Long Trail Porcupines in Their Heyday

I have lots of vivid memories of my Long Trail hike from June and July of 1970. The gorgeous wildflowers bobbing through the low clouds in the high meadows, the crystalline ponds just begging for our skimming stones, the jovial voices of total strangers turned to comrades at the shelters, the rattlesnake that we nimbly detoured at White Rocks Cliffs, the exuberant exhaustion after an eight hour slog on a rain slick trail, all these come shimmering back. But there is one memory that truly stands prominently and purely apart from the others. The porcupines.

Perhaps it is different now, but that hike forty years ago was haunted by those little varmints. They visited us all but one of our 23 nights on the trail. They sunk their pesky choppers into kindling and they gnawed on logs and shelter poles. They whined and hissed, grunted, and sobbed. They would raid our smoldering campfire and dig for grease and morsels. We would throw mess kits and canteens at them but to no avail. They'd waddle off for a moment or two, then return, reinvigorated. They were active climbers. One of them shimmied up to a shelf and made off with my trail journal (for the salt from my sweat I was told). I found it the next morning, well shredded.That porky apparently didn't appreciate my nasty slurs and imprecations cast at his brethren nor did he take kindly to the portraits I sketched of his kind in very unflattering poses. One member of our party, Al, bailed out after two weeks of porcupine induced insomnia.

Of course they knew they held the upper hand, and it brought them great glee. They knew we couldn't just grab them and dropkick them. They were the primary topic in all the shelter logs. Hikers ranted and raved about them. Clever and ridiculous plots were hatched to liquidate them. Recipes were concocted for them, quills and all. Some entries bragged of successful abatement, but when twilight came creeping, so did you know who.

We met a townie at Bromley Camp who was very drunk and had come up to the cabin for the sole purpose of shooting hedgehogs. We were many days into the hike ,so needless to say, we didn't express any moral objections. That was the one night we weren't bothered by the porkies. We worried all night about the hedgehog hunter though. He went to bed with his sixhooter snug in a holster around his middle and he kept getting up to stoke the woodstove. That episode nurtured a slightly more tolerant attitude toward our prickly adversaries.

One day toward the end of our hike, we were regrouping near a serene shoreline. We were munching on granola bars and swigging some Halizoned water. I sat down on a rock and felt something sharp enter my right buttocks. A final straw? No. A final quill. Right through the no-nonsense fabric of my Levis.

Mark Roberts
Lisbon, NH


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Longtrail 100

VPR is marking the 100th anniversary of The Long Trail with a month-long series of reports and essays. Through this series, we'll explore the history and future of The Long Trail and introduce listeners to the people who built, maintain and hike it today.