Saturday, October 12, 2013

This Is What You Came For: Dead Baby Beavers

It’s amazing how time slips here, effortlessly.  One day moving into the next. Yet each day brings something new, something different, something memorable.  Today a neighbor stopped in to introduce himself.  The first canoe we’d seen since moving here was manned by him.  He’s been living out here, trapping, hunting, fishing and living life for the past 27 years.  He mentioned he just got back from trapping along the river and trapped beavers.  Interestingly enough he has earned the nickname “Hobbit”, which is also the nickname of our former neighbors at The Shack in Eklutna.  Being neighbors with Hobbits again feels like a sort of homecoming.  
In a moment of excitement over someone truly living the wild life, I surprised myself by excitedly asking to see the dead beavers.  Our new neighbor was kind enough to show us and demonstrate how his beaver traps work.  I wanted to come in The Lodge and grab my camera, but for the sake of first impressions I thought I may have already been overly exuberant at the idea of dead beavers, so I didn’t go there.  

Today I saw my first (dead) beaver, up close and personal.  Five dead beavers to be exact.  Wide webbed feet make for powerful scoop-like flippers. I spread the feet out wide, in awe, and thought to myself if I had feet like that my swim times for triathlon would be out of this world.  

From the back side of the heap I saw the softest, most perfect ball of fur and reached out to stroke it.  I couldn’t see the face and the tail was obscured by the pile of dead beavers.  As I reveled in the softness, our neighbor reached over to pick up the beaver and explained why it was so perfectly soft. 

It was a baby.  

A dead baby beaver. 

The goal of trapping is not to trap baby beavers, but occasionally it happens.  I understand that it is just something that goes with the territory.  For whatever reason a dead baby, of any species is a sad thing, even for a trapper.  I carefully examined this smallish creature, its tiny ears, small tail, beautiful fur coat.  I sunk my teeth into my lip and willed myself not to cry.  The tears wanted to come, but I remained strong.  I told myself it was asleep and admired it for the incredible creature it is and mourned its loss on the river, all the trees it will never chomp down, the baby beavers it will never have.  Then for some strange reason I thought of my dog, Unique.  My best friend.  Dead.  Like the beaver.  Beautiful. Perfect. Webbed feet. Dead. Dead. Dead.  
Somehow I managed to hold it together, repeating my racing-running mantra: 

This is what you came for. 

Breathe. 

I did my best to remember why I came here to this wild place. Why it is I am in awe with living a wild life.  It made me think about the reasons I feel that I belong here, the things I cannot quite articulate yet, but know I need to be here in order to experience.  

Crying over a baby beaver is not how I wanted our new neighbor to remember meeting me and it is not the person “Honey Mama” strives to be.  A strange mix of unexpected emotions flowed through me this afternoon and thus another priceless memory was made at The Moose Lodge.  

After his departure, Parke said “Can you imagine if that had happened at The Labrador House?”, which was ironically located in “Sportsman’s Point”.  The thought was beyond amusing.  

Picture it: a perfectly manicured cul-de-sac, quiet (except for the 747’s flying over the house every 90 seconds), people who barely say hello, people you don’t know, then a neighbor comes over to warmly introduce himself wearing hip waders, fleece, a baseball hat, and genuine smile.  The conversation quickly turns towards beavers and trapping. Then you get a lesson in both. Five dead beavers are parked in a Suburban in your driveway.  

Moments like this can only happen at The Moose Lodge.  

This Is What You Came For.  

Breathe.  

I am beyond thrilled to live somewhere that a way of life, part of my family history, is alive and well.  My great-grandfather was a trapper, my grandfather learned the trade from him.  Between my grandfather and me, the knowledge was lost and part of our heritage became distant history. 
My "Papa Fred", My Maternal Grandfather
A BIA boarding school education and painful discrimination impaired my Grandfather to the point where he could no longer be the Native he was brought up to be.  He spent much of his life doing what he could to preserve the parts of himself he could in The City, but with his passing we lost something priceless, something sacred.  A while ago I was listening to a public radio program and the person said something to the effect of: every time and elder passes, a library burns. My Grandfather was my Native Library, so to speak.  I would give up everything I own right now, if I could spend the evening talking with my Grandfather about his life in The Village.  Trapping.  Dog mushing.  Living wild.

The decision to move here, was driven primarily by a desire to reclaim that lost heritage, to bring history to life and relearn all that has been lost, all that has been forgotten.  A way to honor my Grandfathers.  My Library may have burned, but one thing my Grandfather did teach me is to be resourceful, creative, and to engineer a solution.  That is why I brought an engineer along with me, because I am no engineer. 

My lofty dream of living wild is reigned in when I remember my Great-Grandfather died one winter, out on his trapline.  I am then reminded of the fact that besides fish, I have never personally killed anything.  Then I remember I am a city girl trying to hack it out here in the wilderness. I may be Native by blood, but I make for a pretty sorry excuse for an Alaska Native out here in The Wild.  A city-Native with a dream of reclaiming something sacred.  Something I cannot even fully put to words.  A feeling. 

I have to remember I have my Great-Grandmother's Athabascan blood running through my veins.  I am told she possessed both grace and grit. Both qualities I admire and am striving for here at The Moose Lodge.
My Great-Grandma Delia Watson, Papa Fred's Mother 
These big ideas, my Pollyanna-like ambition, and hair-trigger tear ducts likely to fire upon the sight of a dead baby beaver are not necessarily the makings of a Mentasta Mountain Honey Mama with Native blood flowing through her veins, but it will have to do because it is all I have got.  

Feeling slightly defeated and unable to hack it out here, I think about that soft coat and the dead baby beaver that I would love to turn into mittens, if only I could stop crying long enough to sew its perfect fur into something to keep me warm this winter.  My love of Native crafts may be the guiding light, a stepping stone to living wild.  I know I have it in me, I just have to be patient and breathe.

Someday perhaps I will be tough enough to make mittens from a dead baby beaver I trapped on the river.  The river that sits in my backyard. 

Someday. Someday. 

Until that day, I am going to admire the way of life that exists in this place, a way of life that is preserved.  A way of life that fascinates me, even if the reality of dead baby beavers makes me cry.  

This little family from Los Anchorage, finding our way in the wild.  Meeting dead beavers and seasoned trappers.  Kids sledding on slushy muddy hillsides.  Sipping coffee and watching clouds.  Celebrating life.  

We’re not in Sportsman’s Point anymore, kids.  We are Sportsman’s Point.  
This is what you came for.  

Breathe.  
“It’s never to late to be what you might have been.” - George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans)