My Dad was always full of stories and no matter how far-fetched they sounded we believed them absolutely. After all, we knew him. He talked about killing spruce hens with a slingshot to save ammunition when he was a boy, and teasing trout out of the river with his bare hands. He maintained that if you could catch a beaver by the tail and lift its hind legs off the ground you could walk it around like a wheelbarrow and it wouldn’t be able to turn and bite you. Heaven only knows how he discovered that one to be true! My brother, Tom, discovered first hand that it was no idle claim. He told the story himself at my Dad’s memorial service and I will repeat it now.
Tom was about 16 years old and he and Dad were on a five day canoe trip down the Spanish River in Northern Ontario. The trip itself was a wilderness adventure with plenty of rapids to run, some of them quite challenging. At one point they put in to shore in a small cove where there was a stream running down into the river. Dad spotted a beaver in the woods and his face lit up with mischief.
He gripped Tom’s shoulder and propelled him toward the stream. “Stand just there, with one leg on either side of the water,” he instructed.
“What for?” Tom queried suspiciously even as he moved to obey.
Dad’s instructions were brief and concise. “I’m going to circle around and get that beaver moving. He’ll come straight down the stream heading for the deeper water in the river and when he passes between your legs, reach down and grab him by the tail.”
Tom’s eyebrows rose nearly to his hairline and his mouth dropped open.
“Make sure you get his hind legs up off the ground,” Dad called over his shoulder. “That way he won’t be able to reach around and bite you.”
Tom stood where he’d been placed, his mind racing furiously. There’s no way I’m doing this, he thought.
In moments Dad was back. “Here he comes! Get ready now!” he urged.
Sure enough, the beaver was coming straight down the stream. Instinct took over and Tom, his nerve breaking, scrambled frantically out of the way at the last minute. Dad jumped in to take his place and when the beaver tried to get past him, he reached down and caught hold of the broad tail with both hands. With one heave he raised the back end of that beaver off the ground and it instantly became apparent that the awkward position rendered it completely helpless. Dad started to walk it down to the river bank with Tom running alongside. It really was like pushing a wheelbarrow after all.
Once they’d reached the shore Dad encouraged Tom to hold on to the beaver’s tail himself for a few moments. It wasn’t as easy as it looked. Beavers are heavy and this one never once stopped scrabbling with its front paws in a futile attempt to get to the river. Nevertheless, Tom actually got to experience holding a beaver by the tail. How many people can say that?
“Okay, you can let him go now,” Dad finally decided.
Tom released his hold and the beaver made a dash to safety, disappearing into the water almost immediately. He and Dad just stood there grinning at one another, savoring the moment. It was an experience to treasure and remember.
Tom has told the story often and he says that most people don’t really believe it. That doesn’t bother him though. He was there and no one can take that away from him.