Wednesday, August 14, 2013



I think I hold the unique status as the only living man to hit a beaver over the head with a whippletree.
As a kid reporter, I was warned never to write that something was unique or the first of its kind. The world is a big place and has seen a lot of firsts.
But I'm pretty sure there aren't many who will try to take this unique title away from me. After all, there may be too many damn beaver around (even in Toronto parks) but there aren't a lot of whippletrees  these days.
If that blow doesn't strike you as remarkable, I have also hit the same beaver (I think) with an orange 100' extension cord. Should have used the cord to strangle it but I didn't want to get chomped. After all, beaver attacks certainly aren't unique.
In case you're baffled about the first weapon, a whippletree is the swing bar in front of the horses to which the harness traces and tongue of the carriage or wagon are connected.  I have used one for years because I hang flower pots from the big iron rings at either end and use the big centre ring to hang the floral contraption on the boathouse or in a tree. My late brother-in-law, Gordon Long, was a great collector of antique agricultural implements and farm odds and ends, and snapped this one up at a sale because there aren't many whippletrees left. (I just love writing that word.)
I have often written about my running battle with beaver at Burnt Point north of Campbellford on the Trent River. It literally is fought with tooth and claw, those damn big buckteeth of the beaver on the one side, and and barbed wire, fencing, noxious spices, guns, extension cords and whippletrees on my side. My last blog/column was on Nov. 11, 2012, titled To Hell With Beavers. (Come to think of it, that would never happen because Satan would be afraid that all the beaver dams would put out the hellfire.)
The score is about 15 trees and countless bushes on the beaver side, and maybe a wounding on my side, but with my eyesight I doubt it.
Now I used to love beaver. I grew up an eternity ago reading the wonderful tales of Grey Owl and his Ojibwe comrades when he raised beaver babies and generally sang a siren song for conservationists.
It seemed a simpler time. The Mounties were national heroes who always got their man and could sing like Nelson Eddy, and senators didn't cheat on expenses (or so we thought.)
 Then I discovered that Grey Owl was a phoney, not an native but an Englishman who dreamed up a colourful history where not even the dates were real.
He wasn't the last to write great stories about animals which may have had more than a tinge of exaggeration. Farley Mowat certainly has done a wonderful job of that without pretending to be a native, just from Newfoundland.
About the time I discovered that the RCMP were just another bunch of cops in nice uniforms, I also had discovered a multitude of evidence about the great gulf between city and country when it came to nature.
I  discovered that farmers have a much tougher attitude towards beaver that flood their fields and cut down useful trees, and the deer who cut up their crops with their hoofs, and the assorted vermin that eat their vegetables, than city folk who have this romantic view of the animal world and even, for some stupid reason, think any animal is equal to a human.
More than thirty years ago, the local Burnt Point beaver clan sounded the opening gun in the campaign against me by chomping down a wonderful stand of three silver birches and just leaving them screwing up the waterfront. Each year there are more fatalities, despite every stratagem I can employ.
Since a pair of beaver have taken to living in my boathouse (but never together), I have taken to playing music 24-7  there on a radio with the idea that might drive them away, I figured the incessant promotion of Moses Znaimer and his family on the new classical FM station (it seems to have been new for a century) would annoy them as much as it does me (just the classics please, not the Boomer crap.)
 It would keep them away for a few weeks but then they would return. So I played rock 'n' roll, which doesn't have a lasting preventive effect either.
So I tried the CBC. My son Mark was doing the impossible and straightening up the boathouse when the big male swam in and sat in the wet slip listening, apparently, to the CBC news. Seems the news annoyed him after a few minutes as much as it usually does me so it left, probably in protest.
A month ago, I figured we had driven the beaver away for good. So I wasn't careful when I went into the boathouse gloom and started fiddling at the workbench. ( In the past, I have actually stepped on the big male thinking it was a discarded rug.)
This time, to my surprise, a beaver moved near my feet, I backed to the door (you always give animals an escape route) and bumped into the whippletree.
What the hell, I thought. So I hit it over the head with it. It was like hitting a boulder with a dandelion.
It swam off. It returned a few weeks later, a sneaky surprise. When it moved in the dark and then rushed towards me. I reached behind me, couldn't find the whippletree, but came up with the extension cord. So I walloped it with that, while letting out war whoops that Grey Owl would have appreciated around the camp fire.
The neighbours don't laugh at me anymore because they have lost too many trees, and then there is the problem for them of sawing up the branches and trunks so they can drive down the humble road.
I know of a trapper that the OPP used when the cops had a beaver problem behind their Orillia headquarters. I also know where the beaver lodge is located right across the Northumberland Narrows. Back in the 1930s when Grey Owl was spinning his tall tales, a farmer would just take a stick of dynamite out of the cache in the barn that he used for blowing up stumps and stick one in the lodge.
But we're more civilized today, especially in the cities where beaver are right up there on the national pedestal with that other wonderful Canadian icon, the flying manure spreaders known as the Canada goose.
All I say is to know them is not to love them. Maybe I should try rap music on the boathouse radio. Surely even the Canadian symbol can't stand that, not knowing that in this politically correct time, we aren't allowed to criticize ethnic culture, or destructive animals either.

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