The Beaver Pond

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
What goes around comes around. The hubris of youth meets the calls from the wild.

Submitted: May 19, 2013

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Submitted: May 19, 2013

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Thomas Lee Renier was a big frog in a small pond.He was born and lived his entire life in  rural  Aroostook County, Maine.  The spindly middle school kid with braces morphed into a gawky teen with feet and hands too big for the rest of him plus a puss full of pimples.Yet by the start of his senior high school year his complexion was clearing, his voice had stabilized several octaves lower and his lanky frame was adding muscle. It was likely he was going to be an handsome adult.He was the best high school basketball player anyone could remember. He started on the football team and he could throw a baseball over 90 miles per hour.For the last two Maine falls after the leaves had left the trees he worked part time as a timber cruiser for his dad's lumber outfit.  His dad took the time to walk with him and show him how to determine which trees were which by observing  their size, shape, location and bark details.  It was his job then to hike thru the Maine woods and estimate the hardwood yields based on the amount of ground he covered and the number and quality of the trees  he saw.  He was diligent and careful with his estimates and his dad was thankful and impressed with his accuracy. If he said there were six trucks of hardwood per hectare on some piece of property his dad knew it would turn out plus or minus one truck of correct.  Many so-called cruisers did not really do the footwork. Tom did.It kept him in good shape for fall and winter sports - so much so that college scouts were coming to his games andgoing  away doubly impressed with his substantial scholastic aptitudes.  He did not know it but several scholarship offers from very respectable colleges were in the works for him.  He was a decent kid with a future.

 

Tommy was his  home town pride and joy.  Many folks in those parts identfied with his successes and future prospects as if he were their own.The town was his fan club and It was easy for him to think he was the living end.Young people live in the moment with no perspective of the passing of fancies or the long grey line of  yearly classes that trudged thru the schools with new generations of heroes. But for all that he enjoyed the general good will of the here and now in his small pond and with it came certain perks.Chief among them was a generous deal by the local Dodge dealer who was proud to have Tom's fanny in a truck with his name on it.  It was a used four-wheel-drive acquired the spring of his junior year when he became 16.  He fixed it up bit by bit and put big tires on it.  Maine lives in darkness a lot of the year and to navigate the skidder roads he bought a 1 million candle power aircraft landing light he found in the JC Whitney catalogue. He mounted it above the cab on a frame he welded up himself in his dad's metal shop.He was a good kid and made his parents proud.

 

Tommy knew the roads within 10 or 15 miles of his home like the back of his hand.He knew the curves, the shadowed  places that got or stayed icey and the camber of the pavement.This familiarity coupled with his teenage sense of invincibilty resulted in driving too agressively but there were next to no cops or traffic so he got away with it.This decent kid really only had that one vice.  Well, maybe a couple.  He got to playing a secret and miserable game in his  truck at night.It happened by accident one night the same as most of us.  But then he began to look for and  run over animals he came across on the roads. He found it genuinely thrilling to race an unwilling critter to the very edge of the driving shoulder.  It was a life or death gamble with the prize being more its life and less his.Besides taking swipes atthe woodland creatures, another suspect behavior was a budding taste for beer.  He could go into his uncle's tavern by the back door and wait around in the kitchen to get noticed.His dad's brother would greet him, tossle his shock of red-brown hair and throw him a beer or sometimes a six-pack out of the cooler.  None of the other kids had access to suds and it made him feel grown up to pass a cold one to his teammates. In the spring of his senior year  they would pile into his truck, head out past the beaver pond and go trout fishing in its feeder stream. They would stick the donated brews into the bitterly cold stream water.There they were kept double good, cold and refreshing, then consumed after sweating and cursing thru the tedium of tying on dry flies while swatting back the clouds of blackflies relentless with their own agenda.  He thought he was careful about beers and truck gears. Lord knows he had seen enough alcoholic logging truck drivers crash their rigs and test positive for booze.  He was a conscientous kid really.  He just liked a few beers.

 

Yeah, he liked fishing just fine.  He had no shopping malls to hang in but he had the woods and the streams and the ponds he was born to.He would catch a few brookies, then later maybe he would patrol the long way home looking for a target of opportunity.  In May the male snapping turtles would  travel looking for love. Then in July the big females would also travel seeking sandy soil to lay their eggs. Bingo. They made amazing popping sounds if centered on a tire going faster than 40.There were other targets of opportunity too - some of them premium scores.  A whitetail  fawn caught in the glare of his aircraft landing light was of high value - so was a kit beaver. The beaver kits would waddle across the road from their pond lined up behind their mother in the evenings and gnaw their way to full tummies thru the night.She would lead them across the pavement/danger of the man road to the aspen grove on the other side  from their pond.The beavers had downed and consumed most of the edibles  from around their pond's banks and this the fifth generation of beavers in this roadside pond were forced to cross the man road for the nutritous aspen bark and shoots they needed.The mother beaver knew this journey was required to feed her brood but so did Tommy.  Tommy had become something of a beaver predator and wanted a twofer; two beavers with one pass. He had already flattened two of the mother beaver's four baby family that spring and their decomposing, two dimensional remains littered the edge of the road on the straight part that goes past the pond.  Was it possible to wack two with one pass?It would require good luck, a great tactic and no small degree of nerve. Tommy had plenty of nerve.

