The sun had not yet peeked over the horizon and already Bill had moved a cord of wood blocking the canal. A hard day’s work never bothered Bill much. “A Beaver has got to do what a Beaver does best,” he always said.
“Break Time!”, Chuck yelled, jingling his thermos.
“What’s up Chuck?”
“I hate it when you say that; you know I have a weak stomach.”
“It’s probably from drinking all that nettle and dandelion tea.” Bill instantly regretted his last remark; knowing it would only provoke Chuck into an endless conversation about his multitude of ailments and how nature has a cure for everything.
“I added some ginger root today to help with my Irritable Bowl Syndrome; it really helps settle the tubing down. You know, if …”
A black bear jumped out from the bushes and stopped the woodchuck mid-sentence.
“You scared the scat right out of me Barry!”
Bark brew sprayed out of Bill’s mouth and Barry fell to the ground laughing, as the woodchuck stepped away from a fresh pile of droppings. “Looks like the tubing is working just fine to me,” Bill joked.
Chuck just shook his head. Getting teased was just part of the morning ritual.
“Quick get up, some hotties are coming!” Barry ushered. “Chuck look,” pointing to a pair of cinnamon bears headed down to the water’s edge. “How could anyone be a vegetarian with Grade A pieces of rump like that at the pond?”
“Ladies, ladies, if you are thirsty why don’t you head back to my den for a taste of some chocolate love?” The pair of grizzlies sized him up and made a joke about his small stature before they sauntered off.
“What is it with you and the big girls?” Bill questioned. “Too much of a good thing if you ask me.”
“What can I say? I like big humps and I cannot lie!” The friends laughed at Barry’s comment.
“Speaking of ladies that are too much to handle,” the black bear continued, “I heard that skunk Shirley came over to your place last night.”
“That dang wife of mine, always so sympathetic towards the riffraff. She let that rotten old bag come into our house and gave her the last piece of my pie; that I was saving for my lunch.”
The friends settled down on some tree stumps with their morning beverages and listened intently to Bill’s story.
“That bitter hag complained for an hour about how my daily wood work is keeping her up in the morning. As if it is my fault she was out all hours of the night; probably hissing at the moon with those other witches she hangs out with.”
“She was eating each spoonful slowly, making all these gross moaning noises, telling the wife how amazing she is and how I had better appreciate her. She sat there, taunting me with my pie and flirting with my old lady.”
“So, I flashed her a little side tooth, let her know I was on to her, and you would not believe what that nasty skunk did next.”
Bill’s face tensed up, his hair spiking further with each word. “She farted, right there, in my chair, eating my pie!”
“Oops! Excuse me, she says, like she let that noxious odor out on accident. I swear, she left her mark all around the house when she left. My nose hairs are still burning from her presence.”
“These woods would smell a lot sweeter if someone skewered that skunk!“
“Dad! We sprung a leak again!” Bill’s rage was interrupted by the frazzled call of his teenage son, Woody.
“What happened?!” Bill asked as he walked into the dam.
“I was fixing my hair and I needed more water to see my reflection. But I only pulled one small sprig to fill the sink, just like you told me,” the young beaver made sure to add.
“No, Woody, I told you to walk the 3 feet out the door and look in the pond instead of jeopardizing the integrity of our home for your vanity,” Bill lectured. “So, what did you fix it with?”
“What do you mean?” the teenager asked confused.
“What did you do to stop the leak?” Bill spoke extra-long and waved his paws, mocking his son with his body language. Woody just stood there dumb founded.
“Did you weave in some more wicker or nail an oak plank down with some maple sap?”
“I didn’t fix it! If I had fixed it, I wouldn’t have needed to come and get you,” the words sarcastically rolled with his eyes.
When Bill stepped into the bathroom, his foot sank deep into a foot of water. “What are you waiting for? Come plug up this hole with your tail while I grab some tools. I’ll be back in just a minute; try not to break anything else while I’m gone!”
Woody had his back to the wall, for what seemed like an eternity. As he stood there sealing the leak with his tail, he wondered if anyone had ever really been back in ‘just a minute’.
