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Little Johnny Three-toes

Not based on true events

A porcupine wandered once freely in our woods, snuffing the cushioned ground and shambling among the ragged old Jack Pines. He had but a trio of toes on his one foot, and therefore was appropriately named Little Johnny Three-toes. This is an event in his slowly-rolling story, an escape from starvation, and it all began on a winter day, when his waddling track was seen in the snow, lined by the marks of his quills. It was a day upon which Jack Frost played an icy game among the Jack Pines and had quited their presence, leaving them garbed in crystal white. Yet, though the day was beautiful, the sun shining and leaves dancing, Little Johnny Three-toes could not enjoy one second of his steady march. After all, who could enjoy anything when a parasitic hunger gnawing their insides? But wishes most often come true, at least not easily, and Little Johnny could not even find a fallen aspen upon which to exercise his rodent teeth. And how his stomach rumbled as he swayed to and fro, to and fro on his agonizing trek for food. Soon he let his head fall in despair, not minding where he went, or how he went. In this way, Little Johnny Three-toes soon found himself swiftly slipping down a steep decline and before he could save himself fell bop! on a smooth sheet of ice. But it was no great matter for the hungry rodent, so he simply picked himself up and continued across the frozen waters with downcast eyes. Therefore, he did not notice what stood directly before him until he bumped his velvety head directly upon its smooth side. He glanced up and saw in astonishment a lofty Paper Birch like an angelic being, white, innocent and pure. A renewed vigour coursed through his veins at the wondrous sight, and with the gusto of a starving giant, the porcupine began his feast. At first, he only gnawed the bark here and there, but then he discovered an especially delectable area and began to gnaw in earnest. For more than even several minutes he ate, moving from one spot to another as the bark was consumed until, finally content with his work and his full stomach, he gave a last look at the marvellous tree before waddling away into the woods. Little Johnny Three-toes never found that tree again, no matter how long he searched for its whereabouts but he always remembered it to be the tree which saved his life.


Erethizon dorsatum

It would be hard to mistake this rodent. ( Yes, it is a rodent.) With its long quills and easy  demeanour, the porcupine can not be confused with any other American mammal. These animals, unlike  the myth, can not shoot their quills, but can give their enemies a lightening-fast swipe with their prickly tail. The spines might come loose during such an action, and that might be the reason for the birth of the myth. Surprisingly, from the second day of birth onward, these ungainly animals have the ability to climb trees to scavenge for food.

Paper Birch

Betula papyrifera

Also known as the White-birch, this tree, like any other tree,  will die if the bark is stripped in a continuous ring around the trunk. So please don't do this. The birch's leaves are toothed and its catkins are like hanging, flexible fingers dangling off its branches. Unlike the similar aspen and poplar, this tree usually has many offshoots near the ground instead of one steady trunk. Various deer species feed on its bark, as well as birds, rabbits, and of course porcupines.

Jack Pine 

Pinus banksiana

A very variable pine and one identifying factor which I use is the factor that Old Man's Beard lichen is usually found upon it. These exotic-looking trees are usually the first to grow in a burnt area.

Old Man's Beard

Usnea sp.

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