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Sunday, December 3, 2023
Dec. 3, 2023

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Everybody Has a Story: Up close with nature while camping


It was in the spring of 1961, when I was in the junior class of a small high school in the Santa Cruz Mountains near Monterey Bay in Northern California. We had a geology club that took camping trips to various locations. We had traveled across the state to the Mother Lode region of the California Gold Rush in the foothills of the Sierras.

We camped in the woods down a rough dirt track at the entrance to an abandoned gold mine, of which many were accessible six decades ago. There were about eight of us kids and two of our teachers, Mr. Salmu and Mr. Boomer. As it became darker, we swapped yarns around the campfire.

Eric, who was younger than the rest of us, and thus not “one of the boys,” had gotten into his sleeping bag about 10 yards or so up the dirt track from everyone. Mr. Salmu had gotten into his bag just down the hill from Eric. The rest of the group was still around the campfire, but I was starting to get into my sleeping bag just down from Mr. Salmu, between him and the fire.

I was halfway into my bag, just up to my waist, when Eric sang out, “Hey, here comes a porcupine!”

Because he was Eric, some of the guys responded, “Oh, it’s just Eric,” “Shut up, Eric!” or something like that.

But Eric yelled, “No! It’s a porcupine, and he’s coming fast!”

I’d seen porcupines before, but I’d never seen a fast one — they just kind of waddled — so I sat straight up and looked up toward Eric. Into the glow of the campfire, sure enough, came a porcupine, about the size of a medium-sized dog and running almost like a dog. He was heading straight for Mr. Salmu, who was totally inside his sleeping bag. He had also seen the creature and was wriggling like a caterpillar trying to get out of the way.

I watched to see what would happen. The critter took a hard left turn right at me, about 10 feet away.

I had no time to do anything but to drop immediately onto my back, with the sleeping bag only covering me up to my waist. I assumed the animal would keep running, but no! He came to a halt on my shoulder and my face!

He sniffed around. His quills rattled like pick-up-sticks all over my face — but flat, not pointed at me. I had my eyes shut, but eyelids are thin and could easily be punctured, blinding me. The guys were advising me to lie still, which I was already doing.

I don’t have any idea how long I endured the quills rattling and brushing my face, but the sensory experience seemed to last a long time.

Finally, the porcupine resumed his rapid tour of the area, running off my face, past my buddies by the campfire and into the darkness. My prayers were answered. My pals, Mr. Boomer and Mr. Salmu surrounded me. We found a number of quills the porcupine left behind, which eventually wound up in the geology club display case.

I’ve never met anyone or heard of anyone who had a porcupine sit on his or her face. Am I the only one?

Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Send to: neighbors@columbian.com or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA, 98666. Call “Everybody Has an Editor” Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.

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