Porcupines, Sex and Memories (PG)

People often wonder about porcupines. After all: how do they manage to procreate? And what about the poor mother-to-be that has to deliver a spike-covered baby (as if birthing isn’t enough of a hassle already)?  It stands to reason that it must happen from time to time, given that these rodents only live for about fifteen years. The fact that we still have them rummaging around for tubers and roots, surely implies a new generation from time to time.

Tonight, this is the question that  prompts a prolonged silence as the patrons at the bar contemplate the impossibility of a bachelor porcupine actually managing to have his way  – even with a willing maiden of his fancy. After all – is the pain worth the pleasure?

“I think they must be great at long-distance relationships. Maybe they’ve perfected it? If those quills are 30 cm and longer, do you think males have the reach?” Vetfaan shudders at the thought. “Maybe that’s why they’ve remained on all fours and not evolved the ability to walk on their hind feet, like we do. Imagine strolling down the street with a flagpole.”

“You’re being vulgar, Vetfaan. Sis man! Hoisting the poor animal by its own petard like that…” Precilla shakes her head. Men! So obsessed with such thoughts – politics and sex: they connect everything with one or both of these things. Women are so much more practical in summing up situations.

When Gertruida walks in, she is greeted by an anxious chorus. If anybody knows the answer, it’ll be her. She listens to the question, gets that and-you-don’t-even-know-that look, and settles down at the counter.

“Well, first of all the porcupine must find a mate. Seeing that they may roam up to twenty kilometers a day and are solitary animals, scientists think they rely on their keen sense of smell to locate a companion. Of course they can run, but their usual gait is a shuffling step, accompanied by the ever-present rustle of quils.”

Servaas casts his mind back to his courting days with Siena. These days young people do it with cellphones and all kinds of electronic means. It wasn’t so easy back then. He first had to ask her father’s permission to come and visit – not because he was such a difficult man; it was simply the way they did it in those days. Once he knew he was welcome, it was quite something to prepare for the ride over to their farm. The horse had to be groomed, the saddle shined and the stirrups cleaned. Then of course, he had to wash and iron his best shirt. It was unthinkable to go visiting in the casual clothes that seem to be the norm these days. Minimum requirements: jacket, tie and some wild flowers.

“Then, after searching high and low, the male will find the female. They’ll circle, and then progress to a lengthy foreplay, which involves a lot of nose rubbing and sniffing.”

They call that necking? Gosh! With Siena it was months before he was allowed to hold her hand. They’d sit in the voorhuis and talk. Most often, she’d have some crocheting to do – a handy excuse to avoid physical contact. They’d talk about the weather, the harvest and their families. Mostly about the weather, though. The drought broke many an uncomfortable silence.

Later, when her parents saw he was serious about visiting, they were allowed to listen to the radio and eventually even use the gramophone. Her parents were strict about dancing, so that wasn’t an option. And then, after months of agony, Siena proposed a picnic. He can’t remember where they went, but that was the first time she held his hand. It was exquisite…

“If the female approves the male’s advances, she’ll allow him to pee all over her. It’s got something to do with pheromones, they say.”

That’s disgusting! The urinating bit – not the pheromones. They had been married for many years before he first heard about the magic fragrances people don’t even know about. Silent, odourless attractors that allow couples to be comfortable with each other. That was there, since the first tine he set his eyes on her. He knew this plain girl with the steady gaze saw more of a man in him than he realised himself. She made him feel good – almost invincible, even strong and sometimes clever and witty. They laughed a lot. It must have been pheromones.

“Finally, she’ll present herself to him, drawing the quills away so he may approach safely. And don’t think it’s a once-off quickie. She’ll demand repeat performances until he is totally exhausted.”

Siena was a lady. Everything she did, she did with style and grace. That’s why the other women in the district respected her so much. In the church, the social societies and at the agricultural show, she was the one to organise and advise. She made her dresses herself, to the envy of her friends and family.

But once the curtains were drawn and the candle blown out, she exhibited a passion few would ever guess at. She’d drive him mad with desire, teasing and taunting until he begged…and then the fun began….

“Porcupines are interesting creatures. They represent one of the few species of animals that indulge in mating, even when the female isn’t fertile. With other words, she’ll allow intercourse as a way to keep her family together. Casual sex, if you want. It is one way of getting the male to stock up their pantry with tubers and bones.  Quite clever, those ladies are.”

