even?

I had a realization today of the moment when my childhood ended. There was actually a moment in time where prior to that exact moment I was a child and after that exact moment I was not. As a child I loved beavers. I am not making a joke; I genuinely did love the aquatic rodents that made their homes in rivers and could cut down trees with their teeth. They were my childhood fascination. I have no idea why I liked them so much, but to me they were the pinnacle of what an animal could be. They weren’t the toughest or the meanest or the fastest; however, they always seemed like a really resourceful creature to me and I really like them and identified with them.

Many years later I grew up a little bit and I worked on a ranch for my uncle. I had to clean out the irrigation ditch every morning. It was a few-mile-long irrigation ditch that was about 5 feet wide. I had to clean it out because beavers built dams in it and if the dams sat there for too long they would cause the water to overflow and ruin the canal. It would have been a huge waste of water in a place where water is very valuable. One particular beaver built a dam every day I worked there that summer. I tried to do things to discourage him but this creek was going to be his house. I finally got fed up with him after about a month and decided I would go take care of him once and for all. I grabbed my grandfather’s 410 shotgun and headed up the canal.

It was about 8:30 at night and just getting dark and he had come out to get his work done. I had brought 2 shells with me. I was a pretty good shot and I figured I would only need one shell but I brought an extra just to be safe. The beaver was just sitting in about 2 feet of water doing his thing. He wasn’t scared of me at all. I walked right up to him, pulled out the shotgun, took aim, and fired. He flinched a little bit, but otherwise he just sat there in the water and looked at me. I immediately felt terrible because I didn’t want to hurt him. I wanted him to die instantly, but he just sat there. I moved a little closer thinking maybe I didn’t get penetration because he was under a few inches of water. I fired again and he flinched again but still just sat there. I was out of shells and he wasn’t dead. Then he slowly started turning over in the water. I thought he was going to turn upside down and die, but every time he would get turned about halfway over he would right himself. He didn’t try to escape or get away, he just didn’t want to be belly up. He still didn’t seem scared of me and I just stood there watching him calmly struggle to stay upright in the water. I debated on trying to drown him because I didn’t want him to suffer; however, I was too much of a pussy to actually kill him with my hands. I can’t think of many times i felt as bad as I did in that moment. I apologized to him. I actually said sorry out loud to him while he looked at me and then I went home. I thought about him all night, wondering how long it took him to die or how much time passed before some coyote finished the job I was too ashamed to do.

The next morning I rode up the trail expecting to be pulling him out of the ditch. I got to where i had shot him and he was nowhere to be seen. There was however the biggest beaver dam that I ever had to pull out of of that ditch. It took me most of the afternoon to tear it apart. I have no idea what happened to the guy I shot. I don’t know if he died and was immediately replaced by a larger beaver or if he survived and worked all night to spite me. In any case, I never fired a gun at a living thing ever again. I don’t care if anyone else does it; I just know it’s not for me. I also never rode up that ditch again that summer without spending at least two hours pulling apart a dam at that exact spot. I really hope that it was the same beaver that I shot that was building those dams. And I hope that by the end of the summer he felt like we were even.

The Beav

Published by

jlegler

Geeky musician born and raised in Wyoming and currently living in Denver CO.

2 thoughts on “even?”

  1. My mother, a naturally skinny woman, used to say that being fat and then losing weight was more rewarding than being naturally thin. Whenever she used to say that, I moaned and groaned because I didn’t understand.

    But reading this anecdote reminded me of that. Having had some sort of experience with killing an animal, and then seeing him not die, and feeling that sense of guilt, you said that gave you reason not to do it again. And I suppose that kind of thing is in some ways better than being raised to not kill animals. Kind of like sweating to learn a new language instead of growing up bilingual or growing up under the influence of a certain political mindset and growing away from that.

    Anyway, I enjoyed this here story.

  2. I’m Jason’s mom and currently into recognizing and sometimes even enjoying those coincidences, those apparent accidents life sends my way. I grew up on that ranch Jason described and on occasion I was allowed to irrigate the hayfields. When I was a child, irrigation was managed by placing a canvas dam in a fairly small ditch and cutting out areas of earth with a shovel for the water to overflow in the direction one wanted to irrigate. I couldn’t manage the dams very well, but I could go up on the hill and open new cuts, close old cuts and change the path the precious water would take. My father had taught me that beavers had their place, but their place was not in our ditch.

    And so one day when I was ten or eleven I ran into a young beaver in the ditch where I was making cutouts. He should not have been there, it was not a large enough ditch for him to do anything in. In hindsight, I’d say we were both young and stupid. Knowing how my dad felt about beavers, I decided to get rid of him. I’m not entirely certain where the impetus for this decision came from, but I decided the ditch was mine. All I had was my shovel. I walked along the narrow ditch and when I got near the young beaver, I hit him as hard as I could with the shovel. Of course it didn’t kill him, so I hit him again….and again…and again.

    This event happened a lifetime ago – and I honestly can’t remember if I killed that beaver or not. I think I probably did. I do remember running down the hill to the house, weeping, feeling empty and wretched. And I also remember making a vow to never intentionally hurt another living thing. It’s a vow I’ve worked to keep.

    Isn’t it interesting that a beaver taught me such a valuable lesson that long ago day? Isn’t it interesting that same archetypal beaver taught my son a similar lesson? The beaver is known for his work ethic, his stubborn determination to get the job done. Isn’t it interesting that Jason and I both share the work ethic of the beaver? I’d say we both got a whole lot more than we took on the banks of that Colorado ditch.

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