Tuesday, December 3, 2019
NEW IN TOWN: Leave It To Beavers
No one told me about the beavers.
I bought my beautiful rural abode in the dead of winter, and moved in on April Fools’ Day. Well, wouldn’t you pick a day like that if you knew nothing about life beyond the big city? I’m embarrassed to say I had no idea where my property ended until a month after I’d bought it and moved in.
Whenever I described my new home to my city friends, I’d regale them with its finest features: five acres, four bedrooms, three ponds, two basements, one swimming pool. Most people were green with envy. The smarter ones - those who had ever lived outside Toronto - eyed me with something between amusement and disbelief.
They shouldn’t have been surprised. I’d been living on a main street in a busy metropolis, and I was beginning to develop what I can only describe as “land hunger”. Last year, I’d bought myself a splitting axe. Every time I heard of a felled tree in my downtown Toronto neighbourhood, I was out there with my Ochsenkopf (it’s a German axe, and it means oxhead) practising becoming a proficient splitter of wood. I took up beekeeping on the flat roof of my tiny commercial building. Once the bees were established, I started growing vegetables in containers: potatoes, leeks, peas, ginger, garlic, basil, green onions, tomatoes, rhubarb.
I was quite proud of my agricultural prowess. Raccoons and squirrels were unable to scale the walls of my building to raid the garden, and the honeybees were only interested in the pots of lavender I’d planted. My urban rooftop farm had an impressive advantage over my neighbours’ backyard gardens: no known predators. It was fun to brag about growing my own food, and my pride was only slightly wounded when a out-of-town acquaintance with on-the-ground gardening credentials tartly pointed out: “ You know, potatoes are essentially the cockroaches of the vegetable patch.”
But the beavers.
Between Ponds 2 and 3, there’s an island. Soon after I moved in, my brother and sister-in-law came to visit. We decided to explore the island. None of us had ever owned an island before and because it was unfamiliar territory, my brother decided to bring the axe, in case anything needed chopping.
He needn’t have bothered. Clearly, we were not the first creatures who had ever walked on this island. It looked like a giant had dropped by and whittled all the trees to pencil-like points with his penknife. We forged ahead, trying not to impale ourselves on all the sharpened stumps. At the north end of the island, we discovered a lovely two-seater wooden bench set on some flagstones overlooking one of the ponds. My brother and his wife sat down on the bench in the sun, and my sister-in-law enthused about what a wonderful reading nook it would be on a warm summer day.
“Look at all that firewood beside you”, I chimed in, pointing to an enormous heap of logs with no bark left on them. “We didn’t need the axe after all. It’s a shame they’re so far from the firepit.” My brother glanced over his shoulder at the log pile. He looked at the axe. And back at the pile of logs with their sharp pointy ends. I could hear him thinking.
Now, if you’re reading this and you’ve lived in Wellington County for a while, you can stop reading right now, because you know exactly where this story is going. But I’m new here, and I’m going to be repeating this story to every single city slicker who comes to visit this year.
You know how we Canadians think of the beaver as the quintessentially Canadian mammal? It’s our mascot. We have them on our nickel. We regard them as industrious, shoulder-to-the-wheel type of creatures. I confess that I was quite enthusiastic about the beavers on my island at first. I even tweeted about them a couple of days later to Toronto City Councillor Gord Perks.
Gord didn’t mince words. You remember that phrase to which I attributed the success of my rooftop garden? No known predators? Gord pointed out that Canada sent 20 Manitoba beavers to Tierra Del Fuego in 1947, hoping to jumpstart an Argentinian beaver fur industry. They thrived because they had no known predators. Today, the Argentinian beaver population is out of control. Yes, the beaver is taking over the Americas, one small island at a time.
Starting with mine.