Fretful and Dandelion the Dreadful

A porcupine might seem to be an unusual choice for the object of an obsession. While there are many reasons to admire and feel affection for animals of nearly any species, porcupines have a well-earned reputation as  solitary curmudgeons. As with all such generalizations, there are individuals who refuse to conform. This story is of one such porcupine, and the journey we have taken together, and other porcupine friends that have joined in along the way. This page links to the stories that you may have read in the Brattleboro Reformer, and includes a sampling of journal entries, photos, and video footage to further document the lives of Fretful and later, Dandelion the Dreadful.This is under constructions, more journal entries and photos are on their way, but you will find the essays about the porcupines here already.
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After studying beavers for five years, I decided to broaden my horizons by choosing another species to observe. While porcupines are more difficult to locate than beavers during the warm seasons, they are easy to locate during cold times, so I decided a porcupine might be my next subject. When I spotted a porcupine feeding regularly in the apple tree behind my house one August, I decided to attempt to make his acquaintance. Here begins the tale:

August 21, 2012: Fretful the porcupine has finally come down from the apple tree and is eating drops from the ground. I go out and sit on the hillside above and roll some apples in his direction. He discovers them, and gradually moves closer to my seat as he eats them.

He chews thoroughly. Fretful spits out the peels and leaves the cores uneaten.
By the fourth apple, he is sitting by my feet.
Fretful In which I first meet Fretful, write about quills, and receive a kiss.

Throughout September, Fretful’s appearances were sporadic, I did not see him for a day or two, and then one morning when I opened the door to head for work, Fretful was on the doorstep.

The following day, a Sunday, I again saw him in the morning, and he followed me down to the possum enclosure. He followed closely on my heels and made a humming noise. In longer grass, he paused at a couple of tall stalks, sniffed them, then straddled them and walked over them, scent marking. I returned with camera and things to read and found him in the milkweeds where he demonstrated that porcupines do indeed like to eat milkweed (at least this one does) and that they cause the strange growth pattern I have noticed in milkweed patches—with stalks growing upright, then bent over, and looping back up again like a sway-backed horses. Fretful reached up and bent the stalks over to bring the upper leaves within reach, causing it to snap, but not break. Presumably these stalks will reach for the sun again.


September 30: Quill Bear in which Fretful chooses apples and has a romantic encounter.

Fluffy the porcupine
November 3, 2012: A Fretful Halloween in which Fretful comes Trick or Treating, takes shelter from a storm, and in which Fluffy the porcupette makes her debut.

November 5: Fluffy, the mysterious porcupette, returns. Fretful greets her, but she squawks at him and turns her back.

November 13: Fluffy is back again! She is very shy, but enjoys a few acorns and apples if I watch from a distance.

Fretful in ledges
November 14: I find Fretful at a den complex just
past the neighbor's house. This would be a convenient spot for him to spend the winter. There are many hemlocks here, and good rocky den sites with evidence of past porcupine occupants.

On November 15 Fretful climbs on a scale and I find he weighs 19 pounds.
Fretful made regular visits until Thanksgiving, and then I saw him no more. I assumed that like all porcupines, he had moved to his winter den quarters and switched to his winter diet of hemlock twigs and needles. I began visiting local porcupine denning sites in hopes of locating him. This was frustrating until the first snow arrived . . .

December 27: First big snowstorm heralds the beginning of Porcupine Tracking Season! Headed out through deep snow the evening after the storm. Followed fresh tracks from a den beneath a big ledge (site 2N) down the hill to hemlocks. I sat beneath the tree with apples and acorns and asked if, perchance, the porcupine above were Fretful. The lack of a response led me to assume the answer was "no."

Porcupine tracks were the only tracks seen in the woods, not even squirrel squirrels had been out.


December 29: Skied south to Jane’s shed. Very fresh porcupine tracks! I left acorns and apples and sat for a while.


January 5, 2013: This time I sat longer and the resident emerged. Fluffy!

A porcupine lives under this boulder at 4N
Feb 7, 2013:

Solid base of snow. I walked in boots out to N4 dens. Great tracks! Raccoon, fisher, coyote, mice,
voles, shrews. Beautiful porcupine tracks (could see the pebbling on foot pads), led from 3N to a ledge den site, very nice, on west side of Ho Chi Mihn. A porcupine was in residence, but not the maker of the tracks. I hiked from there up to 4N and found a coyote napping ledge, tracks galore. This ledge complex is the biggest so far. Found a porcupine still in den at south edge of this area.
Porcupine footprint

Mimi stuck in the ice

March, 2013: A Fretful Winter in which a search for Fretful's winter den leads to a porcupine in need of assistance.

Balsam's tunnel

March 2: I have been visiting a porcupine on the hill to the west. She slips down a snow tunnel to reach her rock den. I call her Balsam because that is one of her preferred trees. Her proximity to the place where I saw Fretful and a mate in the fall makes me think this could be that same porcupine. Will she give birth to a little Fretful in the spring?

April, 2012: Quickening in which porcupines savor the impending warm seasons

August 2013: A Fretful Summer in which Fretful teaches about what porcupines eat in summer and deal with summer challenges.

November 2013: Beechcombing in which the goat and I learn how Fretful finds beechnuts.

March 2014: Flotation Devices in which Fretful comes to visit and is measured to rate his adaptations for snow travel
April 2014: A Fretful Ordeal in which Fretful does battle with Big East and visits a veterinarian. 
May 2014: A Fretful Farewell in which an elderly Fretful returns to his forest home.

June 2014: A Dreadful Beginning in which a porcupine is born in a dreadful circumstances and finds her way to me. 

July 2014: King of the Porcupines in which Fretful is rediscovered and meets Dandelion.

August 2014: A Dreadful Summer in which Fretful enjoys leisure and Dandelion is a big help.

October 2014: My Friend Fretful a tribute to a remarkable animal, and the final chapter of Fretful's story.

November 2014: Call of the Wild in which Dandelion moves into a den and becomes a wild porcupine.
Dandelion the Uncooperative

April 2015: Dandelion the Dreadful, porcupine film star in which Dandelion demonstrates porcupine behavior for the BBC.

Dandelion finds the dates
Dandelion enjoys a date—her last people snack

May 2015: A Dreadful Departure in which Dandelion returns to the forest and makes a friend?

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