Discipline in Earnest

by Sarah Summerville

I had been taking poplar branches to the beavers for about four weeks when the beaver kittens began to appear regularly. The beaver lodge was located at the end of a 500-foot long boardwalk, 15 feet from my nightly seat. The three beaver kittens came in large, medium and small. The largest and boldest I named Wilbur, after the pig in Charlotteís Web. Earnest, the middle kitten, was just that, earnest. Very determined, but often thwarted in his efforts by his older sibling. The smallest was Shy.

The parents knew that I was coming to the beaver lodge with food, but did not approve. They showed their displeasure with warning slaps, whacking their wide tails on the water. At the sound of the distant slap, the kittens would instantly disappear, ending our visit with their own tiny parting spray of water.

One evening while waiting for my young friends to arrive, I could hear distant whacks, loud warnings to the kittens not to fraternize with me. I had waited patiently for a half hour with poplar in hand when the small wedge appeared in the water beside the lodge. Complete with nose, eyes and ears, the little brown triangle glided silently toward me. Earnest, had disregarded his parentsí orders and gathered enough courage for a solitary visit.

Tentatively, he approached the poplar branch, his body almost completely submerged in the water. He cautiously took the offering in his tiny hands, watching me carefully. Examining the stick, he found it to be acceptable, and proceeded to eat. He plucked a leaf from the branch, folded it meticulously into a small green sandwich, and daintily ate it. Earnest munched on his little sandwiches, one by one, enjoying a meal free from Wilburís constant competition. Normally feeding poplar to the kittens resulted in a free for all tug-of-war, jostling for branches with noisy nasal complaints from all parties involved. Even after a kitten succeeded in wresting the coveted prize from his sibling, vocal comments could be heard from both victor and loser.

Off in the distance, on the far side of the pond, a moaning, nasal blowing noise, a sound similar to blowing over the top of a bottle, could be heard. Interspersed with hissing sounds, the noise grew louder as Earnest continued to strip and fold his delicacies.

Suddenly, from around the side of the lodge came 30 pounds of angry beaver. Earnestís mother was mad. At full steam, she headed straight for the kitten, and as he turned to face her, she bore down on him. Grabbing him with both hands, she dunked his fuzzy brown body under the water, swimming over the now vacant dining spot. She turned a wide arc and headed back to the bewildered baby, as he had popped to the surface like a cork. He raised his little hands in defense, begging for absolution. Taking no notice of his pleas, she dunked him again. When he popped up a second time, she had circled around and was heading for him again. As he voiced his excuses, and whined for forgiveness, she sailed full speed right past him as if he did not exist.

The whimpering child put his tiny arms out and clutched his motherís fur as she sped past. As she sailed around the lodge with baby in tow, I could hear her naughty child noisily explaining himself in earnest.