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Monday, July 18, 2005

Walt Cooper: Over at Beaver Dam

I slept in. I was lazy, I know. I could have hunted for a few hours before going into town, but I wasn't in the groove yet. There was something about hunting in weather where the overnight lows were still in the sixties that didn't feel right. The weather had been that way for a week. It wasn't quite Indian Summer. It had never really gotten cold. Fall had stalled in a suspended animation of sorts.

I had the place to myself, so I took my time. I got the water running, the coffee made, I got may gear stowed, and my rifles up on the rack. There were spots on the racks that no one had dared touch for a couple years, places where no one wanted to be the first to put a rifle. You could still see the wear on the felt left by Dad's Model 70, and Jack's Remington. I'd thought about bringing the Model 70 up and staking the claim to the leftmost spot on the front wall rack, and it just didn't seem right. This year, I figured I'd put my Savage 99 up and to heck with them all. In a year or two, Buckie could have my spot. It settled in nicely. I had two others that I stashed under the bed in their cases. I had the bow case too. It was a tight fit, but it worked.

Town hadn't changed much. The theatre had shut down in July, but we hadn't gone in years anyway. Pickings at the meat counter at the Piggly Wiggly were slim as usual, but I rummaged around and found a few steaks to hold me over.

I finally got out in the afternoon to scout. I made the rounds of my favorite stands-- no problems. The deer had torn up the salt licks nicely, and I found plenty of sign in the wallows around the beaver pond to see that we'd been blessed with an abundance of fawns, and most of the regulars had stayed. Off to one side was a set of tracks of tremendous proportions sunk deep into the mud. At first I thought it might be a stray cow. That got my juices flowing. I remembered why I was here.

The beaver pond had been one of the major factors in the success of our camp. When Grandpa and the others had purchased this place, the farmer had been dynamiting the dam every Spring and planting in the rich mud that collected there. The beavers didn't seem to mind too much. They just took in in stride and slowly rebuilt over the Summer.

Then Bob the Destroyer arrived. Bob had gone on to earn a full ride to Purdue on a Chem-E ticket. He's the only degreed pyrotechnics engineer I ever met. Bob was in high school when he took over the beaver dam detail. I was still just a kid when Bob started using his skills to blow up the dam. He used a combination of nitrate fertilzer and diesel fuel, a stick of dynamite and a blasting cap to blow the pond. That had been THE event at camp. Many of the families came up that weekend to see Bob blow the dam. He would have us dig a pit on top of the dam, and then he'd place the fertilzer in the depression. Then we'd roll a big chunk of limestone over the top. Bob said that would focus the blast downwards.

One year, he had me run the camera. He had this really cool Nikon camera with a motorwind. When he blew the dam, I pressed a bulb and the camera ticked off frames until the blast wave caught it. The results were fantastic-- 8 shots of the dam rising into the air and a shock wave rumbling across the meadow. The second last shot was a blurr of debris and then the last shot was nothing but sky with sticks caught in flight. The camera had been knocked over. Bob's bunker was still there-- a stack of logs built up in view of the dam. Sometimes we used it for a ground blind. The pictures were up on the wall by the wood stove.

Bob stopped doing the blasts long before Oklahoma City put a damper on that sort of thing. Bob had taken a job in Saudi Arabia, and no one wanted to take over. Instead, we got in a backhoe and installed an 10-inch sewer tile to drain off the water from the middle of the pond. For close to 15 years, the beavers had never wised up. They kept their dam tended, and got to live in their now-truncated pond. Meanwhile, fast growing maples and willows had filled in the rest. I think Bob finally got cancer and came back to the States to die.

I wondered about the beavers and Bob. I still wonder if the beavers, in their own way, had a concept of Bob, the great dark force that would come each Spring to visit havoc on their world. Did they worship him? Did they make sacrifice to placate him? Did they scare their young with stories of the great Bob. Bob, the God of the Beavers-- I wonder if the old beavers sit around the lodge all winter telling Bob stories and wondering if Bob would come again. I can see one old beaver, leaning back on his tail and poking a maple shoot at the rest and saying:

"Yep, you can say what you want about ol' Bob, but I say the pond ain't never been the same without out him! If'n ya' ask me. We should get down on our lousy beaver knees and pray for Bob to come back!"

And from that would spring a new beaver religion, with beavers venerating shreds of old fertilizer bags and having grand processions in the full moonlight. Little beavers would carry tiny sprigs of willow and beavers would dot their faces with ashes from campfires, and under the last moon of winter a grand beaver chorus would lift up and call to heaven for the return of Bob. Eventually some crazy beaver would get himself run over crossing the road. When he awoke from his coma, he's proclaim that Bob himself had struck him down and given him the task of spreading the word of Bob throughout beaver ponds everywhere.

. . . at least that was how I had it rolling around my head as I sat in the bunker waiting for the light to fail. I'd brought my bow along in a half-hearted attempt at hunting. Nothing showed, except one beaver out on the pond, and couple of loons. It was still just too doggone hot.

At dusk, I came out and started a fire and cooked one of the little sirloins. Nobody showed, but then I was way early. Camp was getting a bit lonely. I really wished the rest of the crowd would get here.


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