The Porcupines of Pukaskwa Park
As every canoeist knows it is very important to take care of your beloved
and much used canoe. Our boat is "Kicking Frog", one of a line of
beautiful Kevlar boats built near Huntsville and unfortunately, no longer in production.
White Kevlar gel coat, and with gunnels and thwarts made of maple. So one would
think it is a good idea to preserve the wood with a generous coating of teak oil
before embarking on a long lake trip, where the waves can crash up to the gunnels
and the storms can unmercilessly pound her wooden surfaces. And indeed this is
what we did two years ago before our trip along the Pukakswa National Park coast
of Lake Superior. A good idea? The porcupines of Lake Superior think so! And
they liked our paddles too.
Our first porky encounter was in the middle of the night in the middle of the
campground at Pukaskwa National Park (a pristine wilderness park along the North
Shore of Lake Superior and one of our favourite canoeing locations). We heard a
rumbling sound in the night but put it down to campground noise. In the morning
we noticed fresh teeth marks in the gunnels of Kicking Frog, annoying but not
alarming. We packed our boat and set off into the choppy waters of The Lake.
The very next night about 12 km down the coast we were camped at a beautiful
campsite on the White River and sure enough, in the middle of the night- the
same sound. Usually David says, "I can't see without my contacts, you check
it out, sweetie." And I did and it was another porky and he beat a
retreat into the bushes. A coincidence, serendipity, a porcupine population explosion? What was it with these sharp-toothed rodents? After a lively
discussion, we decided that it was that aromatic teak oil that was enticing the beasts.
The next night- nothing. Hurray! The teak oil was wearing off. But night four, they were
back! Our beautiful boat was upside down on the beach and a reverberating, chewing
noise woke us. Nothing in sight. But a bang on the
upturned boat and out waddled the guilty beast. David, who had stumbled out of
the tent without those convenient contact lenses threw a rock at the slowly
retreating behind. I said, "Don't. I like porcupines, I want a
picture.!" But it was too late. The porky was gone into the undergrowth of
the boreal forest and our boat and my paddle were gnawed. But not too badly.
Another encounter with wildlife that we lived to tell the tale about.
Indeed the porcupines from miles around had been smelling the fresh teak oil
and had honed in on our boat as part of their nightly snacks but as the trip wore
on no more nightly visitors were encountered.
One more porcupine was seen as we stopped for a short paddle up the Pukaskwa
River and had lunch on the beach at the mouth. There was a dead porcupine on
shore and I retrieved a couple of needles (which I threw away later as I kept
getting stabbed!) Interesting, but more interesting, was watching a live porky come
out of the woods, walk into the river and swim across. I could imagine those
little stubby legs working away against the current. On the other side he walked out
and we waited in anticipation for water to be shaken in all directions but he
just sauntered off. A few minutes later, we noticed the head of another creature
swimming back across towards us. "It looks like a snake!" said David,
who was wearing his contact lenses. "Mmmm," I said. In anticipation,
we watched and the denouement occurred when the beast hopped out and ran by us
on his chipmunk legs. Surely, a dangerous thing, to do if you are a chipmunk
with all those big fish lurking below waiting for lunch.
Our last porcupine encounter in Pukaskwa happened this summer. David had
made a little plywood table that we could use when we cooked on the endless
beaches of the Superior coast. It's a nice treat to elevate our stove on a few
rocks above the sand. Those porcupines must be hungry because they attacked both
my table and my favourite mug early one morning, early enough so I could get
some pictures as he hurried away porcupine-fashion from my threats. The little
table is no more but I still have my mug which I happily use knowing those sharp
teeth have etched in groves which will always be a reminder of those pernicious
porcupines of Pukaskwa Park!