Yes, Servaas thinks, Siena sure kept him busy…


“Hey, Servaas, you seem lost in thought tonight.  Did you hear the interesting talk Gertruida gave? All about porcupines and how they live. She taught me quite a lot.”

“Huh?” He dabs his eyes with his handkerchief. “No. Just thinking, you know. Old people do that sometimes.”

“Did you know how porcupines make love?”

Servaas takes a deep breath, exhales, and manages to smile. “Yes, Vetfaan, I do. Had some first-hand experience, a long time ago.”

“Then why didn’t you tell us before Gertruida came in?”

“Because I didn’t want to remember. Too painful.”

And, with that, Servaas shuffles out into the darkness, where an old man can return to the throbbing ache of the tender memories he’ll carry to his grave. Much like sexual the habits of a lowly rodent, they represent something some people find hard to understand.

Servaas sighs: he knows there is a difference between humans and porcupines, however. The quills of porcupines are smooth, you can pull them out quite easily. The quills of love, alas, are barbed.

23 thoughts on “Porcupines, Sex and Memories (PG)

  1. Rita van der Linde

    Amos jy kan met omtrent elke stuk wat jy skryf vir my herinneringe oproep. Ons het vir baie jare elke maand n paar dae na Mabula, by Warmbad gegaan. Ek hou van die nag, en het dikwels op die stoep gesit en elke keer het die inwonende Ystervark baie naby my verbygeloop op die stoep, en die penne wat so skuur, het presies net soos die tafsy van n rok geklink, wat ek gedra het om die Minuet te dans by n feesviering. Skiet hulle hul penne uit of val dit net af? Ek was altyd te bang om te roer en dus uit te vind he he.

    Dankie vir nog ‘n heerlik storie. RvdL

    1. Amos van der Merwe Post author

      Nee, hulle val net af – of word uitgetrek. Daar is ‘n spiertjie om elke pen se basis, wat verslap as die ystervark gestress word – om makliker los te kom. Ek hou van die ritsel van die penne en die materiaal en die minuet….mmm…daat’s ‘n storie daarin.

  2. Kornelia Koeksister

    This is so beautifully written, Amos. I stumbled on your blog via The Daily Post’s writing challenge and have so enjoyed reading some of your posts.Your writing has such a flavour of Herman Charles Bosman… perhaps that’s because you’ve set your blog in a Kalahari ‘kroeg’ with an assortment of interesting characters? What a clever idea! I have never seen that done on a blog before… brilliant. It really gives you the opportunity to share different viewpoints. Having just written a post about an encounter with a hedgehog, I found your story about the porcupines interesting. Don’t know if it’s the same for porcupines, but hedgehogs are born with their spines just under the skin, and they only come out a few hours after birth. Isn’t God clever! [I am a fellow South African (and Christian) now living in the UK, and used to be the AA’s editor of AA Traveller magazine.]
    Well done, and blessings on all your writing endeavours.

    1. Amos van der Merwe Post author

      Thank you so much for the kind words! Yes, I enjoy the characters at the bar – I can just see them discussing issues, which makes writing about them easier.
      As for porcupines…the Lord though carefully about this one. The babies do have quills, but guess what? They’re soft! Only harden after birth!
      Thanks for reading…

  3. Rita van der Linde

    n Storie oor die geritsel van ystervarkpenne op ‘n Bosveldstoep terwyl die weerlig in die lug dans en die wolke donder en n tafsy rok vir ‘n Jan van Rierbeeckfees? Dink nie dit sal ‘n storie maak nie Amos, maar dan weer ek weet nou al jykan van enige iets ‘n wonderlike storie maak. Probeer!

  4. Harold Green

    Amos…you are one terrific writer with a style that pulls me in with a wink and a smile. I am currently reading, on my Kindle, your book Imagine: Africa! I absolutely love your journal and look forward to my late evenings with your African tales by the campfire. Unfortunately each night, I am only sitting by a campfire in my imagination. Also unfortunately, I am coming to the end. But Imagine: Africa! will stay on my Kindle so I can re-Kindle, at the drop of a hat, your stories and tales from the veld. Thank you!

      1. Harold Green

        You are welcome Amos. You totally deserve it. In fact, with your permission, on my next Africa/Maasai Post on Through Harold’s Lens, I would like to use a quote from Imagine: Africa! Of course at the end of the quote I will provide the name of your book, your name and your Blog address. Let me know if it’s ok and if there is anything else about you I need to add.

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