine thinking he’d get off pretty fast once the noise and vibration started. No such luck! He just curled up and went back to sleep.
I didn’t think he could stick me with his quills through all my clothes, so I just let him be and started skidding trees. When I stopped for lunch the boss saw my little passenger. I explained how the little Porky had been spending nights on the machine.
He wasn’t pleased and ordered me to kill him. Porcupines were known to chew the rubber hoses and eat the leather seats off machines trying to get salt, he informed me. I replied, “The little guy hadn’t damaged anything yet,” and promised to keep an eye on him.
He loved bacon and belly rubs
He barked that I’d darn well better, and any damage caused by the varmint would come out of my paycheque.
If it was salt Porky was after, I could take care of that easy enough. Every morning, I’d be the last guy out of the cookhouse so I could gather up all the bacon rinds left on the plates.
Porky thought he’d died and gone to heaven! He’d sit beside me muttering as he ate. He happily made sounds like oomph-umph, oomph-umph. After a few days, as soon as he’d finish eating, he’d climb up on my lap, stand up with his front paws on my chest muttering away as he licked my chin.
I didn’t know whether he was thanking me or begging for more bacon, but soon he’d curl up beside me and fall asleep.
Porky was happy most of the time but did have a temper. If the machine bounced over a log he sometimes fell off the seat. If this happened and he found himself on the floor he’d get up, utter a couple sharp grunts and slam his tail on the floorboards so hard he’d lose some quills. He’d then climb back up on the seat, stare at me, and grunt.
Porcupines do not throw their quills. If threatened, they turn their back, raise their quills and slap at you with their tail. After Porky became friendly, he allowed me to stroke his back. It was safe enough if done from head to tail. He showed his enjoyment by stretching out flat and uttering a low moaning sound.
Belly rubs were his favourite and there were no quills to worry about there. He’d lie on his back kicking his legs like mad and clicking his teeth as I tickled his belly. When he’d had enough he’d grab my hand with his front feet and push me away.
Although Porky considered my machine his home, he was willing to share it with me. He never threatened me or damaged the machine. The camp shut down in the spring and I often wondered how long Porky hung around the abandoned camp awaiting a feed of that bacon he loved so much.