I’ve been visited by a dying animal again.
Last year it was a mouse that lay in my path and invited me to be with it while it died. Today it’s a porcupine. And he’s still dying.
I get the sense he’s an old fellow, and has enjoyed his life around here. I first saw him a few weeks ago just before Christmas, waddling along the road that passes by my house. If I had known that porcupines are nocturnal animals, I would have been surprised to see him in full daylight.
This afternoon he moved with difficulty, waddling next to the snow bank, traveling from the neighbor’s house to mine. And now, for the past few hours, he’s been lying in the snow in my driveway, breathing, at times moving his head or legs.
I phoned the police who said they would send word to the game warden, but I didn’t hear back from anyone. I was hoping they’d have a way to euthanize him.
I talk to this porcupine, sit with him, breathe with him, cry with him. I have never been near one before, and although I have the urge to hold him in my lap, I won’t risk being hurt by his quills.
When he was still able to crawl, he moved to face me, slowly creeping closer. I watched him come within a couple feet before moving my improvised chair – an upturned bucket – back a little, apologizing again and again for my fear of his quills.
I feel so helpless. I stay here sitting with him as long as I can before I go inside to warm up.
Repeatedly I go out to check on him and reassure him it’s okay. What is “okay” for a dying porcupine? Maybe it’s “okay” to die here. Here where his proximity feels like an honor, here where I can be present with his dying.
Then when I next come outside I find him still, totally still. I shine my flashlight and look closely to confirm what I already know. No breathing, no eye movement, no life. He’s gone.
I wish him well and thank him for his efforts to be near me in this unusual way. And I cry.
(Edited from the original January 2001 version.)