I wander through the woods to check the pond behind our house. The beaver is there, near the outflow that I intend to open up to discourage her and her partner from settling in. She slowly swims towards her lodge, then back again, looking at me from about 20 feet. She does not seem afraid of me. She looks like she is wondering if I will once again undo her hard work, as I have done every day this week. Maybe she thinks, “Here is that strange creature again, coming to take apart the section of dam most critical to keeping this pond level up. I don’t understand this at all. He does not eat from the pond, nor does he take the materials he is removing for his own use. It seems that all he wants to do is to ruin our home and livelihood.”
I actually am trying to save the beavers. I love the thought of them living nearby. But we have had these animals before, and since our forest is mostly conifer, they venture closer and closer to our home seeking food. Unfortunately, their preferred treats are those few deciduous and ornamental trees we have around our immediate yard. A couple of years ago we trapped a beaver that was gnawing alarmingly close to our house. Now I seek a less violent solution. My idea involves dismantling their dam each day, in hopes that they are discouraged and decide to find another home. I really don’t want them to go away; I just know what will happen if they settle in too happily.
I talk to the beaver out loud. I say that I am sorry as I remove the sticks, weeds, and mud that have been laboriously placed at the outflow overnight. I speak in English. I don’t know beaver tongue but I am hoping that universal body language and tone and inflection will adequately communicate my apology. I think it is too much to hope for her to understand the depth of my guilt and sadness for disrupting their critical efforts to survive, but I wish she could nevertheless.
Life seems filled with these conflicts of interest, especially apparent in the food chain where one organism’s survival often requires another’s death or displacement. Do ethical terms of right or wrong apply? Am I acting morally in disrupting the beavers’ natural survival efforts in order to spare them a worse fate I can easily bring upon them? Or is this simply rationalization? My own survival does not depend on either outcome.
I ponder these conundrums, and my thoughts turn to the beaver’s food supply. I wonder about the beaver’s right to survive versus the right of vegetation to survive. One rarely hears concern about the actual death of a tree, unless it is a particularly old and venerable specimen. We seem more focused on either their functionality or their aesthetics. Is it reasonable to be concerned not just about my own convenience of having an attractive forest and landscape around to enjoy, but also about the actual death of these living organisms? One beaver can kill many trees.
I am left with feeling that the best I can do is to be, to use a Buddhist term, “awake.” Awake to the complexities that can lay unnoticed in the simplest of situations. Awake to the consequences of my actions. Awake to the limitations of my good intentions, even as I attempt to align my actions with my values. Awake to the life around me. Awake to the life within me, trying to express itself fully without compromising other life. Awake to the challenge of this, knowing all is interconnected.
I hope the beavers can soon find another safe home, just far enough away for us to peacefully coexist.
P.S. About a week after this entry was written, the two beavers left my small pond in search of a new home. I wish them well….