Background Switcher (Hidden)

What Happened Next

Monday, April 3, 2017

I have been putting off writing this post. Know before you read it that it gets bad, and then it gets better. I always bring you back, don't I? 

I hope you'll go on this walk with me. I have to write about this now, even though it's really hard for me.

September 25, 2014. I knew that was the date. It was the weirdest thing. I plugged in my external hard drive just now and zeroed in on the exact date, the exact event in my photo archives. I didn't mess around. My heart knew when it happened, would never forget, and my hand navigated right to the photos.

It started like any other sunny October walk, with a little black spot bouncing along in my field of view. 

I found a luna cat mortally injured in a fall. A common fate for big silkmoth caterpillars, who get heavy and slip off the leaves. A gravel road is an unforgiving safety net.

I was headed to my happiest of happy places. And I stopped dead there on Dean's Fork.

Where there had been deep water, ducks and kingfishers, fish, frogs and turtles, there was a rapidly shrinking, algae-greened puddle. 

The mighty dam had been blown to pieces. The water had run out of it like lifeblood.

I stood rooted. The beavers I used to wait for were gone. A lone snapping turtle circled listlessly in the largest puddle, eyeing me. It had nowhere to go. A few frogs jumped with a splat into the water. I wept. 

Eventually, we walked on. I knew I wouldn't come back here for a long time.

I found a glorious copperhead hatchling. If you click on the photo you can see the twin pits on its forehead. 

Hearing a rare car approaching, I helped it across the road. What were the chances that I'd be there to save this wee snakelet, just when the first and probably last car of the day came along?

I met up with three of my neighbors, one a township trustee at the time. We talked a long time about what had happened to the beaver dam. Everyone was upset. One had an eyewitness account from her sister-in-law. A local "independent oil operator" was seen dynamiting the dam on the Friday of Labor Day Weekend. Clever man, choosing a time when everyone is celebrating with family and unlikely to catch him at it.  Oops.

The township trustee, my neighbors and I were completely unsurprised to hear the perpetrator's identity. I had had two unpleasant run-ins with him, during which he tried to force me to allow him to conduct his "business" on our land. He had trespassed, prospected without permission, and now here he was on my doorstep, unnanounced, clad only in trousers and a filthy undershirt, trying to shake me down. And under those circumstances, what would he expect me to grant him?  I asked him to put it in writing and ended the conversation. And when he showed up again,  pounding on my door in the middle of the day, I told him to get lost and never come back. 

 The beaver dam this upstanding citizen dynamited that Labor Day Friday, 2014, happens to be on the property of a woman who had been thrilled to play host to a beaver colony. Let's just think about what vanishingly small percentage of landowners appreciate and welcome beavers. That alone is an extremely rare thing. She'd told him outright to stay away, keep off her land, leave the beavers alone. And twice, he'd trapped them, and now he had dynamited their dam on her property. Something about his "right" to access his wells...something about the beavers being in his way. I haven't figured out what they're doing that could affect him at all. None of his wells are anywhere near the pond; they're all below it. If anything, their engineering makes it easier for him to get through.

To turn the home of beavers and wood ducks, belted kingfishers and great blue herons, five species of frog and countless salamanders, newts, turtles and fishes into this moonscape, this devastated wasteland, just because he can; because it works for reminds me of what is happening all around us now. 

He had taken something functional, something beautiful, something carefully engineered,  something many living creatures and at least one wandering naturalist depended on, and he had slashed it to pieces, laid it to waste. 

My anger and outrage and helplessness at finding what this cretin had wrought feels very familiar. Who asked him in? Who made him the steward of someone else's land? Who anointed him Destroyer?

Chet and I said our goodbyes and walked on in the gloaming.

He was more adventuresome then, and he found a door broken into the old black barn.

I put my camera to a crack in the siding and captured him walking a plank, a single beam of light throwing him into relief. How I love that little dog's great heart.

In the dying light, the old gristmill was just a roof peak above the ironweed.

I remembered it when it was whole.  It wasn't entirely well, but it was still standing in October 2009. 

 Everything changes. Much change we experience is natural and expected. Sickly trees will drop limbs and topple. Leaning gristmills will eventually collapse in on themselves, or blow down. And then you have the destroyers, who ruin things just to ruin them. And when an ecosystem is destroyed and its marvelous wise rodent engineers slaughtered, there is no remediation. No mere human can do what beavers do.

There's no legislating humans like these. There's no stopping them. There's no appealing to their conscience, because they haven't got one.  They have no aesthetic, no moral compass. There's nothing inside them  to save or persuade or redeem. It only takes one destroyer to wipe out an entire ecosystem or whatever is intact and perfect that they wish to smash and ruin.

