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by: Sandin Phillipson
The first Summer that I lived in Colorado provided me with an opportunity to do some field work in the western Rocky Mountains. To reach my first campsite, I followed a rutted dirt road along the bank of Hell Roaring Creek, and found a rocky path that led to an abandoned mine. A cold, mountain stream gurgled and murmured within its narrow banks, at the bottom of a narrow defile carved by furious erosion to expose towering, jagged cliffs of maroon sandstone on one side, and a more gently sloping mass of granite on the other. By early afternoon, the maroon hills were softened by shadow, too steep to allow even the high Colorado sun to fully illuminate the bottom of the miniature gorge. I unfolded my double-burner Coleman stove, and placed it carefully on the hood. As the twin burners hissed bright blue heat, searing mixed vegetables on one side and Dinty Moore on the other, I watched swallows dart after insects against the backdrop of the waning Rocky Mountain sunset. I basked, self satisfied, in the sounds of the gurgling creek, the ever softening sunlight, lengthening shadows, and lilting, cool breeze. As dusk encroached, I settled in by flashlight with a Stephen King novel. I read, mesmerized as rain pattered on the roof and lightning flashed, momentarily revealing the churning mass of foliage around me and briefly illuminating the high cliffs, now turned blood-black.
I awoke to quiet. But hadn't there been something, some slight noise? Yes, a rustling from the darkness. Now a gentle scraping, a hollow rasping as something brushed the truck's aluminum running board not two feet from where I lay. I stirred into a sitting position in preparation for daring to look upon the axe-wielding, vacant-eyed, shuffling menace who undoubtedly stood poised outside. There was nothing. Dismissing the episode, I slept fitfully until the bright, early morning Rocky Mountain sunrise awoke me. The following night, again I awoke to the sound of a scraping, hollow rasp coming from the direction of my truck. Surely this was not my imagination. With flashlight in hand, I peered into the gloom in time to see a low, loping shadow bound away. No axe-murdering fiend, but only a harmless animal! My mind at ease, I dropped off to sleep.
After returning to camp at the end of a long day, during which the circling vultures seemed to take more than a passing interest, my thoughts were only of rest. Again just after dark, a scraping, rustling sound emanated from beneath my truck. I raced the short distance to my vehicle, and a giant porcupine rocketed from underneath. In the morning, I began to wonder why a porcupine would show so much interest in visiting my truck every evening. The idea nagged at me, finally arousing my curiosity to the point where I had to crawl underneath and determine for myself what fascinations the undercarriage of a 1985 Dodge Ramcharger could hold. My amusement of the previous night quickly turned to shock as I saw the frayed, inner cording of the lower radiator hose, exposed where the rubber coating had been gnawed away. Similarly, the rubber connecting hose between the steel transmission cooling lines and the radiator had been gnawed to the inner wall. All three fall belts had been gnawed through to expose the thin steel wires. This was not quite so funny, and I suddenly was forced to consider myself in a potentially serious situation, facing the prospect of being stranded in the middle of nowhere.
The fourth night, as dusk approached, I sat with the window rolled down, waiting. After three nights in a row, would the porcupine pursue his apparently insatiable lust for rubber? I was a trespasser in his territory, but I had my own goals to achieve. Although not a charging grizzly, he had already demonstrated the capacity to leave me stranded in the wilderness. I wasn't entirely pleased with what I was contemplating because after all, the pistol was intended only for last ditch defense, the four-inch barrel designed for a point-blank deterrent against in-your-face aggression, of either the four-legged or two-legged variety. I waited for dark. Then, movement from the bushes as the giant porcupine slowly ambled into view. I gently shifted the revolver into my right hand, my fingers pressing the rough-textured rubber grip into my palm. My left hand curled around my right in a gentle caress. With my head motionless, and stare slightly averted from my prey, I slowly brought both arms up and out in a locked, extended position, aligning the short barrel roughly on the center-of-mass of the porcupine out of the corner of my eye. With the trigger slightly depressed, my thumb found the gnurled, rough surface of the hammer and silently locked it to the rear. My eyes shifted along the length of the barrel, aligning the sights. I began the slow squeeze that would send the hammer hurtling forward on its short, inexorable course.
The thunderous blast of the .44 Magnum exploded off the cliffs a split second before I felt the familiar sensation of a fastball slamming home into my palm. As my eyes adjusted to peer through the smoke and gloom, I saw the porcupine scrambling back up the path, perhaps the first time in his long dominion over this meadow that he had ever had to scramble. No, I wouldn't leave a wounded animal, nor would I repeat this debacle night after night. I leapt from the truck and raced up the short, steep hill, feet scrabbling for purchase on the loose, gravelly soil. As I turned onto the path, there was the porcupine, moving with amazing speed. I bolted after him, too close to miss, my heart pounding with a mixture of blood lust and a desire to make an end of this awful task. Another blast, like dynamite within the confines of the narrow gorge, and the .44 belched smoke and flame enough for a line of musket-firing dragoons. Quills flew and the porcupine dropped, twitching and spent. One final blast for the coup de grace. I derived no enjoyment from the destruction of such a creature, whose only sin had been an unnatural craving for rubber, unfortunately at my expense, and ultimately his own.