More water began spraying a foot away. He reached over with his paw and plugged up the new leak. Then another sprang, and another. Woody was stretched all across the dam wall, precariously holding the holes with different parts of his body.
The walls of the dam started to bulge and bend and creak. Really close to Woody’s mouth, a pine cone started to shake and rattle. He stretched his teeth out as far as he could, trying desperately to prevent a new rupture while still holding the existing ones.
Pop! Just as he was coming around the corner, the pine cone shot out of the wall and hit Bill square in the eye.
“Stop messing around Woody! This is no time to eat. Get off that wall and come help me.”
When Woody stood up, the dam wall looked as if it was made of Swiss Cheese rather than wood.
“Oh Dear,” his mother said, when she came to check on all the commotion.
The Beaver family spent the better part of an hour patching the framework with moss, leaves, and twigs.
“Well, I’m off to go hang with Otto and Fin,” Woody said as he tried to leave the room.
“Oh, No you’re not! You are not hanging out with that pond scum while there is work to be done.”
“All we ever do is work, work, work; and for what? I want to live for more than these dam problems and this holey house. I’m tired of wasting my life away, I just want to be me.”
“Wasting your life is exactly what you are doing with those freeloaders. Beavers have always worked hard, it’s what we do,” his dad replied.
“A Beaver has got to do what a Beaver must, and being a Beaver you must always be.” Bill recited his trade motto with his head held high and his teeth bucked out.
“Now let’s get to work; these patches are not going to hold for long.”
“They never do,” Woody remarked.
Father and Son Beaver set out to the edge of the pond to get the supplies to repair their home.
“We need some good sappy birch to plug up the leaks. We should also get some pine to build support beams for the walls,” Bill said.
“We can’t use Pine Dad. You know mom objects to using fir,” Woody reminded.
“Oh, that’s right. Geesh, women can be so sensitive.” Bill thought about his options for a moment. “We can just get some kind of strong wood, like oak. It might not last all year, but it should hold up nicely.”
“Which pile should we start with?” Woody said, pointing to a couple of log piles on the pond.
“I’m tired of using this worn-out wood! Let’s start with that patch of aspen trees.”
“But Dad!” Woody cried, “We have to recycle. If everyone just chopped down all the trees, what would we have left? They take forever to grow.”
“Why is it that every other animal in this forest can make their home out of whatever tree they see fit; yet we should feel morally obligated to recycle dead logs? No one owns these woods! They belong to every creature.”
Bill continued to assert his point, “These other animals just twitter-twitter all day and wouldn’t know a hard day’s work if it bit them in the tail feathers. I’m tired of getting bucked in the teeth while some pretty bird gets to live in the penthouse and reap all the benefits. Since Beavers work the hardest, Beavers should get the best!”
It was best not to argue with the man.
They cleared entire patches of birch, poplar, and ash trees for their varying sap strengths. They even cut down a couple of fruit and nut trees. They had enough wood to build a new dam all together. As they walked out of the thicket into the clearing, they came upon a mighty oak standing alone.
“This will do quite nicely,” Bill said.
“No, Dad, we can’t!” Woody urged. “This tree’s roots run really deep in the forest. You can’t cut it down!”
“What is so special about this tree? It is no more valuable than any of the other trees we cut down today,” Bill said matter-of-factly. “Except this tree will prove most worthy in our home; where it can actually be of use and not just sticking out of the ground.”
“But Dad,” Woody cried, “I grew up playing on these branches; Mom and I used to picnic here in the afternoons. This is our family tree; it means something to us.”
“Son, sometimes a tree is just a tree. If you are going to cry about it, go under that willow where I don’t have to look at you.”
So he did.
He wept under the sad branches as the sounds of his youth came crashing down around him.
The force of the fall hit him so hard, the pain in his heart thrust him from hiding. Exposed and faced with the truth, he felt compelled to run.
So he did.
Woody ran as fast and as far away as he could, from his father, and his ideals.
“Dude, what ya running from?” Otto asked.
