If one more person sends me the film “How wolves change rivers” I may do something drastic. Local author Jennifer Viegas puts it all in perspective in her smart new article on Wolves and public opinion. Jennifer is a writer for the Discovery Channel and, as it happens, a long-time friend to the Martinez Beavers. Yesterday she sent a recent article where she managed to slip in some of the rich credit beavers deserve.
From fairy tales to phrases like “lone-wolf terrorist,” wolves are vilified in our culture, and yet a fact check finds that a person is more likely to be killed by lightning, ATVs, dogs, cows, and even elevators than by a wolf.
Nevertheless, the myth that wolves pose a major threat to people persists, and at a time when their future is uncertain. Wolves used to be abundant in the United States from coast to coast, but unregulated hunting and habitat loss dramatically reduced their numbers. In 1974, the gray wolf became officially protected by the Endangered Species Act, which rescued the carnivores from the brink of extinction.
Because the presence of wolves affects where grazing animals feed, trees and plants in valleys and gorges at Yellowstone where deer and elk previously had collected are now regenerating, according to the research. Smith and colleagues’ research is documented in the short film “How Wolves Change Rivers.” Songbirds and beavers are returning. Because beavers help to provide habitat for other animals — such as muskrats, ducks, fish, reptiles and amphibians — these animals also got an indirect boost from the reintroduction of wolves.
Ahhh thank you, Jennifer. It’s good to have beaver friends in widely read places. I’m full of compassion for the plight of the wolves, mind you. But they can’t get all the praise in this matter. If there weren’t beavers to restore those rivers the Yellowstone wolves are protecting, all that would happen when wolves threatened browsing elk is the occasional dead elk. That wouldn’t make a very exciting film or a very rewarding research project, would it?
I heard from Jennifer last night because I sent her this article, which a friend from England sent in my direction. It’s a much richer read then we have time for, but it’s Sunday and honestly, this is the best possible day to go savor it in its entirety. You might want to get the book too. It’s that good. There are a few short sections I wanted to share, to whet your appetite.
The same summer I was on Lewis, a new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary was published. A sharp-eyed reader noticed that there had been a culling of words concerning nature. Under pressure, Oxford University Press revealed a list of the entries it no longer felt to be relevant to a modern-day childhood. The deletions included acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow. The words taking their places in the new edition included attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player and voice-mail.
Eight years ago, in the coastal township of Shawbost on the Outer Hebridean island of Lewis, I was given an extraordinary document. It was entitled “Some Lewis Moorland Terms: A Peat Glossary”, and it listed Gaelic words and phrases for aspects of the tawny moorland that fills Lewis’s interior. Reading the glossary, I was amazed by the compressive elegance of its lexis, and its capacity for fine discrimination: a caochan, for instance, is “a slender moor-stream obscured by vegetation such that it is virtually hidden from sight”, while a feadan is “a small stream running from a moorland loch”, and a fèith is “a fine vein-like watercourse running through peat, often dry in the summer”. Other terms were striking for their visual poetry: rionnach maoim means “the shadows cast on the moorland by clouds moving across the sky on a bright and windy day”; èit refers to “the practice of placing quartz stones in streams so that they sparkle in moonlight and thereby attract salmon to them in the late summer and autumn”, and teine biorach is “the flame or will-o’-the-wisp that runs on top of heather when the moor burns during the summer”.
Even if you aren’t immediately enchanted remebering the caochan’s you have passed or wondering if Eit’s really attract salmon, I assume readers of this website will be outraged that the OED for children once removed acorn, otter, and kingfisher! It immediately makes me think of the beaver words we have lost over the years. How thick with experience of them we must have been at one time, and then how nearly fully we extincted them. The phrase ‘beavering away’ for example, was once as common as OMG, and visible in every single historic paper I reviewed for our prevalence research. I know I miss a word for the sound kits make. Mewing just doesn’t communicate how purposeful it is. And whining sounds to negative.
Hey, I have an idea. Let’s make up our own beaver lexicon. We talk about them more than anyone has since the fur trade I’m sure. And I’ve written close to 3000 columns on the subject. Why not make up some words to describe what we’ve seen?