Car-Free in DC

November 25, 2013

Ballad of the North American Beaver

Filed under: Uncategorized — dccitizen @ 12:51 am
Photo by tomkellyphoto on
Beaver dam in autumn, Utah
Ballad of the North American Beaver 
by Malcolm Kenton

This and Trains for the Future are my first attempts at writing ballads in the great American folk ballad tradition inspired by Woody Guthrie. These do not adhere strictly to a certain meter or number of syllables per line, so modification will likely be required to set them to music. Anyone who wishes to is encouraged to modify these verses and set them to music, with proper attribution to me as original author.  I offer links embedded in these verses to provide background, inform and educate.
Photo by Ann Cameron Siegal on Picasa Web Albums
Beaver at Huntley Meadows Park, VA

Many of fur and fin and feather all would gather ’round
Where pools of still, deep water were plenty to be found,
Made by a flat-tailed engineer whose works helped shape the land.
The beaver, steward of the continent’s streams, made ponds and wetlands so grand.

In many tribes’ creation stories he played a starring role.
As the “sacred center” of the living world, his virtues they’d extol.
Respected and relied upon, the beaver he did thrive,
Till one day scores of white-skinned folks on the continent did arrive.

Seeking the land’s riches, they came to call America home.
In search of “brown gold” beaver fur, far afield they did roam.
Champlain, Astor and Prince Rupert’s men with natives they did trade,
Who, armed with traps and snares, brought back pounds of beaver fur which into hats was made.

A path of destruction in its wake the torrid trade it left.
Of their keystone species it made so many waterways bereft.
From the Great Lakes to the valleys where the Athabasca and Columbia flowed,
From the Atlantic to the Pacific they hauled away their lode.

Driven almost to extinction, it seemed the beaver’s end was nigh.
And unimpounded stream flows left many parts high and dry.
Of native flora and fauna there were fewer to be found,
And drought, erosion and bio-homogenization plagued the streams for miles around.

But as the Twentieth Century dawned some folks began to see
The beaver as a furry friend whose works help you and me.
The writings of Lewis Morgan and Enos Mills his good name did restore,
And new laws gave hope that humankind’s recklessness would scar the land no more.

Up in old Ontario one trapper’s life was changed
When he adopted and orphan beaver kit whose mother he had slain.
Taking the name Grey Owl, he wrote and spoke until his end
The beaver’s proud and helpful reputation to defend.

Grey Owl’s writings won him acolytes back in the USA.
Folks like Dorothy Richards and Hope Buyukmihci led the way.
They built wetland sanctuaries where animals could live free.
They spread the word across the land so all the people could see.

They taught folks that beavers naturally keep their populations in check
And that trapping and habitat loss leaves waterways in a wreck.
Though trapping does continue, it more commonly is felt
That a beaver is worth much more alive than as a pelt.

Now as we stand upon the cusp of Century Twenty-One,
Perhaps a new chapter in our pact with Earth and her creatures has begun.
Faced with the threat of climate change, with droughts and superstorms in tow,
Perhaps the value of beavers’ work is something we ought to know.

Though many who are uninformed see them only as a pest,
A disparate crew of beaver advocates puts that notion to the test.
So throughout the True North and the Land of Uncle Sam,
Folks may start to realize that the beaver really is worth a dam!

With flow devices and tree wraps we can learn to coexist,
And as we tackle our water woes, the beaver’s help we can enlist.
From the Bronx to Detroit to Martinez, cities and towns welcome the beaver back,
Along with many of fur and fin and feather these places previously did lack.

And in the Western highlands where dried-up streambeds tell of strife,
They’re bringing in furry engineers to bring waters back to life.
And up in Ogden, Utah, where Chevron’s spill threatened to make many sick,
One crew of hero beavers’ dam held back that nasty oil slick.

Wetlands maintained by these webbed-footed builders are important for us all.
They manage floods, enrich the soil, and filter pollutants that stem from urban sprawl.
These are just a few of the helpful results of these creatures’ labors.
Their ponds also offer people a chance to get to know their wild neighbors.

If felled trees, blocked culverts or swollen streambeds are causing folks alarm,
There are ways to prevent such damage without doing beavers any harm.
You can learn about these humane solutions and share them with those you know
And support the work of wildlife protection groups to help this movement grow.

Now salmon, ducks, geese, frogs, herons, turtles, otters and many other creatures thrive
On the life-rich ponds behind beaver dams, they all live out their lives.
And people come from near and far to enjoy these places where life teems,
And give thanks to their architects, humble rodents, the keepers of the streams.


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