Monday, May 5, 2008

Sam the Porcupine

I mentioned in my last post that my husband and I managed to get to the Queens Zoo last Sunday. Since then, my husband has been singing a little ditty he composed, which goes something to the effect of "Sam, Sam the Porcupine". (I think my husband missed his calling; he was obviously meant to compose theme songs for children's shows.)

The song came about because we were both amazed by the creatures at the zoo. While our favourites lists differed for the most part, we found that the porcupine ranked #1 for us both. Which begs the question: What was so fantastic about a porcupine? After all, to quote the response my mother used to give whenever my childhood self would try to convince her that I should get a hamster/gerbil/guinea pig as a pet, "they're rodents!".

It just goes to show you that you cannot judge someone or something by their family. Maybe the porcupine is a rodent, but there are evidently differences between the rodent family's members. I mean, do you view the beaver the same way you do a rat? While I don't find rats offensive as some do, I would admit that they are not my favourite creatures. I mean, at least I can find a field mouse kind of sweet, unless he's gnawing away at my bedroom wall.

We saw "Sam" the porcupine right at feeding time. There he was, nose to the ground, wiggling about slightly because he had something on one of his quills, which bothered him. The zoo worker came over, gingerly removed the offensive item off of him, and laid out a long branch for Sam's dinner. And then it happened. Now, I would have put money on Sam eating like a guinea pig: nose down, on all fours, chomping away with gusto. However, Sam, feeling like a mentsch now that the item was off his back, sat upright on his haunches, took the branch delicately between his front paws and started to methodically yet gently eat his way down the branch. After each leaf, he stopped and munched each leaf thoroughly before moving down to the next leaf. He was so docile, so elegant, that I am not ashamed to admit that this porcupine had better table manners than me!

Encased in his barbs, the porcupine instills unease in all who see him. Instinctively we understand that he may be small, but the porcupine can inflict mortal harm. And so, looking at his built-in armour, we tend to keep our distance. The true nature of the porcupine though is to only fight when self-defense is required; he is not a belligerent creature, and will not attack other animals randomly. My husband and I were consequently reminded that sometimes first impressions can be misleading. After all, if an armoured animal can end up being more sweet and peaceful than, well, many humans, maybe we should appreciate that Hashem's universe is full of surprises.

Most of us are woefully ignorant of the animal kingdom, and the traits of its various citizens. Indeed, because we are taught to view animals as tools that Hashem has provided us, we overlook the opportunity to learn from their "example". Each animal/creature is an example of a particular positive or negative trait. So, maybe I need to spend more time at the zoo. Because, after making the acquaintance of good ol' Sammy, I acknowledge that animals could teach me a thing or two, both in terms of what I should and should not do.

When a porcupine puts your eating habits to shame, it's time to admit that in Hashem's universe, we all have purpose and relevance. I'm sure that the sooner we start learning from all of Hashem's creations, the sooner the world will be better for it.

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