There is evil prowling through this beautiful world.  There are people who take more than their share, who scoff at laws; steamroll along making up their own rules as they go, rules that suit their avarice and lust; who rip through this life, shredding the fabric of society on the way. Somehow we allow them in; somehow we make room for them; some of us look up to their arrogance, ignorance, callousness and selfishness, mistaking it for moxie and leadership, and willingly bow down to them. They're just "tellin' it like it is." It has happened before. It is happening again.

I will never bow to a destroyer.  I'd sooner spit in his eye. I'd rather seek the society of creators, people who devote themselves to making the world a better place; people who contribute to arts and humanities and sciences and thus to the well-being of others; people who care for others and work to help them; people who understand that we've been given this luxuriant, insanely wonderful, irreplaceable earth, and it is not ours to despoil, but to protect.

Great Blue Lobelia Lobelia siphilitica

And then there are the little points of light. You have to turn your back, walk away from the destruction, and keep walking toward those. And you have to trust in nature. Nature remains.

"After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, and so on--have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear--what remains? Nature remains."

Walt Whitman


It would be oh so tempting to make a political comment at this point, but I will not.
The temerity of well-diggers and mountain miners is astounding. A number of years ago, my son's in-laws (who live in western PA) were informed that the mineral rights under their land were not theirs, but rather belonged to a nearby mining company. And they were going to blast the area. So they took measurements of the in-laws house, banded it somehow to "prevent damage" and then blasted away. The result was that the house and all the land lost about a foot in altitude. The only damage to the house--cracks in the garage floor. Oh, and their water well was messed up.
So much for "progress."

As Pogo said--we have met the enemy and he is us.

Our world is slowly being snuffed out but these kinds of actions. One of the reasons is to help bring places back to the way they were intended to be. And to be provide places where people can go to reppair their souls.

...And sometimes we elect these people into office. It makes me despair of my fellow citizens, that they could elect such a one to such a high office, with no regard to the sanctity of this planet. We were doing "the big swirly" before. Now, I fear that we and our planet are doomed beyond all redemption. I wish that I were exaggerating, but I fear I am not. I am just glad that I am of an age that most of my life is behind me. Those who are young... we have done them a severe injustice.

Posted by Anonymous April 4, 2017 at 4:10 AM

Oh Julie, I share in your sadness and anger at what was done to this beaver pond. I have snapped my share of beaver traps because I love those little critters. That guy has probably been an overbearing jerk and bully his entire life. I'm glad you stood up to him. It won't bring that beaver pond back, but hopefully karma will eventually come around and bring this sorry son-of-a-bitch to his knees.

I recently read a biography on Rachel Carson (back in December, before the truly bad stuff started happening) and I was dismayed about how much she was railing against is now what we're back to railing against. It was nearly mirror image.

I can only hope we are able to tread water long enough to stay afloat so we can get back into a forward motion but I'm afraid we're all going to slip under.

I understand exactly how you feel, Julie, and share your anger at all the despoiling of our world, local and global. Your essay really reminded me of the book "Ishmael" by Daniel Quinn, in which an unusual teacher explains that, in this world, there are Leaver and Taker cultures. That rings true to me. We who are Leavers are struggling against the Takers. As a biologist, I take comfort in knowing that Nature does have tremendous capacity for healing, if we'll only allow the opportunity. Thanks for this beautiful essay. I'm mourning the destruction of the dam too.

Oh, Julie. What angst. What angst! It is so hard to keep resisting the "takers." And now the biggest taker lives in the White House (Live? Maybe he just uses it for his office.)

Thank you for opening your heart and sharing this painful experience with your readers. It is so incomprehensible to think of those who really couldn't care less about what keeps this earth providing, moving and evolving--Mother Nature in all of her grandness!

At the start of your post you said it would get bad and then get better. But I didn't see the better. Maybe I'm feeling more desolate than I know.

Take good care. Thank you for being a steward of our land. More power to all of us!


Is there no legal recourse in this case?

I had a similar situation years ago. Except in this case it was a municipal government (Urbana, IL) tearing out a beaver dam on another governmental agency's property (Urbana Park District) without checking with the park district first. The city claimed the dam was backing up water in the storm sewers and flooding some nearby basements. The city proceeded to channelize the creek without the park district's knowledge. The beaver pond was a special secluded tranquil place that created good habitat for many other creatures. Hardly anyone knew it was there. I only knew about it because an elderly biologist told me about his discovery. My kids and I visited it regularly, and shared some special moments there. One Saturday we made a trip there and discovered that not only was the pond/dam gone, but all the vegetation had been cleared save one huge cottonwood tree. My kids were devastated...

[Back to Top]