As Prickly As A Pear

By , State College, PA
He sat at an elevation of 8,530 feet in the mountains of Utah in the small town of Alta- population 397. He was known as Charlie, a stout scruffy fellow that had just started to live on his own. Although he was rather adventurous, he had stayed close to home and had always been closely watched by his nurturing mother. Charlie had made quite the impact on the town around him, specifically the Alta Ski Resort personnel. He had once wandered to their lodge doorstep and from there, a relationship formed. The ski patrol found Charlie to be a regular throughout the slopes and was specifically fond of the area around the lift of “Supreme.” Whenever Charlie came out of the pine cover, crowds of skiers would stop to greet him. He had a baby-face and waddle to his step that made anyone “aw.” He was a lovable, free spirit. Charlie was a conman and knew how to work the crowds, but he was more than that. Charlie was a porcupine.
Some days he was sighted tightly curled up on top of tree branches, other times toddling across the ski paths, and there were days where he wasn’t seen at all. As much as he seemed to love the attention, Charlie was a wild animal with instincts, and some days they got the best of him. However, as wild and free as he and the so called “Mama Porcupine” were, neither had ever caused any harm to the admirers on the mountain. This was especially surprising for Charlie, who would often times walk toward a skier to give a quick hello, then lean back on his hind legs and see if they had any food. He would wander on just about any one's skis who he suspected had food and brush up against the people and let them pet him. It was astounding no one ever accidental spooked the mellow creature.
One of Charlie’s closest companions was veteran ski patrol employee Oscar, who had worked at the park for over 35 years. He was one of the few making up the population of Alta, and stayed at the resort throughout the year. Oscar often times would wear his bright red jacket with the black slimming stripes on the sides, goggles, thick black gloves, and the typical red safety pack. That backpack was what meant most to Charlie: it was the heavenly beholder of his snacks. When Oscar would spot a crowd of people all “ooohing” and “ahhing” he would stop by and explain the name of his friend and why he was so genial. After pulling out the opaque ziploc bag, he would grab a small handful of salty mixed nuts to give to the suddenly ever-so-loving Charlie. Charlie was never a hit and run player either. Instead, he would gently grab one nut at a time and cradle it between his paws, nibbling on them one by one. His chubby cheeks chewed quickly and happily, crunching through his treat while piles of people watched him eat away. Every once in a while a bystander or someone on the lift watching would holler to the group. Something along the lines of “you shouldn’t feed the animals,” “leave him alone,” or “it’s a wild animal, leave it that way.” But this was different. This was Charlie.
Charlie had an innocence that was different than most wild animals. He didn’t follow skiers home and he obviously had never been run over by a skier. He was wildlife that just so happened to mesh perfectly within human civilization.
Several months previously, word had gotten out about Charlie’s adventures. Several activists had come after the ski resort, enraged about how this was an unnatural corruption of this animal’s life. They protested saying that it was animal cruelly. An organization that often times caused more harm than done by going just a bit extreme had come. In they poured with there protests, blogs on their website, vexed emails, and insincere letters informing, in one way or another, their views on Charlie’s life and how he had encountered so much cruelty. Although they were addressing Charlie, his was name wasn’t known to the activists. He was just another porcupine living out in the woods that had gotten stuck in the clamour of human wrongdoing.
The voice of Charlie had been lost. Muted by the organization, the media, and the resort, the story quickly had gotten out of hand. The truth of what had been happening had now been mixed in with all of the exaggerations made. Both the activists and the media had tried to stretch out the story to get either justice or to get the next big story, while the resort tried to keep this on the down-low to solve the conflict without getting too much attention. Specifically negative attention. However, word had gotten around, and Oscar was trying to decipher the situation. He spent late nights in the lodge staring at the glaring computer screen. Finding research on how the small involvement with Charlie was so unethical. He understood why wild animals should not be kept as pets, and for the most part, left alone. He hadn’t gone looking to find a porcupine and make a companion out of it, it was quite the opposite.
