Animal Encounters

JP Harpignies

ISBN 13: 978-1-496146-01-4 • $ 16.95

We live on a rapidly urbanizing planet, ever more enmeshed in technological artifacts, electronic communication devices and disembodied “virtual” worlds, far more separated from the natural world than any previous generations of humans. And yet, if we think about it, nearly all of us will realize that even we denizens of the 21st Century have quite a lot of contact with non-human animals, both domesticated and wild, over the course of our lives, and that some of these experiences, especially those that occur when we’re young, can be highly significant, even formative.

This collection of anecdotes is about one person’s remembrances of his most significant encounters with animals over the decades, recounted in the context of his personal evolution. It also captures a lot of the colorful flavor of some of the larger cultural transformations of the last half century.


From the Introduction:

“I think it’s likely, surprisingly perhaps given the rapid urbanization of the planet and how separated, both physically and culturally, nearly all modern humans feel from the natural world, that almost all of us could do the same and find that we have had far more interactions with animals than we suspect, and that at least some of those episodes may have some interesting things to tell us about the world and about ourselves.”

The Elk:

“It was a beautiful morning, not a cloud in the sky, and wonderfully quiet. I was strolling along a little absent-mindedly but feeling great when I approached a thicket of trees and turned a corner, and suddenly I was standing less than 10 feet away from the biggest ruminant I had ever seen. I had seen moose up in Maine and Canada and elk in Rocky Mountain National Park and Yellowstone grazing nonchalantly, even near the roads, but this guy had immense antlers and seemed to me to be the size of a pickup truck, and I was almost close enough to feel his breath. He must have been chewing on some bark or and I obviously completely surprised him. His head sprung up and he stared at me but didn’t move the rest of his body. I also didn’t move. I was totally caught off-guard and my heart was pounding, but I immediately realized that if he lowered his head and charged, I was toast, so when he froze, I froze.”

The Feral Dog:

“….right in front of my door was the most ragged feral dog I had ever seen. For some reason this dog had picked my house, which was smack-dab in the middle of the block, and had actually climbed to the top of my stoop (and these brownstone stoops are one-storey high). At first I was a bit scared that the dog might have rabies or, even if it didn’t, that it would bite me, as it bared its teeth and snarled at me as I came out, so I retreated back into my doorway, keeping the door slightly ajar. This animal looked truly pathetic. Its hair had mostly fallen out, with only a few patches remaining; it had scars all over; it was nearly all bone; it had some missing teeth, and its gums were in terrible shape. This dog had been on its own for a very long time, perhaps its whole life. I had never seen that sickly and pathetic looking a canine, or any creature.


“…I saw the mangled body of a porcupine in the middle of the road; it had obviously been hit by a car. Then I saw another porcupine by the side of the road, very agitated, pacing back and forth and in circles, making noises that sounded to me to be the equivalent of human wailing. I assumed it was the dead porcupine’s mate, and I was deeply saddened and moved. The mourning porcupine was still there when I came back down the road a half hour or so later. Two evenings later I ran up the road again, and to my astonishment the porcupine was still nearby, this time part of the way up a tree near the side of the road, continuing its display of grief. It had stayed near the body of its mate for 48 hours at least. The tenacity and intensity of its emotions were gut wrenching. No one who witnessed what I did could ever believe, as Descartes did, that animals are mere machines. The older I get the less I understand, but one thing I know unequivocally is that porcupines mourn their dead.”


J.P. Harpignies is a Brooklyn, NY-based consultant, conference producer, copy editor and writer. He is the author of several non-fiction books, including Double Helix Hubris (1997), Political Ecosystems (2004), and Delusions of Normality (2009); co-writer of The Magic Carpet Ride (2011); editor of the collection,Visionary Plant Consciousness (2007); and associate editor of the first two Bioneers books: Ecological Medicine and Nature’s Operating Instructions.

He has also been the associate producer of the Bioneers Conference ( since the early 1990s; co-founded the Eco-Metropolis Conference (2004/05); has served as a senior member of the Buckminster Fuller Challenge ( review team since 2011; and was formerly a program director at the New York Open Center (in the early/mid 1990s). JP also taught t’ai chi chuan in Brooklyn for 25 years.

JP Harpignies