“My life,” Woody told his otter friend.
“Where ever you go, there you are,” the rainbow trout said.
“Give me some fin, Fin. That was deep.” Otto high-fived Fin.
“Skipping school again, huh Fin,” Woody laughed.
“You know me, I’m a fish of a different color.”
“Man, you guys don’t know how lucky you are. You get to swim around and play all day; make your home where ever you want to.” Woody sighed.
“It’s not that hard. You can be anyone you want to be, my beaver bud.” Otto flipped around in the water performing his signature move.
“Just be like the Ling, and go with the flow,” Fin said insightfully.
“It’s not that simple. ‘A Beaver has got to be who a Beaver is’” Woody said mimicking his father.
“But just who decides who a Beaver is supposed to be?” Fin questioned.
“My Dad!” They all laughed.
Otto straightened his body at attention, “Stand up to The Man. You don’t have to take nothing from nobody.”
“You be You Woody, because you can’t be anyone else!” Fin told his beaver bud.
“You know,” Otto said, “You ain’t got it so bad. You have a roof over your head, your own room.”
“A purpose,” Fin added.
“Yah man, the pond ain’t always greener on the otter side bro,” Otto nodded.
“How about you come walk in my paws, Otto,” Woody joked.
“Don’t knock it down ’til you try it,” Otto laughed.
“Have you guys ever noticed that there is an equal and opposite saying for everything.” Fin began listing off examples.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, yet, out of sight, out of mind.
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but it’s never too late to learn.
Just go with the flow or always swim up-stream.
“Make out like a bandit, but crime doesn’t pay.” Otto smiled at his addition. “It’s the Yin and Yang of life my friend.”
“So, what you are saying is, I’m damned if I do, I’m damned if I don’t.”
“Good thing you’re a Beaver Woody.” Otto added. “We could do this all day.”
“I wish I had been doing this all day instead of spending all my time with Pops trying to control the water.”
“Good luck with that,” Fin chuckled.
“It is getting pretty late,” Otto noticed. “The sun has already set.”
“Well, this son had better get back home before his goose is cooked,” replied Woody.
A flock of geese nearby honked in disapproval.
“You can’t please them all my friend,” Otto said, shaking Woody’s hand.
“I don’t know what I would do without you guys,” Woody said, before heading home to assess the damage.
Woody quietly snuck into the home and went straight to his room. Mom was making supper in the kitchen and dad was down in the den.
He found himself staring at the ripples of the pond through his bay window, soaking in the comforting aromas of his mother’s supper.
A scream and a howl screeched out in the distance. Woody looked to see what was happening. Glowing sets of eyes began popping up in the forest woods, like stars in the night sky.
Shortly after, there was a pounding on the door. It was Sheriff Badger and his Coon Squad.
“I need you to step outside,” the sheriff asserted.
Bill was resistant, “I know my rights! I’m not leaving this dam home!”
“Let’s just go see what this is all about,” Mom whispered, calmly convincing Bill to step outside.
The whole forest was gathering around the borders of the pond; even lining the dam walls all the way to the other side of the pond. Goldfish began bugging their eyes out of the water, while some ants marched over to join the group. The meeting was slow to start, since the Sheriff insisted they wait for a family of turtles to come over.
Woody walked over and stood by Otto and Fin on the far side of the pond, while his parents stood in the innermost ring underneath some lightening bugs.
Sheriff Badger laid down the law right from the get go. “I will have order this evening. I don’t need you folks getting all squirly and causing a stampede like last time,” he said looking over at a group of chipmunks. They started to puff up a bit, getting a little red in the face; perhaps upset the badger would compare them to the nuts responsible for last Friday’s fiasco.
“I was doing my nightly patrol, when I came across a horrendous smell. When I went to investigate, I found Shirley the Skunk had been smashed by some fallen tree branches.”
The crowd gasped at the Sheriff’s story.
“Upon closer look, I noticed that the branches were green and seemed very healthy. I began to smell foul play.”
