Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Busy as a Beaver

Yesterday we joined Matthew for his tracking program at Paradise Beach. He wasn’t there when we arrived, so Anouk and I waited in the car. She was squirrelly and seemed to want to pick a fight with me. Her metamorphosis has been challenging for me. I’m so sad about the loss of my sweet little girl and so afraid that I will just push this growing woman away. It has not been an easy transition. She seems to be unable to control her wild energy and often pushes and goads and always wants the last word. Sometimes I tell her to just stop and ask for a few minutes of silence. It seems like the only way to get out of the power struggle—at least the only way that I know, right now. Then our friend Reed and Matthew showed up, and Anouk laid into him for awhile. Why was he late? Why did we have to talk so long about what we were going to do? Why was he acting like a kid?

As we made our way toward the river, we spotted some tracks. We are learning to track, so we like to be aware of any signs of animals. However, these were not animal tracks; they were tire tracks. We might have just dismissed them and continued on our merry way, but the neat thing about tracking is that you open yourself up to the story of the land. There was no reason a truck should’ve even been in that area; it is closed off to vehicles. Why were these tracks there? The tires looked like they had sunk deep into the sand. We thought maybe the truck had gotten stuck.

Then Matthew spotted two rectangular impressions on the outside of the tire tracks. He thought maybe they were tow truck stabilizers. Then I noticed a smaller set of tracks plowing through the willows and continuing further down the hill. Because the willows were trampled, it led us further to believe that it must have been someone who didn’t really care about the landscape. At the bottom of the incline, we found some more chaotic tracks in the sand. There were also some (from the smell of them) newly burnt logs. Maybe someone had been partying here. Maybe they had spun their wheels in the sand. Just when we thought we’d figured it out, Matthew saw more burnt logs further ahead. The riddle was pulling us forward to reveal itself. When we climbed a small hill, we found that there had been a fire in a stand of trees! The tracks must have been those of a firetruck. We were exploring the debris when Matthew remembered that he’d often seen a pile of dead branches and leaves at the base of the tree—like the river had piled up debris there over the years or someone had built a little earth shelter. We found lots of bottles, cans, clams, a lighter, a burnt boot…that might indicate the latter. Then Matthew noticed smoke. It was still burning! As he explored, he found live coals. It was VERY hot. So he called to let a ranger know to come check on it. They said sometimes it takes a couple days for a fire to burn itself out. If that’s the case, I wonder if they check up on it? Well, since Matthew always comes to the river prepared, we had a couple buckets. So we gathered water from the river and began to turn up, soak and spread the coals. Matthew dug a deep pit in the loam before he finally reached the end of the coals. And, even penetrating into the earth at the bottom, it was hot! What a story!

On one of our trips to get water, Anouk voiced her newfound complaint of “I’m bored.” She had just found a great stick that had all its bark and both its ends gnawed off by a beaver! Satisfied that the fire was out, Matthew had something he wanted to show us. He led us to some tracks in the sand and asked us if we could tell what was happening, what was being dragged, what direction it was being dragged in, etc…. It was a continuous path, about two feet wide and striped the length of it. Anouk was fading and not open to discovery and so Matthew brought her further to look at the source. He pointed to a broken tree limb and got her to compare it to her beaver stick. Once we recognized them as the work of a beaver dragging tree limbs down to the river, we saw evidence of their activity everywhere! There were tracks and gnawed trunks all over the place. If Anouk and I had been walking alone, we would’ve missed out on that story, too.

Following their tracks, we discovered more questions. We wondered why they were dragging the limbs down to the water. Beavers around here don’t live in dams; they live in the riverbank. Matthew said that they take the limbs down to the river to keep them fresh. They eat the cambium layer just under the outer bark. I asked if I could try some. Anouk was appalled, but I said I wanted to taste what beavers taste—at least as best I could. I know that cats don’t have taste buds for sweet, so I imagined that Beavers taste buds had different receptors, too. I wondered if it would be hard for us to digest, but Matthew said it is easier than grass. Surprisingly, Anouk ate her piece, too! It was very bitter but had a nutty undertone. It tasted like some buds we had sampled a couple weeks ago! And sure enough, Matthew said that this was their favorite tree. I’ll bet they co-evolved with the river: the beavers and the cottonwoods.

I decided that Anouk could probably benefit from some lunch. So I plopped down and served it up. We had roast beef sandwiches and the end of a bag of pretzels. She didn’t balk, ate it all, had some water, and seemed to have renewed energy and enthusiasm.

Now it was time to choose what to do for the remainder of our day. We narrowed it down to three choices: a treasure hunt, blindfolded drum stalking or crawfishing. We chose the latter. When we got to the water I was feeling a little warm. Suddenly an urge overcame me to throw up. I usually have an iron stomach, so this was surprising. I decided to stay behind. Remember the remainder of the pretzel bag? I think my body wanted to get rid of the salt that I had wrongly assumed was about a teaspoon of pretzel crumbs. Maybe the cottonwood helped me purge it, too. I felt better.

It was nice just sitting there. I saw all sorts of ducks, an egret, a praying mantis, and humans with their dogs. It was enjoyable watching my little girl out in the glow, too. I’ve been feeling, deep down, that this is what she needs more of at this time in her life. Her energy has been so frenetic! And the day was so expansive and relational. She and Matthew and Reed were working as a team. Anouk had the bucket and the eyes. Matthew would lift boulders, Anouk would spot the crawfish and Reed would fearlessly catch them. When it was time to go, they’d probably caught around seven. Although this wasn’t the most productive spot, it was enough. Anouk was suddenly realizing the reality of the situation and getting uncomfortable. We were going to have these for dinner. We picked the three biggest ones and let the rest go. Oh, and there were freshwater clams, too!

We drove right home. Anouk took a shower, set the table and communed with the crawfish while I made dinner. When it came time to cook Anouk’s catch, she didn’t want to watch. I was feeling a little uncertain, myself, so I enlisted Robley’s help. He even got creative with it. I’ll post our recipe on Sunday in my Recipe of the Week. We don’t usually pray before our meals, but we did for this one. There’s something about catching your own food. It evokes an intimacy and gratefulness that an amorphous, irradiated, vacuum-sealed package of beef does not. What creature is a beef anyway? A pork? It used to bother me when Robley would call ham or bacon “pig,” and now I see why; we’ve removed ourselves from the source. In some ways I want to get back to that source. Imagine how much less meat you’d eat. You might not even require as much, because of the freshness. I’ll even bet that local food has the vitamins and minerals that our bodies need. I’ll bet that a crawdad or a carrot from our biome is better for us than one from another place—even if we traveled to that other place to eat it fresh. I’m just fascinated that the Inuits get enough from their seal and whale diets. They eat what the seals eat, too. That’s another good reason to take care of our environment. If we do, it really is abundant and can sustain us, no matter where we live.


  1. What a fantastic adventure! :)

  2. Mmm-hmm. I can't believe that they just let a fire burn out like that, especially in such a public area. It was really hot. It's amazing all the adventures there are around us; all we need to do is open ourselves to them. A good guide is helpful, too. What a life!