"Do you need some help?" I asked as I drove by the country woman wielding two shovels on a mangled creature on the center line of Hwy. 85 just outside of Enterprise, Oregon.
"I would love some help. Pull up over there behind my truck," she instructed, out of breath. While I couldn't leave her to her folly to wrestle the mess alone, tending dead animals was new, and repulsive, territory.
By the time I parked and rejoined her on the July-hot pavement, Country Woman was nearly finished dragging the unrecognizable beast to the shoulder on flattened cardboard.
She handed me the shovels, blood-stained blades shining in the midday sun, and I walked them a few feet to the pick-up bed. There, tucked in a shoe box, was a baby raccoon, dead but intact.
I remembered the time my sweetie came upon what he thought was a dead deer, her body left by a motorist in the middle of the southbound lane of Willamette Drive. He stopped his Vespa to pull her off to the side. When he grabbed her back legs, she lifted her head and looked back at him, blood oozing from mouth and nose. He pulled her out of traffic, and petted her neck while he waited for the policeman he was promised in a 911 call. The responding officer euthanized the deer with a single bullet. My husband felt awful for days. When someone asked him why, if he felt so awful, did he do it. His thoughtful reply was, "Because that's exactly the kind of person I want to be, and I always want to feel deeply about unnecessary loss of life."
Returning to Country Woman's side, I grabbed the box corners opposite her and got a nose full of rotting flesh and fur and guts. My eyes couldn't help but look, recognize an ear and an eye, and a bit of snout as being Baby Racoon's Mama. I held my breath as we laid her body next to the shoe box in the pick-up bed.
A shock of curly white hair framed Country Woman's browned leathery face and sky blue eyes. Sweat listened on her forehead and temples.
"Have you ever come across dead animals on the road?" she asked me.
"Yes, but I usually just feel bad and keep driving," I admitted. "Truth is I married a man who carries a shovel in his trunk for this kind of thing."
"Really?" She smiled, affirmed. "I usually drive by, but today they were here when I went to church and when they were still here on my way home, I just couldn't leave them." She teared up and continued. "When I told my husband I was coming back for them he just grunted, so I came alone."
She wondered aloud who died first.
We stood in awkward silence just looking at each other and at the pick-up bed. So I hugged her and thanked her for being the kind of person who stops.
Then we went on our way, her taking the creatures home to bury and me left wondering if when she patted me her hands left a bloody track on my back.