Europe N to S: Life and Death in the Wild (7/14/16)


​Today’s Miles: 25.9

Total Miles: 416.7

Near Kautokeino – July 14, 2016

The trail toward Kautokeino is a dirt road. Long and straight, it lets my mind wander off as my legs slip into autopilot. No boulders to step between, no faint splashes of red paint to follow, just walk and think and let my mind drift.

A sound pulls me back. I turn and see a fox peering at me from under a thicket of trees, a bundle of red and white fur. I stare at the beautiful red face. Its golden eyes stare back at me. Its black-tipped ears stand alert.

I reach for my camera, waiting for the fox to bolt away like foxes always do, but it doesn’t move. It only looks at me as I look back.

I snap a few pictures, then inch a bit closer. The fox still doesn’t move, but I see panic in it’s eyes. I hold the camera to my eye and take another step. 

Then it moves.

Not the fluid, sharp movement of a fox, the kind that darts across the earth with ease, but a strained, exhausted crawl. It pulls itself away with its front paws. Its back legs hang behind it, crushed and broken, blood matted on the fur.

I flee backward. My mind a mess of thoughts. What to do, how to help, but deep down I know the truth, there is nothing I can do. I know this fox will die.

I think I should end it, kill it somehow, stop the pain, finish the job that some car started, but I don’t know how. I don’t have any way to do it cleanly. Maybe a rock, but it would be hard in the thick underbrush. It wouldn’t be easy with a rock. It would be slow and scary and ugly.

I stare at the fox’s face and know I can’t even stomach it.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I’m not strong enough.”

I open my bag and pull out the sausage I was saving for dinner. I throw it to the fox, who at first crawls from it, but then returns, bowing its head to eat. It’s the only time in my life I’ve fed a wild animal. It’s a terrible sin, but here it felt right, felt like the only thing I was capable of doing. A last meal. A last bit of pleasure amid the slow, pain of death.

I walk away wishing I’d been strong enough, wishing I could have given it peace instead of sausage, praying that something else would come soon, something stronger than me, and finish what I could not.

Then I tell myself the truth about the wild. No animal dies in peace. That is not the bargain they are born into. Peaceful death is a human invention.

Animals die hunted down and ripped apart, starving and thirsty, hurt and mangled. No morphine. No quiet in the night. No easy ends in the wild. None.

That fox and I both know that truth, but only one of us is at peace with it. 

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9 thoughts on “Europe N to S: Life and Death in the Wild (7/14/16)

  1. Daniel. I have long admired you. Now. More than ever. That is a profoundly honest and real insight.

  2. In a strange way given the topic, one of my favorite pieces you have written Daniel. Made me think of all of us as a specie.. We have compassion for each other but at the same time we seem to be the only specie to kill each other for no purpose. Our “superior” brain is one strange cookie.

  3. Daniel. I have been following you since you left NW angle bound for Key West. Those words were an absolute gem. Thank you

  4. A peaceful death may be a human invention Daniel, only problem is that only a small percentage of the human population are actually fortunate enough to be able to take advantage of it. The vast majority die just as the animals do, and often enough, on account of other humans, even more horrible and painful.

  5. So sad anytime this happens…makes me drive more carefully to avoid this. What a hard choice.

  6. I don’t know what to write, feel sorry about both of You. When I think of hugging trees to show the care. You saw the eyes, all my thoughts goes now to You did the right with feeding the Fox. Thanks for sharing wild like!

  7. That is so gut-wrenching to witness such pain and suffering in another living creature, and not be able to fix it. As humans, we are always primed to “fix”, and here you were helpless to end the suffering.

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