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The Beaver by Col. Stoopnagle

            A beaver is an animal that when people say they're busy, they say they're as busy as.  And it's no wonder, for if it hadn't been for the beaver, and the enviable reputation he has built for carrying industry to excess, we might have to say: "Don't bother me now, I'm busy as a walrus" -- or an ostrich, or a mother salmon, which doesn't sound nearly as well.  And besides, I have a faint suspicion that while a mother salmon may be terribly busy getting up to where she's going from where she's just been, she could hardly be called "busy" while she eventually spends morning, noon and night simply hovering over a nice, tasty mess of roe.

            Beavers have broad, flat tails, but many are the tall tales which have been circulated (some surreptitiously) about what they do with these clumsy appendages.  I have heard it said that the beaver uses his tail for the following purposes:

            1.  He has his mate pile logs, branches, bushes, dead Indians, old, broken-down rowboats and stuff like that on it and tows them to where he's building a dam.  Then he detaches himself from his tail, and, leaving it for some relative, or somebody, to unload, he returns for another tail and a fresh supply of junk.  But I really doubt whether beavers detach their own tails; however, I was once shot at by a porcupine, until my expansive posterior looked like grandmother's pin-cushion, so who am I to take issue with the "Beavers-do-too-detach-their-tail" school of thought.

            2.  He uses his tail for playing Paddle Tennis, between being busy.  I rather question this, too, as most all beavers with whom I've come in contact don't even have time to relax with a cigarette, it's "that busy them bavers is."  (Can I help it if the St. Patrick's Day parade happens to be passing by while I write this?)

            3.  The beaver's tail folds forward over his back, and as the under side is red, he then looks vastly like a fire-plug.  This is perfectly ridiculous.  In the first place, a fire-plug is usually found near a street, and beavers are always found way out in the woods somewhere.  And besides, every fire-plug I ever saw had the name of the manufacturer stamped on it, like say: "Oh So Peachy Fire Plug Company".  And no self-respecting beaver would stand still long enough to have the stenciling done, let alone the actual stamping with a hot iron.  It's all folderol, I believe, and the sooner people get this idea out of their minds, the sooner our country will be back to subnormal again.

            4.  His tail is used to make butter-paddles for the modern kitchen.  True, the beaver's tail is shaped somewhat like a butter-paddle.  But it's hard enough for the neophyte to make butter-balls with stiff wooden paddles, without trying to make them with limp beaver-tails.  I thought, once, of opening up a school for teaching people how to be beaver-tail-butter-ball paddlers, but I gave it up when I found my Head Beaver-trapper was inadvertently leaving the beavers on the other end of some of the paddles.

            But of course all these legends about the beaver are strictly the fabrications of prolific imaginations.  He's really a lovely little rodent, and if it weren't for him, there would probably be practically no beaver dams in this country.  They'd be "otter dams" or "weasel dams," and you know as well as I do that that sounds silly.  "Porcupine dam" would be just as bad, as I have never seen a porcupine yet who looked as though he ever gave a dam.

            It was a delight to look forward to going to the Sportsmen's Show in Grand Central Palace some weeks ago, for I wanted to see at first hand how the busy beaver works in front of an audience.  So I donned my beaver cap and buskins and walked through the Lexington Avenue slush to see the show.  After wandering aimlessly about for an hour or so, inside, I finally came upon a wire fence surrounding what looked to be a hunk of brook that somehow got separated from the mother creek.  A sign on the fence said: 

BEAVER GENUS CASTOR AMPHIBIOUS RODENT 

            I fully expected, then, to look upon a veritable whirligig of seething activity -- animals racing about hither and thither, with hammers and nails, building dams so fast that attendants had to keep tearing them down lest they go right up to and through the roof.  But I sought in vain for any evidences of these things; instead, I finally discovered three beavers, two sound asleep and one floating lazily around in about a foot of nice, clean water.  Show business and a fair measure of success in it apparently does the same things to beavers as it does to humans.  Back in West Dakota, or wherever these animals had sprung from, they were perhaps voted "most industrious of the tribe," and were awarded the trip east as their prize.  Perhaps, the lady beaver (if indeed one of them was a lady) may have been awarded the wreath for being Miss Industrious of 1940.  At any rate, all these honors were obviously too much for them to bear lightly, and gradually they became "hammy," indolent and quite snooty.  I understand that after two weeks of this luxurious living, the autograph hounds were forced to swim three feet under water to get Miss Beaver's signature.

            Then of course, the ordinary, run-of-the-mill sticks of the forest weren't just the right shape for these high-falutin' beavers, so men had to furnish them with pieces already sharpened, and I overheard Miss Beaver complaining to her keeper because the hunk of birch she was working on wasn't cut into even lengths and beveled.  So it finally came to a point where men had to be hired to build dams for the beavers, which the little animals spent their spare moments hauling down.  Next year, it is rumored that the beavers are holding the Show at Grand Central Palace, with men in cages building man-dams.  All of which makes us think a little doesn't it? 

[From ?, ‘Vestpocket Essays,’ May 1940]

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Page created November 14, 2006.  Copyright 1998-2006 by Richard D. Squires.