A moment at dawn, Canada Day, 1992

A moment at dawn, Canada Day, 1992

It was dawn on July 1, the 125th anniversary of Confederation. I was driving a big machine carrying seedling trees into a clearcut block in Northern Ontario — muskeg, sphagnum moss and clay roads. My job was to bring the trees into the block and set them out in advance of the treeplanters.

My machine had a sort of flatbed — with racks for the boxes of trees — behind a truck-like open cab, and was carried along on tracks, like a tank. It had been custom built in a town nearby, and was designed for travelling though the mossy marshes near Cochrane and Timmins.

In the middle of the muddy path between the piles of slash (debris left over from logging), were two beavers. I halted my machine and observed their interaction. One was nuzzling at the other, which seemed to be unwell. Its fur looked dank and matted. It sat listlessly in the middle of the road.

“That rodent seems sick,” I said to myself. “I’ll bet the other one is its mate, and is concerned. This is an unusual sight, but time is money.”

I got out of my machine and walked towards the beavers, saying “Shoo! Shoo!” and clapping my hands together, like I do these days when I finally get tired of the deer in my yard and want them to go away.

The beavers glared at me as I approached. They hissed at me through their big yellow teeth. They slapped their tails on the ground, making a thwacking sound. “I get it,” I said to myself. “They’re warning me not to get any closer.” It occurred to me that the sick-looking one might have rabies. “Do beavers get rabies?” I wondered.

I was suddenly nervous, being so close to the big rodents. But they were still in my way. I grabbed a long branch out of a slash pile, and started whipping it on the ground, at the same time shouting “Heeyah! Heeyah!” at the beavers.

This seemed to send the beavers into a rage, and they started scuttling towards me, still hissing. I panicked, and started running back to my machine. Looking over my shoulder, I saw they were still coming. It was like a nightmare! Alone at dawn in the middle of the bush, being chased by wild animals.

I climbed into the machine and revved it up. “Get out of my way!” I yelled, and I put the machine in gear and stepped on the gas.

The beavers dashed off to the side, out of the path of the machine, but as I went roaring by, the sick-looking beaver suddenly broke towards me. It actually leaped up at the open door space, like it was trying to come into the cab after me. I screamed — I screamed like a woman in a Saw franchise horror film — let go of the control sticks and tried to fling myself out the open door space on the right side.

But the beaver misjudged its leap, and fell into the tracks, where it got tumbled around like clothes in a dryer. It fell out of the tracks, all covered with mud, and then bolted back with good speed towards its mate, all listlessness gone. The two beavers vanished into the slash piles.

I halted the machine, my heart pounding like a drum. I got out onto the roof and radioed back to the treeplanting camp with my walkie-talkie. The treeplanters were probably just finishing breakfast and about to head to the block.

“Listen,” I shouted into the radio. “Don’t bring your dogs out to the block! There’s rabies out here! I was just attacked by two beavers!” My radio sqwawked, and the camp boss came in. “What you just said made no sense to me — Over!” In the background I could here the whole crowd of planters convulsing with laughter.

“The beavers!” I shouted. “The beavers have rabies! I was just attacked!”

“Is this some kind of code?” my boss radioed back. I could heard the laughter getting even louder in the background.

“Forget it,” I said.

“So it’s Canada’s 125th birthday, and the beavers are upset they’re not getting their due,” my boss said. The crowd roared in the background. “And they’re taking it out on you?” That’s when I remembered it was Canada Day.

“The trees are ready,” I said. “Come on out. Let the chips fall where they may.”

I have always had great respect and admiration for Castor Canadenski (a more fun way spelling it). I can’t think of a better animal to symbolize Canada on her sesquicentennial. Happy 150th, Canada!

Barry Coulter is the Editor of the Cranbrook Townsman. He used to deliver trees in Northern Ontario for Brinkman and Associates