Poking Around (Final Draft)

Curiosity can be a precarious undertaking. One afternoon, a standoff occurred between a local porcupine and Titus, a recently adopted rescue dog. Acting explicitly in self-defense, the porcupine lodged a single quill in Titus’s lip. This resulted in a spate of loud barking and a trip to the veterinarian’s office; the porcupine remained unharmed. More interesting was the motivation of these two creatures.

Titus lived his first five months scrounging for food in a trailer park before coming to live with the Shaw family in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. Here, he found a comfortable life with a steady food supply. With his basic needs met, he now had the luxury of curiosity. So when he stumbled upon on odd looking creature, he was more interested in meeting someone new than in making this quill-pig his lunch. After the encounter, Titus returned carrying the weight of disappointment: he had not made a new friend. In fact, the porcupine did not seem to like him at all. His tail wagged just a bit slower as the vet removed the spine and sent him on his way.

IMG_4495The porcupine, meanwhile, was quite disturbed by this encounter. The morning was spent lazily wandering through the nearby overgrowth, eating grass and finding water. A gauche crashing alerted it to the approach of a ferocious predator, setting the porcupine immediately on edge. Try as it might to slink away unnoticed, it could not escape as the beast continued its belligerent pursuit. Panic took over. Again and again the furry attacker maneuvered closer. Soon, there was no other option but to stand its ground; the porcupine raised its quills in a thorny defense. When the beast drew closer yet, the porcupine did the only thing it knew how, detaching its quill in the general direction of the threat. After a time, the pursuer admitted defeat – returning noisily from where it came. The rest of the day was spent cowering with fear that the brown and white leviathan may yet return.

This appears to be a simple tale of a dog and a porcupine – two creatures momentarily crossing paths: an unwitting puppy seeking a new friend and a wild creature defending itself. On this day curiosity was not rewarded. Instead it was met with fright and misunderstanding. Titus, however, refused to let the encounter deter him, his curiosity remains as strong as ever… if not a bit more cautious.

So too is curiosity amongst the human creatures. We chase our impulse to learn without a second thought of perception – of how we seem in these pursuits. When others pursue us in this spirit of inquisitiveness, we often mistake it for aggression. Just like Titus, we hurt when we are mistaken. Just like the porcupine, we are fearful when we are threatened. Unlike either, we have the opportunity to match curiosity with curiosity, an equalizing force. Curiosity will not always be rewarded, but it will not always be lethal. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but the puppy still survives.


This story was written for a Digital Journalism course with the UC San Diego Extension program. You can find the first and second drafts here and here


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