Opinion: Beavers and us

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By DAVID EMERSON

Published: 12-23-2023 7:00 AM

David Emerson of Old Ways Traditions in Canterbury is a woodworker.

Beavers seem to have it figured out. The human race on the other hand, less so.

Beavers, of course, had a head start on us. Estimates of the number of beavers living in North America well before humans arrived run from 60 million to 400 million. In areas where water was plentiful, beavers ran the show. They definitely had their thing together. They’re hard-wired to control water flow. They don’t get distracted.

When indigenous people arrived they had to be impressed. Beavers had organized the water flow so that the environment provided a good living for a wide variety of inhabitants. It was clear how working with and paying attention to how the environment worked could provide them with a good living. They were focused.

Why we haven’t been focused on the environment is a whole other question. We’re very late to the game. Indigenous people learned from their environment. They realized they were part and parcel of it and had to communicate with it. This is clear in their language. The names they used for the natural things they dealt with were closely related to what they did with them and how they used them. They considered everything around them to have spirit. Thus they did not make a distinction between themselves and the nature around them.

For Western humans, our thinking is based on a distinction between us and nature. This handicaps our connection with nature and produces unfortunate consequences in how we relate to nature.

Life forms that survive and thrive do so by connecting with other life forms. This is very obvious with beavers. Their connection with woody plants is impressive. Dogs connect with us. A few beavers have been known to connect with humans somewhat as dogs do, though I can’t think of them as pets. If they live in a house with humans the chair legs would need to be metal.

We are an incredibly complex combination of life forms, which work well together (most of the time). It would behoove us to see ourselves as just another life form and behave accordingly. Our present course may make this very necessary. Perhaps in time, it will be thus.

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