a word with beaver
I’ve been endlessly interrupted on my daily forest walks. Seems the neighbourhood beaver keeps calling me. Sometimes I sit with him for long whiles, soaking up the sun on my face while my bottom freezes on the ice. Thought I might share a recent conversation:
Me: Why do you do what you do?
Mr. B: What else would you have me do?
I don’t know. What is it that makes you do things uniquely beaver? How do you come into the world and just know what it is to be a beaver?
Could I build a nest in the trees or a tunnel in the dry earth? I am a beaver. I do what I must. I’m compelled.
But why “must”? What compels? Are you born with directions woven into your brain? What if you lived in a concrete pool in a concrete habitat with panes of glass holding you in? Some zoo in some place far away? What if there was nothing to build. Nothing to expand into. Only that.
Surely they would toss me some mud and twigs?
No. Not enough to build anything with. Maybe enough for show. Maybe enough for a nod of approval, make the people that came to see you feel better about it. Nothing of substance.
I would build with what I had.
But there’s no water to stop. Nothing to divert. No lodge to house you.
Then I would do as you do. Wait for the treats in my confinement and try not to go mad. What else would there be to do?
I suppose you could try to escape.
Well yes, of course. Are there wetlands around this zoo? A world I could thrive in?
No. Probably not.
Why are we talking about this anyway? Here I am in my home with my family, living quite snug, content in my place. Why imagine awful things? Why ask what it is to be a beaver? You humans spend too much time in your brains. Don’t you have work to do?
I think the work we do requires our brains.
I’m not convinced.
So, let me ask you then. What is it that makes you do the things humans do?
What do humans do? There is no instinct that drives us all to build a certain structure or perform a certain task. We all do different things. Some want to rule for the sake of ruling. Some want to consume for the sake of growing bigger. Some want to live in that concrete enclosure and be cared for, others want to escape. We’ve evolved, I suppose, on traditions, but now tradition is even suspect.
And you? You want to sit on frozen ponds and talk to imaginary beavers?
Yes. And the ravens overhead. And the trees and the woodpeckers and anything else that has stories and wisdom to share.
Because the beaver, you in the beaver lodge you have built, is only a mud wall away. You’re in there. I can see the steam rising from your roof. You are more real than the world my fellow humans are telling me I am a part of. I’m weary of their lifeless fables. There is no lie in you. There is no illusion to tease apart or hidden agenda to be on guard for. You are noble in the honesty of your pursuits.
Noble? How strange a compliment for a rodent that uses no such measure. Makes no matter. I am only one in a long line of beavers, born with an instinct to do the work to hold the water and to carry on that legacy. Perhaps that’s noble for humankind. Beavers don’t get hung up on such things. We carry on the work we have been given to do. We raise our young who carry the endless echo of instructions in their bones. That is a duty passed on by our ancestors. There is no other way. Just like the deer that drink from the ponds we have created. Just like the coyote that was here just this morning, scratching at the roof of my home, trying to get in for a morsel - we are here to do what we do. The problem with humans is you have too many choices. Your human zoos are just too big. Too many offerings. Too many choices. All of it to keep you away from listening to the messages in your own bones.
Mmmm.. yes, more zoo than natural habitat.
They are easier, I’ll give you that. More comfortable, I suppose. The zoos feed you, but you get sick. They keep you warm and give you lights, but those make you sick, too. They fill your lives with synthetics - synthetic relationships, synthetic food, synthetic heat when you should be cold, synthetic cold when you should be hot, synthetic lights when the sun sleeps, synthetic gloss to look synthetically healthy. Stuffed and starved. Your instincts and the skills of your ancestors lie dormant. But, you humans seem to like it when things are easy. Beavers have other motivations.
We never used to be that way. It’s just been in the last while, really. Our ancestors used to value freedom. They were willing to take on the hardship that freedom demands. I don’t think it’s like that so much anymore. We talk about freedom, but our driving motivations, as a general rule, are more about comfort and security now. We are addicted to pleasure. It makes us easy to handle. We’re told to do things that keep us safe and assured it will help us outrun death.
How do you do that?
Just a magic trick.
Makes people feel better. They get to pretend that prolonging the non-living of a life gives it value instead of taking risks that make us alive. Life with childproof corners. Those lost instincts and skills of our ancestors, that you mentioned earlier, replaced by longer years in confinement. I read once that even beavers born in captivity, living in cement enclosures, began to maniacally start looking for materials to build dams with when their handlers played the sound of running water. Just from the sound! They would build little mounds that did nothing on the concrete floor.
Like humans, you mean?
Yes. I suppose so.
Well then, here you are. A big human with all the power to destroy or create, to think yourself into or out of anything. You can chase any pleasure you want. You can trade your time to pay for your own babysitting, be fed and clothed and sheltered by the work of others. You can have it all and instead, you are sitting here on the ice with the winter wind on your naked face, talking to a beaver. Is there no-one else more qualified to help you with your quandaries?
No. You’re it for today. As real as I can find.
p.s. I wanted to share a little gift with you - a small video I made of a beaver that crossed my path a few weeks ago. He was the first of many that have been asking me to listen. I am no video maker, but I hope the two or so minute video of this fella’ brings you some joy and maybe even a little peace into your day. Follow along as he sources his tree, cuts it down with his massive teeth, struggles to remove it, and, finally, brings it home - an epic saga if ever there was.