I love gnarly trees, and one of the gnarliest I’ve seen is located on the back corner of my central Vermont property. It’s a monstrous maple, sitting on a wide, burly base with knobs here and there all the way up. Before Hurricane Irene knocked down a significant section, a porcupine lived in the crease where the branches forked. Despite that setback and the countless others this tree has faced over the years, it continues to leaf out strongly each spring.
This fall, a large hole appeared in the base of the trunk. Who could be living in there? My six year old decided it must be 1. a raccoon, 2. a porcupine, or 3. a rabbit. Stripped twigs strewn about suggested porcupine or rabbit to him, but raccoons were on his mind since our sunflowers had recently been knocked over and corn husks stolen from the fire pit.
To investigate, we borrowed the game camera from my office and set it up in four different spots facing the tree. We got a magnificent shot of a large porcupine on the first night – it appeared to be just passing by. After that I couldn’t seem to get enough. I did not expect it to be so exhilarating to spy on my backyard. I had to restrain myself from checking the camera every single day.
We captured many images over the next two weeks; it was as though each side of the trunk was a different section in a highway system. We saw porcupines the most (large and small), a deer, a possible raccoon, and no rabbits. Robins appeared several times, and even a woodpecker. The only animal obviously using the hole was a squirrel. It popped in and out a bunch, often sitting next to the hole to snack. We did capture a skunk showing interest in the hole, but unfortunately I did not angle the camera well and we missed whether it went in or not. We decided that the tree functions much like a historic building-turned-community center, much loved by the locals for meals, lodging, and as a landmark.
The process of gathering these images was deeply rewarding as it shook up our after-school routine. Walking home in the twilight, it struck me that I hadn’t seen the dinner time light through the woods in a long time. We also discovered that you can take neat selfies and quirky family photos with game cameras – most of which my son felt were more appropriate for Facebook, but I snuck a few in here.
Emily Rowe is the operations coordinator and web manager at Northern Woodlands.