by Hope Sawyer Buyukmihci
Women have long admired the beauty of fur. The sheen of rich fur is at its best, however, when rippling over the life within, adorned with sparkling and trustful eyes. My favorite fur is beaver. And one lovely lady wearing a fur coat has made this so.
Whiskers and her husband Greenbrier live close to me. Poplar branches brought Whiskers to have confidence in me, and then her mate learned to trust me also. Both parent beavers left their youngsters in my care at the lodge. Each spring we renewed our acquaintance, and the kits, born in early May, shared their parents’ freedom from fear.
The family got to dropping in for poplar in late afternoon — at the cove in front of our cabin — and were on hand for a bedtime snack at sunrise. Whiskers taught me something about child care, international relationships and individual freedom.
At first our contacts were limited to her coming warily for poplar, and towing boughs swiftly out of sight. Later she remained to eat in the open. Still later she came right up to me and murmured a greeting, and listened to my reply. The old song is true — you don’t have to know the language.
Whiskers’ confidence emerged as a personality trait, for her husband remained aloof. But time, and possibly the example of his mate and children, finally reassured him. Now he comes with the rest, and when I meet him unexpectedly along the stream, I have only to speak to him and he accepts my presence. He is usually working, which can’t be said for his wife and children. I have seldom seen Whiskers work on the lodge, though she often places a stick on the dam as she crosses over.
However, as a mother she has a different task. Greenbrier may bring in bedding for the newborn, but it is Whiskers’ teeth which shred it into soft fibers. How much labor is involved in beaver housekeeping? I have never been in her house. I probably never will be, though I may invite her into mine. Sometime she may want to come.
It is with the youngsters that Whiskers has helped me most (I am the mother of three). She showed me that the devotion of motherhood need not extinguish independence. There can be gaiety at play time, and the traditional picture of a mother holding a baby in her arms. There is watchful care, and providing of food. But Whiskers retains her dignity, stands up for her rights as an individual, and maintains discipline while teaching good beaver manners.
Young beavers love to plague their parents, like human offspring, finding out how far they can go. A hiss from Whiskers constitutes a scolding, and a lunge through the water ending with a brisk nudge corresponds to a corrective slap. There is no strident shouting among beavers, but many shades of meaning in their low tones.
Whiskers and I don’t talk much, but I value her friendship. It is a luxury without price.