On that cool and stormy morning there had been callings for a covering of snow for the past week and the sky let loose. There, out of the flurries, young Charlie had strolled on over with his mother. They curled up under one of the wooden lounge chairs placed outside the employee lodge. The employees were in for quite the surprise when out came the mother and soon after scampered along Charlie. They had been unnoticed until someone had gone outside to get their skis and spotted the pair. Charlie clumsily moved towards the ski patrolman as they stood still and watched to see what the curious little creature might do. Charlie sniffed about the skis and quickly retreated to his mothers side. It may not have seemed like much, but later on the two would return and stay under the lounge chair for sleeping arrangements, and the people accepted it. Oscar couldn’t help but smile at the thought of these memories. Time after time, Charlie learned that people were not so bad. He did not seek attention constantly, just every once in a while he would stop by for a friendly “hello” and go along his way. Oscar was fond of his weekly sightings of the little guy and so were others. And so, Charlie had gained a name and some friendly followers. They had agreed however, that food should never be given out at the lodges, so the majority of the ski patrol, along with all of their other gear, now carried a small bag of mixed nuts or trail mix just in case they came into contact with him. It had almost been like a “where’s waldo”- porcupine addition.
After many clicks of researching wild animals and their adaptations, he knew what situations had to be addressed and so he came to the public and the organization with what he said was the truth. Having responses to the questions of many activists, something new had actually been done at the resort. It had seemed that the resort had placed itself in lock down, hoping that if they did say anything, no one would remember, and everyone would just go home. Oscar was fed up with the way they had been handling the situation and he took it into his own hands. He was one of Charlie’s most sighted visitors, he did not go out specifically looking for him, he just had luck. Whenever he spotted him, he never forgot to stop.
Oscar came out to the public and admitted to the contact they did have with Charlie, but he had explained how the whole situation had been blown up. He told of how Charlie made the first move to come to people in this crazy game, and how nothing had happened to endanger either the porcupine or the skier families. They were all living in harmony and there was no need to worry. He went on to explain how they did not feed him by the lodge, and what Charlie did receive was a natural food source similar to what was found in the wild. For as much knowledge as Oscar had gained being an experienced skier, he knew zero to none about the cruelty of the media.They took his truth and ripped it apart, portraying that these employees at the ski resort had been indulging this porcupine with sodium coated nuts and trying to keep the animals as pets and name them. Oscar had been trapped, just as they accused him of trapping Charlie.
The resort had lost one of its’ finest employees. A very involved worker that cared much about his Alta family along with the visitors families. He always tried to do his best and knew the slopes off by heart, even the unmarked ones. But how could the resort keep him? He had spoken out and had been labeled, the resort could not allow this one man’s beliefs to hold up for the entire company. Instead they claimed that he had acted out at and that they should disregard his opinion from the company as a whole. However, under closed doors they expressed their most deepest apologies. Oscar had worked up in this mountainous region for more than 35 years, now jobless, he felt completely lost. He gave up the chance of continuing the career as a ski patrol personnel and went home to Ohio. This is where he had originally received an education in the pharmaceutical department. He had visited Utah with his buddies just after college and during that trip Alta had received a fresh new powdering of at least a foot of snow. Oscar knew then and there just where he wanted to place himself, and what he really wanted to do. Despite his newly gained education, Oscar left his small hometown of Ohio to live in the mountains. Now, he knew that he could not stay at Utah, not after the embarrassment of one innocent and caring mistake.
Charlie too had been dragged into this dilemma and yet the resort had seemed to get away. Both the resort and the activists finally came to an agreement after a long stalemate. The resort compromised to have Charlie and his mother relocated away from the “Supreme” life, which did not seem so supreme anymore, to somewhere over the mountains as the activists agreed that they would get the negative news away from the Alta Ski Resort.
Without Charlie or Oscar, there was a void in the heart of Alta for some time, but life goes on and other people that had been involved in the situation had healed or brushed it aside. Soon people came and knew nothing of the adventures, and of how a porcupine could cause so much drama. It is rumored among the staff that maybe, just maybe, Charlie and his mother could make a “Homeward Bound” attempt to come home to reunite with the Alta community, and why not let people have some hope? Even if Charlie had miraculously come home, it would not be the same without his comrade who had given him a voice of what had really happened in such a short two years. It is said now in the small town of Alta, that porcupines should most definitely not have a voice, or they may start to speak up around these parts.





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