NUTS AT THE BEST OF TIMES
So you wanted to know what happened to my beaver....
My reply is dedicated to the grandson who regarded the beavers who set up light housekeeping in my boathouse as being as cuddly as a kitten and gave me a picture for Christmas of one sleeping on its back with its paws in the air as if it were a hamster.
All this is prompted by a recent story about a crazed beaver attack near Washington. It is not clear whether the beaver was driven nuts by the presidential election campaign or just was rabid, the beaver that is, not the presidential candidates as far as we can tell. It would be tough to pin one of them down long enough to test, for rabies that is, not the truth.
An elderly woman was bitten by a beaver weighing 33 pounds (that's 15 kilos in that strange foreign measurement) and the beaver just wouldn't let go even when it was battered for more than 20 minutes.
She was seriously injured with a huge chomp out of her calf and a thumb nearly bitten off. Naturally she has to have those painful rabies shots.
The beaver is dead. It was shot after it was not deterred by having two paddles broken over it in repeating beatings by a friend, a rescuer and paramedics. It just kept attacking as paddles splintered and its eye was gouged with a stick.
What was really frightening about the story detailed in The Washington Post is that authorities were said to find the attack rare and the first in the Fairfax County area in nearly a dozen years. Good heavens! I've been attacked by a squirrel that was probably rabid and a fox that was acting strange, which is generally a warning, but I thought I was safe from beavers as long as they just stuck to cutting down my trees.
This story is food for thought for all those who think the beaver, the industrious pest, should be a national symbol for the country that was developed largely on its skins.
I have been busy at the cottage wrapping my trees in wire and coating bark with all the old pepper spices that I can find. The wrapping in the fall and the unwrapping in the spring has none of the joys of Christmas giving and all of the hassles of wire cuts in hands, arms and legs.
But every time I have been lazy and not bothered with a few trees, they are dropped by beaver even though there are woods all over the place filled with succulent trees. I have lost at least 12 mature trees, including a lovely stand of silver birch. Last winter, despite my precautions, I lost several willows and bushes. The main toll lately was a lovely 12-year-old evergreen because I hadn't put metal protective shields high enough around its trunk. The beaver just stretched and ate.
I have written about how disconcerting it is to go in your dark boathouse and as you are about to stand on what appears to be an abandoned old rug, it moves. So you retreat to the door and a very large beaver shuffles by you to the water. Next day, a smaller mate was there.
Nothing worked. I played classical music 24-hours a day. Apparently the beaver liked the classics. So I tried rock. Probably the beaver played air guitar at the sound. The beaver kept showing up. I left lights on. Nothing. Just the usual insane charges of Ontario Hydro.
One day I was in a rush, forgot about the beaver and charged into the boathouse, stepping right on it. I was so mad and off balance that I grabbed an old oar and hit it. It ignored me and moved slowly to the water. So I ran to my gun safe, took a very old, very reliable Cooey .22 and ran back. The beaver was swimming slowly in the middle of the Trent River. I deliberately shot lower than the beaver, not wanting to skim a bullet into a fisherman. It may have skipped into the beaver because there have been no beaver sightings in the boathouse for months.
But, in a sight that can turn a cottager's blood cold, last weekend there were two big sticks floating in the boathouse slip, both stripped of bark with the telltale gnawed ends.
A warning, a calling card from nature! So I went out and wrapped more wire around my trees.
In my 32 years at Burnt Point, I have cut down six dead trees and the beaver have brutalized 12 big ones and many saplings. I have planted 10 trees, eight of which have survived, and then there were the 20 fast-growth experimental trees I got from the provincial government, none of which survived my sons cutting grass and winter.
So far it's been a draw with the beaver. So I hope that rabies in beaver stays south of the border, along with their presidential politics.
P.S. My cottage neighbours at Burnt Point have listened to my beaver stories with amused tolerance....until now.
Beavers have been leaving their lodge across the Trent River, which is surrounded by acres of wetlands and bush on Nappan Island, swimming across the strong currents of the river, waddling through the cottages that line the point, and cutting down trees behind the cottages.
I have lost none because I have been, as I wrote above, armouring all my trees with wire fencing, even barbed wire. But in the last two days, beaver have dropped two poplars in two days across the cottage road. The neighbour that used to have those trees is now down to one out of a grove of six.
So our beaver may not have rabies but they are nuts. Can you imagine going to all that work when with a lot less effort, they can cut down trees closer to the lodge, stripping off some of the bark as if it were candy, and abandoning 95% of the tree?
So this is an open appeal to all hunters and trappers (and trappers are still around, my brother-in-law used to trap only 50 kilometres from Toronto) to come to Burnt Point and rid of us all the beavers and, just to really make the trip pay for itself, go after all those flying manure spreaders, the other great symbol of the country, the Canada geese that leave little mounds of excrement as their calling card.