Campus Life

Squid vs. Whale

Beaver Tales

Being an industrious little beaver, I held down two jobs the year before graduate school. By day, I was a lab rat, fearlessly pipetting small volumes of liquid back and forth. By evening, and on the weekends, I worked on a horse farm in rural North Carolina. They were essentially the same job; all you had to do was replace “pipetting, small volumes, and liquid” with “shoveling, large volumes, and poop.”

Down by the river on the trails one day, the owner and I rode past a newly established beaver den. As the beaver is our mascot, I thought I’d share the tale of my dealings with an actual beaver. Besides, how many of you reading this column have seen a live beaver in the wild? Go ahead and raise your hands right now. That’s right, I didn’t think so.

Being industrious little beavers, they had dammed up the stream by moving little sticks back and forth. (Hey, just like my job!) In the process, they had cleared out a sizeable plot of land, leaving only half chewed sapling trunks in the area. Though I have to commend them for their persistence, their dam was pretty sub par. Up until this point in my life, when I thought of beaver dams, I conjured up images of neatly stacked logs, topped with a quaint and comfortable den. Mr. Beaver was also guiding the children to Aslan.

This preconception of mine could not have been further from the truth. First off, there was no way Peter, Susan, and Lucy could have spent the night in the beaver den. And to add insult to injury, the Mrs. Beaver I knew didn’t look like she was a very competent cook. In addition to those glaring discrepancies, if you’ve ever seen a real beaver, they pretty much resemble nibbling, muddy, and oversized rats.

The term “Brass Rat” is not all that far off. Just add “muddy” and “evil.”

Now why would I call a beaver evil? Why did Mr. I-was-ever-so-over-hunted Beaver deserve to be berated? I’ll tell you why! He and his wife gnawed through a ridiculous amount of wood. They’re freaking miniature logging tycoons!

The next time we returned to the dam, they had turned the surrounding quarter acre into a muddy tree-less cesspool. Come on beavers! Aren’t you supposed to be known for your efficient and precise engineering? Your dam looks shabby and you’ve squandered a bunch of lumber with your haphazard schematics. How on earth did you evolve into MIT students?

We were fed up with the beavers. One way or another, they had to go.

Though they were nuisances, we couldn’t muster enough resentment to get our Elmer Fudd on and shoot the buggers. As luck would have it, the owners of the farm happened to be former beavers and had a soft spot for the little rat. It was as if they shared an unspoken bond forged through being forced to program in Scheme together.

Instead, we merely dozed their dam with the backhoe. Within a week it had been rebuilt. We dozed it again and again, but like a bad penny, it just kept showing up.

With no obvious solution in sight, the beaver problem drifted to the back of our minds only to be occasionally brought up every time we passed the monstrosity that was their dam. We were like angry neighborhood association members mortified by their tacky landscaping. I’m sure if they had put up plastic flamingos on their lawn we would have thrown them out by the scruff of their neck. But since they were not technically violating any of the neighborhood association bylaws, we were reduced to petitions, angry newsletters, and veiled threats to shoot them in the bum with our air rifles.

Winter came and went, and we more or less forgot about them. The mares were foaling and we were too preoccupied to head down to their neck of the woods. We’d almost forgotten about them until one day we wandered back to a different part of the stream and saw a new and larger dam. Oh great, we thought.

Our indignation quickly faded as we examined the new dam. And who’da thunk! It was a magnificent work of engineering! It had a bowed shape like real dams. They had employed cross bracing and reinforced anchors. The thing probably displaced several tons of water. Sticks and mud! Can you believe it? On top of that, we didn’t see a single felled tree in the area. The beavers had recycled fallen branches and trees!

After admiring their dam for some time, we headed back.

“So I guess the beavers can stay,” I remarked.

“Yeah,” the owner responded, “that was pretty neat.”

We had been won over by their marvelous engineering.

Once a beaver, always a beaver.