This weekend I went to a farm in central Alberta for a gathering of Next Uppers from all over the province. I learned that the cattle farm was a bit of an Albertan punk rock institution not too many years ago, but more of the conversations drifted towards humans and our place in nature. Whether we have any place in it at all, in fact.
It inspired a little story I’d like to share with you, called The Beavers That Lived in the Sky.
Once upon a time, deep in the forest there lived a colony of beavers. They loved to chomp down on trembling aspen trees, and build dams with them of course. Their dams created swampy reservoirs that lots of fish loved to swim in. The herons loved the dams too, because of all the delicious fish.
Gradually they spread into many colonies all throughout the forest, each with their own specialization: some built wider dams, some added tiny towers, some liked to decorate them with leaf sculptures, and some liked to carve famous beaver faces into them, like little Mt. Beavermores.
Then one day a beaver in one of these colonies said, Why should we stay in these little dams when we could build grand towers all the way up to the sky, high enough to see over the treetops? The other beavers in her colonies discussed this, and said it sounded like a very promising idea. So the chopped down some trees to build a magnificent tower, and lo and behold she was right, they had amazing views of the forest that no beaver had before.
The colony decided to become tower-makers and map-makers, creating exquisite maps of the forest from their new vantage point. And their maps were so splendid and renowned throughout the forest that they knew they’d struck upon the true destiny that all beavers were meant to fulfill.
With all these new trees they were chopping down, they could feed more beavers, and soon their first tower filled up and they had to build more to house everybody. The other colonies thought they were a bit strange with all their talk about the sky, but they said, “That’s all well and good for them, let them enjoy their big towers and we’ll keep doing what we’re doing.”
And they would have.
But the tower-makers started running out of trees. They pondered what to do. Then they looked at all the other places in the forest and said, “Look at those silly beavers mucking about on the ground. They’re letting all of their trees go to waste, and not using them to build towers at all.”
So they tried to convince the other colonies of the error of their ways. The other beavers said no thanks, but the tower-makers were adamant they knew best. So they started moving into the other beavers’ areas to launch mandatory tower-building masterclasses, workshops and conferences.
Where they found the others difficult to re-educate, the tower-makers were regrettably compelled to use force. With their huge numbers, the battles were short, and before long most of the other colonies had become tower-makers too. After a few generations, most forgot they’d ever made dams.
Unfortunately, within a few generations the forest also started to look a little bare. Actually it looked like a disaster zone. With so many mouths to feed, they were forced to build more and more towers, and chop down more and more trees. Eventually most of the forest became barren clearcuts dotted with towers.
Some beavers started getting very concerned about the disappearance of the forest, and tried to tell others they were headed down a self-destructive path. They warned that unless things changed, there’d be no forest left at all.
The rest of the tower-makers looked around, and agreed they needed to harvest trees more sustainably. Some even agreed that a disaster was going on.
“But what can we do?” they said. “Would you rather live without maps and towers?”
“There’s not much we can do, to be honest,” they sighed. “This is just how beavers are.”