“Voices of the Bosque” will feature voices of our community. It is a place where we can share what the Bosque means to us, why we are grateful to have this natural place as part of our city, why we come here to walk or pedal along, to witness the changing seasons, to observe the birds and other wildlife, to enjoy the solace and peace and beauty of nature, and why we want this area to be preserved and protected.
If you'd like to contribute an essay, a poem, or other relevant ramblings (250-1000 words), please send your submission to email@example.com with the subject heading “Voices of the Bosque.” Photos and artwork are also welcome.
Keep it Real
by Casey McFarland
A few months ago I came across a group of porcupines—three of them—in a narrow patch of bosque down the road from where I now live. I’d roused a pair of coyotes from their day-beds and had gone to investigate the spot they’d laid. The leaves were down and the coyotes crunched along among the cottonwoods as they trotted off, and when I arrived at their resting spot I found the ground littered with porcupine scat. The bark-stripped limbs of Russian olive and elm stood starkly from surrounding understory, glowing in yellows and reds.
The porcupines sat motionless above, craning their bristle-brush heads lazily down at me—a sight all of us who wander the river are well acquainted with.
I’d never lived near the bosque before, and jumped at the chance to easily return to visit them again. And I returned again and again; they’ve been there with steadfast consistency for close to 3 months, rarely leaving an area of less than 200 yards across and most often moving only a few trees over at a time. Two often stay close, with a third in the periphery.
I’ve watched them sway in the wind, moving to lower, sturdier limbs on more violent days. I’ve watched their feeding patterns march strategically across elm, olive and the high, wispy branches of mature cottonwoods, and found their spittle-covered nip-twigs of mistletoe dropped in the early morning hours. I’ve dozed with them as clouds spun across the sky, and laid on my back and peered into their eyes and yawning mouths with binoculars.
I love their reliable company, and know that it will change somewhat as the warmer months spur them on longer excursions; already one has wandered farther down river, and the pale green seeds of elm are beginning to shroud the remaining two from clear sight. I—and many other I have talked to—enjoy porcupines in part because, like the river, they are a reliable dose of wild, an animal we can see fairly easily and routinely. We can admire their ability to remain quietly in one spot and watch the world bustle beneath them. Their stillness is intriguing. It’s fairly easy to be a student of the porcupine, so to speak.
Next time you see a porcupine, consider how many pounds of cambium, twigs and forbs it will consume this year. Consider that they are remarkably animated and playful animals, despite their sloth-like daytime demeanor. That many have mended bones from falls from trees, and that their long, microscopically-barbed quills have antibiotic properties that may well have developed because they can’t help but get a few themselves. (One porcupine biologist allowed a quill he received during a capture to advance entirely through his forearm at the rate of an inch per day with no ill-effect.) Consider that mating must be done very carefully, of course, and occurs after long, bizarre rituals where the males repeatedly and thoroughly douses the female in urine to presumably induce estrus.
Consider also, that like us, porcupines themselves are students of the river. And given the fact that they can live so damn long, (one porcupine researcher followed a radio-collared female for 21 years- talk about being a student of porcupines) they must know a thing or two about the beautiful bosque and the muddy water that cuts through it.
Surely they know the chatter and laughing shrieks of coyotes, and a few have probably had annoying encounters with an unfortunate pup on open ground. So too must they know muskrats, cottontails, and the frenetic movements of long-tail weasels. They must know calls of nesting great-horneds, the shouts of geese and the sound of beavers gnawing into the night. A few have crossed paths with a disinterested badger or two along the way. And surely they recognize the wavering vibrato of cranes from high above as they arrive in the spring and depart in the fall—and note as we do that the season is changing.
Any day now, pregnant females will be giving birth to a single young in a hidden nest on the bosque floor. The pup, or porqupette, will remain there for a few weeks, awaiting the frequent visits from its mother. Soon, it will emerge and begin the practice of climbing, and eventually ascend the large trunks cottonwoods into that swaying world where it will spend so much of its life. Welcome to the Bosque, youngin’. Thanks for keeping it real.
Born in rural New Mexico, Casey McFarland spent his youth roaming the desert hills east of the Sandias. He currently contributes to various wildlife projects, including wildlife connectivity and carnivore studies, and has worked extensively in mountain lion research. He trains and certifies biologists, research teams and the general public across the United States and Europe as an Evaluator for the CyberTracker Conservation certification system, an international standard for gauging and enhancing one's in-field knowledge of tracks, sign and behavior of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates.
Casey is also co-author of Bird Feathers: A Guide to North American Species