Sunday, January 11, 2009
The X Cleft Congregaton
Due to the childhood burns on the right side of his face which make him seem to be either smirking wryly or twisting in pain, Ed Demond is more sensitive to insect bites than are other born woodsmen, so during the Black Fly season he lives at the Harrisville, New York Senior Complex, but as soon as the major bloodletting in the woods is over, he moves up to Panther Creek, where he stays right through Fall, Winter, Sugaring-Off, and early trout fishing, living all that time in the semi-improved south end of his old family sugar shack which he heats with nothing but porcupine dung: petrified turds, dug from from ancient deposits on his property.
Ed hasn't developed an automatic pellet feed for the turd burner, but he stays close by to cook on top of it, constantly feeding the stove a few pellets at a time from a nail apron he keeps filled by plunging a scoop through the X slits of a round pet door on the lower wall, to a lid-roofed bin mounted on the outside of the kitchen living room bedroom.
The pellets are dry, dense, piney and inoffensive The lightest and least compacted are like pine chezzits. The best fuel quality pellets are the denser and more ambered ones he finds in the furthest recesses, often in a kind of peanut brittle matrix.
Ed likes to be known as the Porcupine Man, but for 30 years he was a systems engineer downstate; then he retired to the North Country where he still owns the the Demond family sugar-bush and the boreal forest on both sides of X Falls, where Panther Creek sluices off the Adirondack Shield through an over-sized cross-cleft in a dike of pink granite.
Of course the X Clefts are not the neat X on the landscape the name suggests. The Passages can be entered by slopes at several ends, and have jigs, jags, transverse fractures, and some recesses deeper than you can measure, due to porcupine deposits of countless winters.
The dry extremities of the Clefts are winter home to the largest denning congregation of porcupines in the Adirondacks...... not that you could ever count the porcupines in their massive sleep-heaps.
Iroquois and others before them, have traditionally come hundreds of miles to collect shed quills from the X-Clefts each Spring after the porkys have left.
Even Ed never actually boils sap with the porcupellets as fuel.
And the family had been aware of the fuel quality of the old pellets only since Ed and his brother Eli had as kids dug under one overhang for a hide out and built a camp fire which ignited the porcuduff substrate and burned down into the vein for two days, until the boys brought down a dozen runs of old cedar half hollow sluices, and ran them from just above the falls to the smoking crack and they ran the water through there for r six hours.
The wash-out from this sluicing exposed some highly compressed and ambered pellets.
Ed hauls out the old-layer guano in October, and he keeps a snowshoe trail to X Falls where cedar and hemlock roots snake down the rock face into the piney guano of centuries, and the porcupines climb in and out on them all winter long.
Ed says that porcupines are about the most civil and the best engineered of critters, and it is mostly in the quills.
The brilliance of porcupine quills (which, if you are Ed, or a porcupine, are the greatest thing since hair and feathers) is that they have these microscopic, one-way barbules on them so they not only stay in a dog's tongue, nose, or eye, after only light penetration, but will be moved deeper and through the flesh, even into the brain, with every breathing movements of the victim.
Ed points out that the same phenomenon happens on the macro scale of the whole porcupine , to get the sleep heap circulating.
This keeps the constantly created pellets moving to the bottom and keep the porkys themselves evenly heated, even though their body temperatures have dropped way low and they will sometimes seem to be slow as sand pines.
Ed says porcupines are so resinous and frost-proof from sitting up in the pines eating nothing but buds and snow, that they can, and will, stay there through a three-day blizzard, and might never come down, except for their seasonal gregarious personalities.
He says that you could put two porcupines in your freezer on a Thursday, and when you opend it up on Sunday, they would be having sex, belly to belly. Only porcupines and some humans and occasional apes do that. Says Ed.
You might not want to get him started on this.
Porcupines. he will say, are the only critter which is safer when having sex, because The only serious predator on Porcupines is the Fisher: the dark wolf- weasel of the North which dives under the porcupine in deep snow, then comes up from under to disembowel the the creature.
Ed has written a few nature note pieces for north country weeklies, and used to give occasional porcupine presentations, but without actual porcupines or depictions of sex and violence, at several elementary shools down state. He always emphasizes the dangers of messing with porcupines, and does not encourage anyone to acquire, befriend, or confine porcupines. Except for a few tire-eating incidents and small stuff, Ed has had no serious problems with the porcupines.
Just as long as he doesn't leave any salt sweat-soaked wooden handled tools outside. Or leave the doors open. Or forget to take the chicken wire cages off the jeep tires before driving out.
Ed keeps an old milk can, now half full of ambered pellets, which he has panned from pools all the way down to the Oswegatchie. In recent years he hardly fishes at all anymore, just pans for porcupine amber.
It is pretty much a one man rush. He thinks there may be an industrial use for the most mineralized specimens. Mostly he just likes to treasure them, which involves plunging in his hand, pulling out a fist- full and letting them sift back in.....
....... The sound of them is powerfully calming......sounds like tiny teeth running through a big hour glass, stars sifting through the cosmos, or the chittering, seething porcupines of the clefts.
Porcupines disperse as widely as their waddling allows during the warm months, but in November and December Ed will often see another new road-kill porcupine every trip in or out from his camp. It was as if they been actually trooping up the road to get to X Falls. Now days the only qulll collector he knew who regularly visted the X-Cleft was his his friend Littlenose Johnson who was also one of the few visitors to the cabin itself, but now days, even LittleNose got most of his quills from road-kill.
Ed was pretty sure some of those porkys must have been deliberately run over.
The thought of that really pisses Ed off. Me too. Anyone who would deliberately run over a porcupine is an Ass Hole anyway, but in the old days, even the stupidest Ass Hole knew that you do kill a porcupine unless you're starving, because if a person is lost and starving, he can still fairly easily chase down a porcupine and kill it with a stick.
He generally left the poor, prickly burgers where they lay flattened, unless it was the middle of the road. Quills are no threat to tire treads of course, but if they get started in the side of a tire, a good tail quill will gradually work its way in, just like they work their way into a dogs nose. He has plenty of souvineer quills, and a dozen flies tied with them by Littlenose Johnson, who regularly in late Fall and early spring for many years, had kept his travel trailer near Jerden Falls on the Oswegatchie, and often collected quills from road-kill .
Ed and LittleNose drank many gallons of coffee together, on more than one occasion. Each and Littlenose drank many gallons of coffee, a gallon at a time, disagreeing about the history of the new world, smoking the same black Warnakie tobacco, Ed in the corn cob pipes which he throws into the stove when they get too juicy. Little Nose in a short soap stone pipe that could also be used with a wick in the bowl, as a lamp, and fire starter. I have it now.
On his way out for Sunday Breakfast one November morning, Ed came around the tongue of granite about a mile from X falls where he had seen a road-kill on his way in, two days before.. And there beside the still dead porky: face down on the shoulder of the road, the body in blue denim and brown duck.....the red blob of a watch cap a few feet up the sand shoulder, red pick-up truck just up on the opposite side.
LittleNose's hat, LittleNose's truck. James LittleNose-Johnson who a long time ago saved my own life by pulling me drunk and unconscious, out of a snow bank.
Who killed LittleNose?
Well, I don't care to bring that person into my life, and I'm not going to chase into the past, but it suits me to camp where LittleNose did and to bring his Pipe Lamp to X Falls one more time.