i A Short History of Extinction
River rats, Coptic dogs, driven from the demesnes and wapentakes hunted par force in the waterways with dogs and traps and clubs; good money paid for their pelt’s stiff hair and voluptuous underfur; the sensuous elixir of their castoreum, its scent of vanilla, chypre and plum; their paddle-tail’s backcountry fat, and their sweet red Lenten meat. Two pence bounty paid in Bolton Percy Church for the last beaver’s head. How often do we get the chance to try again?
ii Song of the Beaver
Water shaman; double-lidded, double-lipped, back toes webbed like a bat’s black wing. It combs perfumed oil through its deep dark coat with a special split toe. It must have a moat. It must have a lodge piled high with sticks and mud and inside it, a nest of dry shredded wood. It must have a shallow pool so the kits can learn to swim and an underwater tunnel to enter the lodge unseen. To fell a tree, you must have a reinforced skull & ferrous, orange teeth. To survive, you must have foresight & stealth. I tutored you, woodsman. I showed you how to coppice & thin, how to ford a stream. I taught the engineer to dam, & terrace, & sluice, I taught the salmon to leap & the willow to shoot. I owe you nothing. You made me extinct. Now I’m teaching you how to come back from the brink.
iii Song of the Dam / Intuitive Hydrologists
water is a shapeshifter that can brim ooze weep percolate through stone that drips trickles evaporates into invisible air hard to catch impossible to corral yet this is our vocation – to keep a fluid steadiness in the lush & green-shoot places – & water is all our husbandry: how to dam & brace how to shore it up with sticks & stones & mud whatever we can find old fenceposts, bricks we cross-weave daub & fix impound the water do not let it run IF IT RUNS DROP EVERYTHING REPAIR THE DAM these are our reservoirs & hoards the water gardens of our lives our sustenance & refuge the way we survive & everywhere it spills the green-world thrives.
iv Beavers on the River Otter
Watch as they re-meander the straitened river rewet the meadow till it is part mire a mosaic of pond and bog and cropped beaver-lawn; river keepers thinning the wood letting the light back in.
v Song of the Riparian Zone
Come iris, come moor grass, come sphagnum and sedge, come water mint growing round the beaver-lawn’s edge; come aspen, come willow, come guelder, come hazel, come hawker, come mayfly, come blue demoiselle; come otter, come bubble-mouse, water vole and shrew, come pearl-bordered fritillary and silver studded blue; come yellow hammer, warbler, come dipper and teal, come stone loach, come stickleback, lamprey and eel, come spangled reed beetle supping air through a straw for the river keeper is returned once more.
Always may there be a stand of balsam set back from the river, and a mama beaver emerged from her nest into early dusk, grooming her punky, wicked fur, steeping her tail in the water & eating, the noise of her chomping like kissing; & always her kits will be slipping under the fringe of the willow to reach her, and almost with a sigh, almost with a shrug she’ll turn and waddle up the bank dock a branch and trawl it back to where they bicker & play & feed in their recess of water & reed; & the bliss of their dwelling will rest on the evening, it is here.
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