The thought of using the Porcupine for our logo came about through a strange series of events. On Earth day 1996 we found an orphan porcupine, with our two cats and dog symmetrically flanking Porker, as we came to call her, between the graveyard and Manse lawn. That first year of the tea company, Kim and Steven rented an old Manse in Wilno (with lots of rooms for guests, drying space and storage) that backed out onto the oldest Polish cemetery in Canada. Before we found Porker, we knew that the previous day some local kids had been carelessly hunting with a pellet gun in the cemetery and ruthlessly killed the mother porcupine with countless shots.
We raised the baby porcupine from spring until fall that year. When she wasn’t hanging out in a tree waiting for us to finish picking, Porker most often hung off Steven’s head suckling his dreads by the hour, as though deriving some life-giving substance from them. That frail little porcupine had such a big heart she conquered all she met. She changed their minds and warmed their hearts—a creature the locals had feared and mistrusted (which is why the kids thought it was okay to kill the mother in the first place).
The slow moving but unstoppable heart and spirit of Porker, our pet porcupine, became part of our inspiration to make a product that supported wildlands—as they are—for all the wild animals, including the misunderstood porcupine and beaver. The word Algonquin literally means bark eater, so the porcupine logo also seemed right (and funny) in that way too, since our name was already the Algonquin Tea Company. Our name was chosen for the Southern Algonquin Bioregion where all the company’s herbs naturally grow, before we found Porker. By using an image of this animal for a logo we chose to hold up and honor the porcupine, who, like the Earth Herself, has been so feared, hated and misunderstood. There was also something in the porcupine’s gentle purposeful approach to picking plants, that reminded us of how we liked to fill our days picking plants one shoot at a time.
Some relatively unknown porcupine facts
Porcupines are exactly like their more famous and charismatic cousins the Beaver, only they evolved to be in the trees the way Beavers live in the water. Porcupines, like Beavers, don’t hibernate but have black skin and dark fur so even at the depths of winter on a sunny day they can climb to the treetops and absorb the suns heat while having a fresh bark snack. Porcupines don’t see or hear very well, so when the females are ready to mate they climb to the treetops and “scream” murderously in the night so that a male can find her. She stops when she hears him moaning and chirping back up to her in the tree.
The elder males, much like silver back gorillas, get a patch of long yellow quills on their backs identifying their status. Porcupines do not shoot quills. In fact, when they’re relaxed the quills lie flat and you even can pat them. They got the reputation of shooting quills because, if they feel something behind them, they do raise the quills and “jump” a few inches backwards, ramming their barbed quills home. The quills grow out of their skin just like hair, and are hollow for insulation.
To remove quills (usually from a dog that’s nosed in too close and got stuck by the quills) you need to cut them first. This releases an inner air pressure that keeps the barb out. Because the barbs are made from of a series of smaller teeth like barbs, the quills once stuck will slowly move or saw their way further into the flesh with each movement. The quills will keep moving deeper and deeper. When left un-pulled and uncut quills have even been know to harmlessly move right through a limb and come out on the other side.
Strangely, the quills can do this without causing infection because they have antibiotic properties. It is thought that the antibiotic properties evolved on the quills to protect the porcupines themselves, as they often get stabbed with their own, or another’s, quills during falls and mating.
If you find a baby porcupine, don’t touch it. They’re fairly independent at a young age and tour around the forest alone, within earshot or a couple hundred yards of their mom. If you touch it, like many types of wild babies, the mother will may reject it because of the alien smell. They stay with their moms for as long as a full year until the next year’s kit is born or the one year old comes into her first heat.