Taken by Kimberley at about 1am
22 March 2013
Considering we live half a property from the edge of Pietermaritzburg, we really have the best of suburban and semi-rural living. Among the visitors whose sojourns I’ve relished since we moved in two and a half years ago are a mongoose (since seen by a fellow tenant with three mongoslings* in tow), a wild pig and a baby buck (sadly, it didn’t stop here), but the closest encounter we’ve had is one I’ve long anticipated.
For some time we had noticed the bark on the visible roots of the remaining syringa trees around the property was being stripped overnight. Excavations followed once the first fruits ran out. My first suspicion was the wild pig. We knew there was a porcupine in the vicinity as the other fellow tenant is in possession of quills that had been left lying near her home. Then, one evening at the beginning of the year, I had gone through to my bedroom at about nine o’clock when the newest addition to our family, Georgie (about whom there will be more in another post), started barking behind the garage not far from where I was. It was obvious from the nature of her bark that something unusual had caught her eye and she wasn’t budging. I asked Kimberley to bring a torch and accompany me.
When we first moved in there had been a sporadic set of drug-users who were used to our property being unoccupied and consequently made use of the verge to nurture their habit. As the mother of a young adult I did and still do fall squarely in the realm of those who feel such a habit is not to be sniffed at and went out of my way to make sure they moved on. It took a couple of months but my stubborn streak outlasted theirs and we hadn’t seen or smelt anything along those lines for some time. Hearing the commotion at the back made me wonder if the problem was rearing its head again.
We rounded the side of our home on the narrow concrete apron when Kimberley who was right in front of me as she had the torch suddenly stopped and said “oh my word”. I’d stopped perforce but was only able to see the back of her head as that was what had stopped me. She had turned the torch off so, reappearing over her left shoulder, I asked her to switch it on again. There, less than three metres from us was the biggest porcupine I’d ever imagined. Puffed up, his quills were close to waist high. Having had enough of the uninvited company on his nocturnal turf, he was heading back towards the bottom of the property where he’d entered. I left Kimberley and Storm to jog after him at a respectful distance but felt very privileged that he’d been comfortable to share our space.
Of all the vegetable seedlings I was cultivating he ate only the single cabbage plant but he ate it thoroughly. A young syringa tree grows between Kimberley’s and my bedroom windows and this became his target over the next couple of months. We both went out of our way to engineer another encounter but it was some time before it happened.
Something unspecified awoke me in the early hours of a morning in March. When I looked out of my window I couldn’t see the porcupine but I did hear movement at Kimberley’s adjacent window so, for no good reason, I said “hello”. Whether the porcupine, me or the neighbours got the bigger fright is hard to judge but Kimberley screamed like a girl. Being a significantly unnatural mother I still find what happened hilarious. She’d heard the porcupine and taken a sequence of pretty good photos of him. He objected on about the sixth flash and pottered off. That was when I awoke and got up. When I greeted her she said she thought the porcupine had come back. Three months later the thought of a twenty-year old thinking a porcupine came over to chat still amuses me.
Thereafter I put out cabbage leaves, a sweet potato and whatever else I thought might catch his interest. The first leaf was eaten but subsequent offerings were spurned. Then one night, right out of the blue, I heard munching and shredding and managed to open my window without chasing him away. Had I been able to lean out without landing on my head I would have been close to touching him. He stayed for another five minutes or so and we haven’t seen him since.
When it comes to wild animals, time spent in human company is undoubtedly a case of tolerance more than choice, but these are occasions I cherish.
*Google away : I wasn’t the first to think up the word but consider myself an early adopter.