Wednesday, May 27, 2009


“Mom, porcupines are pests. Once they come up to your house you have to get rid of them,” JR said as he loaded shells into my dad’s old 22. “They chew wood, they get under your deck. Think of the dogs! Think of the horses!” And with that, my oldest brother strode through the back door and sighted in on the unfortunate prickly porcupine treed in a nearby evergreen.

Like everything my oldest brother says, there was merit. And little room for argument. Or sentimentality. And my mother, with her sixteen years of experience parenting adult children, folded her arms across her chest and decided that she would not pick this battle.

Two muffled pops and the porcupine was dead, a still and spiny little heap. I held our hysterical neighbor dog by the collar (he wanted nothing more than a face full of quills) while JR rolled the body into a laundry basket, walked over to my parents’ burn barrel and lowered the porcupine, basket and all, into the cold ashes.

“Well,” he said, “gotta go.” He loaded his family into their car and headed home. The family farm had been saved from unwanted incisors, and he other irons in the fire.

Which is how the Great Porcupine Cremation of 2009 fell to me.

I’d like to say, for the record, that this was my first ever cremation attempt. Here was what I knew going into it:

1. The human body is 80% water – I apply the same percentage to quilled rodents
2. The porcupine has been dead (by this time) for two days. Rigor mortis is sure to have set in. And it will probably have glassy open eyes. And its tongue might be hanging out like it was on a dead squirrel I saw once.
3. Mom wants her laundry basket back before the cremation commences.

And here are the steps to cremating a porcupine, should you ever be called upon to do so:

Step One: Dump porcupine (hereafter referred to as P) out of laundry basket, into burn barrel.
P appears intact – tongue still contained in mouth; eyes, as hypothesized, glassy; quills white and gray; claws curled into tiny fists to protest the world’s injustices, which have hit him rather hard of late.

Step Two: Start fire by pouring half a cup of gasoline on P and several pieces of pressure-treated junk wood. Watch for nails. Also, as I was told later by JR, watch for explosions from trying to start a fire with gasoline (no explosions noted).
P a bit singed, but was still primarily intact given that the fire was mostly happening above him.

Step Three: Build a bigger fire by throwing all manner of junk wood into barrel until flames are taller than you. Pause to find work gloves. Have a glass of iced tea as you wait for inferno to die down enough to check on P.
P appears slightly more singed, however quills are still intact and glassy eyes still accusatory. At abdomen, P has split open to reveal a ballooning large intestine, color: green.

Step Four: Staying well away from the mouth of the barrel to avoid possible large intestine explosion shrapnel, obtain a large stick or board and attempt to lever P up from its position at the bottom of the fire to the top, without actually pushing him over the edge and on to the ground. The idea being to create a sort of funeral pyre for P in manner of King Arthur or that one crazy king in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Or a Jedi warrior.
P starting to look charred now – no sign of quills. Lots of sizzling as body fluids are released. Skin breaks apart revealing pink flesh underneath. Pervading smell: banana candy.

Step Five: Continue in this manner for…I don’t know, two hours? Add wood, and stir P to the top. Add wood and stir P to the top.

P has lost his tail. His lower organs are also gone, but his lungs are hanging in there like little troopers.

Step Six: Now it’s time for dinner. Get some good pieces of wood (none of that plywood crap) and rebuild your pyre, capping it off with P and then the little grate lid that goes on the barrel. Go inside and wash your hands. Eat rotisserie chicken.
P looks disturbingly similar to rotisserie chicken.

Step Seven: After you have eaten, go check on P. He will look just the same as when you left. But wait! Take off the grate! Tap P with stick. He will dissolve into a pile of dust.

Congratulations! You have just cremated a porcupine! Please send a self-addressed stamped envelope to Way to Go Kevin, along with your check or money order for $29.99, so we can we will mail your commemorative porcupine plaque, complete with certificate of authenticity.