The surprising, secret life of beavers and why they matter
Chelsea Green Publishing2018240 PagesHardback £16.99ISBN: 978 160358 7396
REVIEW BY DEREK GOW
Preparing to co-exist with Castor fiber
EAGER is quite simply a splendid book. Apart from the fact that it depicts me personally and in my view unfairly as an uncouth, devious, lying pirate, this book captures the spirit of our current experience of beavers in a fashion which is unquestionably brilliant. Big characters from both Europe and North America emerge with both colour and honour. Gerhard Schwab, the Houstons on the Umpqua, Heidi Periman, Kent Woodruff on the Methow all walk tall. They are delightful individuals. Calm, caring, completely dedicated. There are very many more like them and their ranks are swelling.
Oddball enthusiasts such as the Ramseys on the Tay who have done so much for the British restoration of the beaver while larger organisations have remained apathetically inert, dance fawn-like throughout the pages. If you knew them well and I expect some of you do, Paul’s twinkling eyes, his wispy beard and his ridiculous beret are captured by Goldfarb with exquisite affection.
Critically essential nerds like Alan Puttock whose detailed hydrological studies have propelled our national case for restoration from backwater to frontbench Westminster are treated with respect.
But more, much more than this the author captures and confirms the essential dilemma that confronts our renewed relationship with the beaver. This ancient creature re-engineers wetlands sustainably, effectively and cheaply to create life-filled environments, the complexity of which we cannot emulate. As beavers plod their way calmly back through history to reclaim their ancient rights the species’ recovery from genocidal destruction is derided by the ignorant. While for some their hate is driven by simple stupidity, for others it is derived from an outdated cultural attitude.
Why kill the ‘dam varmints’ from no purpose or reason when their pelted cadavers are worthless?
There is no rationale to this activity when our understanding of their pivotal role in the regeneration of wetland life, in the purification of polluted water, in the prevention of catastrophic flooding or searing droughts is becoming increasingly clear. With every new wonder that our modern studies unfold the voice of older understandings clarion from the past. The first people in North America understood what created the complex rock spirals of paleocastor long before the clever scientists of the 19th century had the vaguest of notions.
Learning to re-live with this creature we once understood so well can be a painful pastime. Like a prepubescent teenager their insistence on felling ornamental gardenias, blocking the culverts which flow past our shopping malls, or using discarded artificial legs to support the creation of their dams shows their base ingenuity. This ability evokes surprise, delight, fascination and anger in equal measure.
Ben’s book captures all this in elegant breadth. His research seems impeccable and flawless. For those of us who are just beginning to time travel with the beaver once again his book is inspirational. Buy it and read it with unfolding joy.