I did nothing, and one day he was gone

LEON Bard, who did many odd jobs, used to say that he didn't need to know anything. The minute he started a job, he said, the world was full of jokers who flocked around to tell him how to do it. Leon should have been with me the other morning when I stepped into the yard-and-garden center to show the manager the lovely russet Burbank potatoes I grew from his Green Mountain seed stock. Russet potatoes are good enough and some like them, but so long as I can grow Green Mountains I'll stick with them. I was not happy to find russets surfacing in my garden when I had planted only choice Green Mountains that I bought at the yard-and-garden center. So I was carrying a little basket of russets, although I went in to get some chain saw oil and a pair of work gloves. I had not yet gained the counter to shame the manager when a man ahead of me spoke up:

''I've got a problem,'' he said. ''There's a porcupine under my shed and I don't know what to do about him.''

Now would be a good time for Leon's volunteer experts to step forward with suggestions, but the store went silent and not an expert offered. Each customer, as I looked about, had his head cocked to indicate he had heard the remark and was giving the matter his full attention. The manager, hands resting on the counter, showed by his blank expression that he had no notion of what to do about a porcupine under a shed. Except to concede that this was no occasion to get an eviction order from a judge, I had no notion either, so I adopted a blank expression, too.

The silence in the store held for maybe eight-ten seconds, and then from behind the hoe handles and the rabbit pellets, from the aisle with the fall tulip bulbs, came a voice with the answer. Disembodied, the voice presumably was human, but through the merchandise it came like some sibylline message from the occult, as if it had no place of origin and would echo for some time. It spoke the truth. It said, ''Mister, you ain't going to do nothin'!''

The voice from beyond took no further part in the deliberations. It did generate congeniality in the store, so we all moved closer together and gave the man's problem serious attention. I said I'd had a porkie in my boathouse one fall and I'd done just that - I did nothing, and one day he was gone. It seemed to me this was the sensible way to act, I said. My porkie would sit up on a cross member alongside my canoe and stare at me. I would speak to him and encourage him to vacate. I presume he foraged at night, but in the daytime he just sat and stared. My boathouse sits on posts, so he had no hindrance about going and coming, and I decided to let him come and go. So I told this man to bide, but he said he was afraid a cat or a dog might wander under the shed and get involved.

At this, another gentleman in the store opined that this was nothing to worry about, as a porcupine is notoriously defensive and will never attack dogs and cats unless provoked. I could see this gentleman was a nature student, willing to accept things as they are, and was convinced that if a dog goes for a quill pig the consequences can be blamed on innate canine stupidity. I felt this might well be so, but said I would keep an open mind until I had a chance to talk with a few dogs.

Then a man told how his brother got a skunk out of his cellar. He laid a plank up to the cellar window and placed slices of bacon at intervals along the plank, retiring then from the scene. The skunk followed the slices of bacon, eating each in turn, and thus went through the cellar window into the dooryard and beyond. So then the man I recognized as the nature student said that porcupines are herbivorous and one would not be attracted by bacon. The problem now turned on what will bait a porcupine, and the manager began to enumerate the bird and animal feeds he keeps in stock, and finally said, ''. . . or maybe you could just cut up a potato.''

That brought my mind back to my Burbank russets grown from Green Mountain seed, but before I showed them another man said, ''I tried the plank and bacon on a skunk I had in my cellar.''

We gave him our attention.

''Didn't work. I fixed the plank and laid out the bacon. Next morning I went down cellar and what do you know?

''I had two skunks.''

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