The crowd doubled in size and was growing larger by the minute. Some flies buzzed in and out, but were too concerned with their own stuff to stick around long. Judging by the fresh holes in the ground, some animals grew suspicious that a mole might even be amongst them.
“TOMMY! Spit it out!” yelled the Sheriff, noticing a tail wiggling from the bobcat’s mouth. “I will not have any more murder in these here woods tonight!”
The animals gasped in shock at Sheriff Badger’s remarks. “MURDER?!” they spoke aloud to each other.
Tom reluctantly spit out the little mouse and it scurried over to its burrow.
“I asked myself that age old question; if a tree falls in the woods, does anyone hear it?” The hoard was silent, waiting in anticipation for the Sheriff’s findings. “Turns out, the answer is YES!” Gasps of shock and awe befell the group.
Barry chuckled, “I knew it, I knew it; does a bear ….”
“This is no time for jokes Mr. Black!” The Sheriff interrupted. “I followed a group of birds, who tweeted that they saw the whole thing. They were cut short on syllables, but luckily one of them had the good sense to instantly save a gram of their lunch. Underneath their seat, you can clearly see Mr. Beaver chopping down the cherry tree.”
Bill scoffed. “I ain’t gonna lie. Ya, I cut the tree down. I needed to fix the infrastructure on the dam. I cut down some trees for their sap and others to use as support beams. I also grabbed a cottonwood because my pillows were getting all lumpy. But you want to fault a guy for cutting down a cherry tree to have a snack?”
A small mink crept up close to Bill and began to hiss.
“Calm down Peta, I left the fir trees alone.” Bill shook his head. “And I didn’t go near that stinky old skunk either! You can smell her from a mile away. I’ve had enough of that woman for one life time!”
“She didn’t stink; she was as sweet as the Cherry Tree you dropped on her head,” a voice from the crowd cried out.
The rest of the animals began taking turns, blurting things out.
“Did you get the proper permit?” the hedgehog questioned; naturally concerned with the collection of taxes.
“I think the Tax man has lined his fir with enough of our wooden nickels, don’t you? Besides,” Bill continued, “you never know when his cousin the taxidermist is going to be there. He skins animals and then saves their bodies as trophies on his wall. He’s a psychopath!”
Some elk nodded their racks in approval.
“Everyone knows the beavers are bigots,” a goose squawked. “This very day, his son made a derogatory comment about our kind. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a hate crime; appears to me that Shirley’s death is black and white.”
Barry chimed in on Bill’s behalf. “Really? After he cleared the pond to give you a landing strip; this is how you treat him? Bill has worked hard for this ecosystem. I was near starving before he cleared a log jam to give me access to the pond.”
Some other carnivores roared out in the beaver’s defense.
“Oh ya, real helpful,” some salmon said sarcastically. “His dam blocked our access to the spawning grounds. Not only is he leading carnivores to our deaths, he is preventing our children from having a future.”
Barry looked over at the salmon longingly. He had only recently been tagged and released here. He had no idea that salmon even came this far up. “I guess I never thought about his home blocking you from getting to me, I mean preventing you from swimming further upstream.”
“Just like he never thought about taking our homes away from us,” Robin raved.
“Your home!” Bill yelled indignantly. “If you are all entitled to the trees of your choosing, why can’t I have my cut? None of you do anything for the preservation of this land, yet you call me out for doing the same thing you do? You call yourselves forest animals? More like Hippos in crates, off to the zoo with the lot of you!”
The crowd grew furious at Bill’s last remarks. Some of them even began throwing stones.
Sheriff Badger had his Coons put their safety masks on and form a barricade as a precautionary measure. “Quiet everybody! GET BACK!” They knew better than to step on the badger’s turf and quickly subsided. “I’m glad there aren’t any monkeys in the crowd,” he said, trying to break the tension.
“It’s obvious that we have some serious questions that need to be answered. I think it’s time we call in an expert witness.”
The wolves started a chain mail; their howls crying out into the night sky, searching for the answers to their questions.
Some wondered if they would be waiting there all night. These were tough questions. Was there any animal who had all the answers?
