A couple of nights ago, I came home from Hebrew U late at night. Walking down a paved path on campus between bushes and groundcover, I met one of these guys.
That's not my photo. I wouldn't have been able to catch the thing on camera. It was very dark out, and I was listening to This American Life on my headphones, so I almost missed him. Suddenly, just a foot or two away from me, I notice this black shadow that materializes into enormous rodent, and my heart stops. He's eating something and sniffing around like a dog, and his back and tail are covered with huge long spines.
I used to have a hedgehog. My hedgehog was adorable. The Hebrew U porcupine was not adorable. He was huge and ugly and scary as hell.
I backed slowly up the stairs on the path and up the hill, where I could watch the porcupine and catch my breath. He didn't seem to have noticed me. When he lumbered off the path and into the bushes, I marched slowly and loudly past him, so that he wouldn't think I was sneaking up on him and get startled.
The rest of the way home, I reflected on the way that I experience and process potential threats. Lots of times I've been on a bus and heard a loud bang, or walked along a road and had a guy yell at me from a car window. I get a rush of adrenaline and time slows down until the apparent threat dissolves. And then I take a moment to think about what I would have done, and I realize that there's no answer. Even if I recognized an attacker before he confronted me, I would still not be able to protect myself.