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!



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