The ground started to rumble. Some pebbles and dirt were kicked up in a small dust devil, pelting animals in the face with rock fragments.
Atop an old burnt stump, a large owl hovered with his forceful wings, before perching himself before the flock of geese. The burnt stump was all that remained of a great fire that ravaged through the forest years ago.
“Why have you summoned me here today?” his deep voice rumbled.
“We’ve come to you this night in search of the truth,” Sheriff Badger began. “There are questions for which we do not know the answers.”
“Oohh,” the owl said intrigued.
“We are still investigating the details,” the Sheriff continued, “but it appears Bill Beaver was chopping down trees in the forest and one of those trees had the ill fate of falling on Shirley Skunk. There is clear cause for motive, in both the cutting of the trees and the killing of a skunk.”
“However, we find ourselves conflicted over matters of morality and justice.” The Owl listened intently to the badger’s comments. “Animals are killed every day in this forest, usually for the purpose of self-preservation. But just who should have the right to end a life?”
“Whoo, indeed?” the owl recited, cracking his knuckles and stuffing some bones underneath his perch.
The Sheriff waited a minute for the Owl’s answer, but the Owl only nodded for him to continue.
“There also appears to be a general sense of individual entitlement in the group. That is all well and good until one animal’s rights start to encroach on another’s.”
“We find ourselves wondering who should have the right to access the resources of the forest. Particularly, was the Beaver wrong for chopping down the tree in the first place?”
The Owl’s second answer mirrored his first, “Yes, Whoo?”
“So, what is the answer? ” the badger asked.
“The answer to what?” the owl crypted.
“To our two questions: Who owns the rights to the forest and who has just cause to end a life?”
“Those are good questions. Just Whoo among us holds these rights?” said the Owl.
Frustrated and scratching his head, the badger commented, “I’m a little confused. I guess I thought you might have given a little clearer answer. At the very least, I thought you would have had an opinion, since it was your house the beaver chopped down and all.”
The Owl became visibly upset. His head began to spin, his feathers ruffled, and his omnipotent eyes glared down at Bill.
“WHOO, WHOO, just WHOO do you think you are?!” the owl stuttered. “You come into my house and tear down my walls! You have no right!”
This got the crowd very excited. They all started to yell, “Off with his tail!”
“Hang him out to dry!” some bats echoed.
“Enough everyone!” the sheriff barked, “Bill has a right to be represented by a weasel in kangaroo court. Besides, charges have not even been pressed yet.”
“Good,” Bill said. “Then I’m out of here.”
Bill was blocked by a wooden crutch held against his chest. It was his old coworker, Harry the Rabbit. “Feeling Lucky?”
They hadn’t been friends since a bad logging accident took Harry’s Foot. “Well, are you?”
“Quit foaming at the mouth Harry! Don’t think for a second that just because I built a dam that I have any to give. I will knock you off your crutches?”
Bill pushed past Harry and began looking for his friends and family. He saw Chuck and started walking towards him. Before he could get there, Chuck mouthed the words ‘I’m sorry’ and lowered his head, before running back to his home.
The protestors around him were chanting “Oh no, this dam must go!” Even Otto and Fin, who could never resist a good rally, were marching with the group. “Oh no, the dam must go, the pond belongs to everyone!”
Woody stepped back from his friends and tried to see his parents through the mob. The tension was so thick, he just couldn’t seem to break through the crowd.
Owl spoke loudly and forcefully, “You had no right to tear these trees down in the first place. Nor should you have the right to their profits!”
“This isn’t right! You would take the fruits of my hard labor and divide it amongst yourselves, those of you who have not done the work to earn it?”
Before he could say anything else, the roof of his house flew off. He turned around to see Barry ripping into his home. All the animals quickly joined.
Sticks and stones were flying everywhere as the animals demolished their abode. Everyone seemed unscathed, well, everyone except the Beavers.
Working together, they made quick work of the dam. Once the support beams had been lifted, the whole house came crumbling down, breaking the dike free.
