Farmer Nyel and his 30,000 porcupine quills

Nyel and his Pocupine Quill Project

Well, I don’t think there are 30,000 of them. And neither does Nyel.  Not even close. (Never mind that that’s the number “they” say an average adult-sized porcupine has.)   But, yesterday when I walked into the kitchen and saw him patiently picking quills out of an old black bath towel, it looked like a whole lot to me.  “What are you doing?” I asked.  (You never can tell with Farmer Nyel.)

The answer, of course, was, “Picking quills out of this old black bath towel.”  It took several rephrasings to learn that “years ago” Nyel had spotted a dead (fresh road-kill) porcupine on the side of the road.  And, being Nyel, he couldn’t see letting all those great quills go to waste.  (About the time I met him in the early 1980s, he was taking a graduate level course from Bill Holm at the UW on Native American arts and crafts — part of Nyel’s work toward his MA in Museum Studies.  It was a hands-on class and they’d been doing beadwork, tanning hides and… well you get the idea.)

Quills and Black Towel

So, he grabbed whatever was in the truck — which happened to be an old black towel — threw it over the critter and then removed it, full of quills.  As any dog unfortunate enough to meet a porcupine head-on can tell you, those quills come right off and stick into whatever touches them.  Ever-so-carefully, Nyel bundled up that towel and put it in a covered plastic tub.  And forgot about it.

Porcupine Quills

Somehow, all these years later, he thought the tub had kindling in it and yesterday… he needed kindling.  Instead, what he got was a new project — removing said quills from said towel, cleaning them off, drying them and, today, sorting through and getting rid of any broken ones.  “Then what?” I asked.  Silly me.  Farmer Nyel has not yet decided.  He’s a one-step-at-a-time kind of guy.  So stay tuned.  (You never can tell with Farmer Nyel.)


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