 

  Tommy adjusted his low beams extra low so he did not alarm his targets at too great a distance.He adjusted them low but no so low that he did not pick up their eye-shine. Yet with lowered beams when he picked up the eye-shine he would be close enough to switch on the aircraft landing light and hope the animals just froze.The only drawback was that at speeds faster than 35mph he was dangerously over driving his headlites at night. His cure was to drive around on his high beams. This tactic worked well and the boredom of summers in rural America plus the thrill of the hunt gradually addicted Tommy. He changed  from an occasional opportunistic vehicular murderer into an completely unethical menace. He went out alone and he went more often. His proximity to dissaster from swerving onto the shoulders in hot pursuit was giving him a jolt of adrenaline that he got nowhere else.He took to painting small red slash marks on a fender to mark his successes.  Rumor had it the slash marks represented how many girls he had necked with in his truck or God knows, something even more glorious.  People smiled and shook their heads at the thought of it. Folks just did not know that the current hometown hero was developing a dark and shameful appetite.  He was doubly protected.  His homies could not conjur an activity so anethema to the general rural person's credo of respect for the natural world - one that most Mainers considered their birth right and responsibility. 

 

Coming back one night from his Grammy's house after cutting her lawn Tommy got one of the last two beaver babies.The mother beaver was down to her last offspring. Late that same night  thunderstorms and strong winds rattled and rumbled thru the Aroostook Valley. The old mother beaver pointed her nose into the freshening breeze of this squall line rolling south from deep in Quebec.  It was full of evergreen smells, ozone and the scent of approaching rain. Buried within the wind were  whispers from Mother Nature - her protectress - intended for her ears alone. The voices of ten thousand beaver generations come and gone spoke to her. She sniffed and she listened  transfixed even in the downpour and the crash of light as they instructed her from the accumulated wisdom of deep time. She sent her kit home to the lodge but by dawn she had worked to girdle a very large gum. It was tall and thick and a multi-day project. She did not overly like gum bark. It was a beaver's last ditch food source and she was not in her last ditch. Yet she knew this big gum had to come down and she applied herself to the job of gouging out great clots of tree meat with her special rodent teeth in that phlegmatic application of effort that only a rodent brain can generate and sustain.

 

After several near misses the old beaver mother and even her kit were getting wary of the man road and the lights of death. She went ever later in the evening to her aspen grove and stayed longer into the dawn. When she felt some tug of need she returned to her gum and continued work to bring it to earth.  By now Tommy was finishing up his baseball season and thinking about graduation. He had a generous scholarship to the State University at Orono, and was otherwise too preoccupied  to do his patrol of  the beaver pond road.  Besides, the last six times he had snuck past the beaver pond on his low beams he had had no luck. 

 

Today would be different.  His Dad asked him if he would again do his grandmother's lawn and Tommy found his reason to patrol.He sweated thru the lawn and the side work in the muggy gloom of a summer warm front and lingered well into the twilight having a favorite dinner of his Grammy's chicken caserole and dumplings. While Tommy was having his dinner the remnants of the beaver family were having theirs. The grizzled old beaver mother sniffed and listened as was her warrant in life. Then acting on some unknown music only she could hear she returned to the gum that was near to being bitten thru. She could sense the old tree sway and she knew it was going. Taking one last mouthful she relented and the big tree - heeding gravity and a prevailing northern breeze powered by the murmurs of ten million beaver voices long since gone -  fell earthward with a vengence.  It crashed spang across the road and only a few minutes before Tommy was typically barreling home from his Grammy's dinner table overrunning his headlights. An instant before the collision Tommy grabbed a handful of steering wheel and turned his truck so that it was only a glancing blow but the direction of the turn and his speed were fatefully unfortunate. The initial impact sent Tommy hurtling into his dashboard and windshield. He broke his left femur and his right ankle, cut his chin and scalp deeply but was awake going into the water. The truck catapulted into the pond on an oblique angle and he took yet another nasty lick to his forehead.

 

  It's funny how people drown. Often they are very awake when they take their first lungful of water. I hear tell it's no picnic. Thomas Lee Renier woke up underwater and he took his first gasp. It was a lungful of beaver pond mud and water. He struggled, faded and died there in the beaver pond beside the logging road, near where he was born and near his hometown. Down the road from his Grammy's.

 

Did the mother beaver kill Tommy? You decide. Did Tommy have a few beers after doing the lawn? You decide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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