Woody found himself on the opposite shore of his parents, but still able to hear his mother’s cries. The destruction of everything he had ever built was just too much for Bill. He pulled his wife off into the distance and disappeared into the woods.
With his parents out of sight, Woody just sat at the edge of the water.
He watched as the crowd dispersed into the trees and beneath the surface of the pond. He noticed Barry had a mouth full of salmon as he headed towards his cave. He saw the Owl and some of the displaced chipmunks shopped around for a new piece of real estate. Mostly, he just stared at the water, pondering what he would do next.
Where would his parents go now?
Woody recalled overhearing his dad and his friends talking about the last round of forest layoffs. Fifty-five workers had been given their walking orders, forced to move out of the forest their pups had grown up in; that they had grown up in.
“What ever happened to John?” Chuck asked. “He was such a deer friend.”
“And his wife Jane, what a pair of doe eyes that one had on her. Now, she was a looker.” Barry remembered fondly, “I could just stare at her for hours when she was in the spotlight.”
“We lost a lot of good guys that day,” Bill said. They sat in silence for a moment, remembering all the animals they had lost from the forest, vanished without leaving a trail. “I’m sure they are in a better place,” Bill shared.
Woody wondered if a week, a month, or a year from now, Chuck and Barry might find themselves having this same conversation. “I wonder what ever happened to Bill?”
As the young beaver sat at the edge of the pond looking at his image in the water, he reflected on the beaver he saw staring back at him. What would his future look like without his family? Who would he become?
A log bounced up out of the water, creating ripples across the surface. As the log rolled passed him, he noticed some strange horizontal lines cutting against the grain.
It was the Oak tree they had cut down earlier in the day.
Woody remembered as a little kid, his Mom would measure him against the tree and cut marks into it.
“Aren’t you hurting the tree?” he asked when he was just a pup.
His mom took him over to look at the rings on a fallen tree.
She had already taught him that the rings represented how old the tree was. They had a standing joke about how dad’s belly was like a tree, adding another layer each year he grew older.
This time she showed him some break lines and burns, interrupting the symmetrical circles.
“Son, each of these marks represents something that has affected the tree. These breaks are not the only things that have ever hurt it. Some cuts were replaced by new, tougher bark and the memory of that pain was erased.”
“Over the life of the tree, many animals will grace its presence and touch its bark. Some will take its fruits and some will plant its seeds. Some animals will touch the tree so profoundly, that their paw print will leave an impression. Those marks can leave a scar, a reminder to the tree of the animals that have touched its life. Our presence here may or may not leave a lasting impression.”
“However, you can tell by looking at this tree that the scars never stopped the rings from multiplying. There is no living creature in these woods who gets through life untouched or unscathed. As long as you continue to keep growing despite the things in life that affect you, those scars will serve as a map for you to see how far you have come.
The memory brought a smile and a tear to the Woody’s face.
The sun was beginning to come up over the horizon. All the animals had retreated to their homes, no doubt exhausted from the night’s rave.
Woody looked down stream and noticed remnants of his childhood home piling up and preventing the flow of the water. He looked at the logs and saw there was work to be done.
Except this time, his dad couldn’t be here to help clean up the mess before him.
But for once, Woody wanted to go to work; a feeling deep inside, pulling him towards his duty.
So he did.
One after the other, he moved the blockages out of the way.
He made his way down the river quickly, but was stopped when he came to the giant waterfall. Many of the logs he had already pushed away were piled up against the rocks. The mess he had thought to have cleaned up just waiting for him further downstream.
The view from atop the waterfall was breathtaking. Woody had always wanted a house with a view.
This time, he looked at those same logs and saw it as a sign. Woody smiled, this was the place he should build his own dam.
“Perfect!” he beamed, standing on the brink of his future. He used the existing log jam to build a solid foundation. Woody then gathered more wood to guard against the rivers swift current.
He worked proudly building the new floor plan, with his dad’s words beating in his heart the entire time.
“After all,” Woody thought, “since a Beaver works the hardest, a beaver deserves to have the best.”