portrait of The Ambitious Beaver

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

thoughts from The Ambitious Beaver

Yesterday morning: calm skies, no breeze. And so I missed the gentle musical rattling from the cattails that rides on fluid gusts of spring air. The quiet gave space for daydreams to emerge from my jumbled thoughts. I never learned to sing like the birds or chirp like the frogs. I don’t dance through the sky like the bats at night or zip around in showy loops like the dragonflies. I have other talents, of course, but the talents I have not developed are all the more curious to me.

Could I learn to sing and dance? Is it possible for me to whistle even with these clunky iron-rich enameled teeth? Perhaps an instrument would be a better outlet for my musical curiosity . . . a horn of some sort? Or perhaps a woodwind instrument to align with my knowledge of the trees? Would something from the percussion family better match my enthusiasm for smacking my tail on the water as an alarm?

My potential career-shifting day dream felt full of possibility yesterday morning! I began inquiring with neighbors about who could teach me music. Who can pass on their art? Who is able to help me find my own musical voice? Who can coach me in constructing an instrument unique to me? Many neighbors were puzzled by my eager questions and met my interrogations with dismissive laughs. “When will you have time for this hobby?” they asked, “And why do you want to add more noise to our soundscape?” Like many in our ecosystem during spring and summer, they were worried that my raucous music might drown out any urgent calls from their young. I considered their concern valid, “I’ll begin construction of my instrument this spring but won’t begin making music until the young are slightly more self-sufficient.”

With no conflict now surrounding my budding hobby, I was faced again with the original challenge: where to find a mentor. As I chewed absentmindedly on a delicious branch, I pondered my options. . .

A spider sat high on a nearby cattail. It was beginning to make a web. The shine of its threads in the early morning sunlight caught my eye. I watched as the spider used its first bridge-thread as a base then extended strands of silk radially to anchor the evolving creation. Sometimes when creations are so perfectly made, a part of me craves destructing them with a tornado of disorder: toppling a pile of perfectly stacked logs, yelling out with enthusiasm when everyone else is silent, scattering a pile of neatly piled leaves, . . . Perhaps that’s why felling trees brings me such joy! Anyway, returning my attention to my spider neighbor, this feeling was bubbling inside me: the creation is so perfect. Too perfect, perhaps.

Out of respect for their craft, I channeled my fascination into a mind-experiment: what if I could, with great precision, touch just one strand of silk at a time? I would reach my foot up and use one small toe to gently brush just one strand of silk . . . what if that strand was taut enough that I could actually pluck the string? Would a sound emit from the vibration? Unexpectedly, my musical journey was beginning!

In a rush of enthusiasm the ideas spun in my head: I could pluck several strands of silk in sequence, or even multiple strands at once, the strands would emit different tones, the vibrations would resonate through the web and amplify with the stalk of the cattail, the spiders would play their own webs to accompany my melody, the other insects living in the reeds would chime in, and it would be a GLORIOUS CACOPHONY that fills the wetland!

My absentminded bark gnawing had intensified with my growing enthusiasm, so I paused and a joyful smile crept through my entire body. My toes grinned, my tail twitched, my eyes opened wide, my whiskers twinkled, and happiness oozed from every hair follicle in my brown coat. This is going to be great.

American Chemical Society. “Making Music from Spider Webs -- ScienceDaily.” Science News. Accessed June 9, 2021. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/04/210412084542.htm.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “Beaver.” Accessed December 13, 2020. https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/mammals/beaver.html.

Ault, Alicia. “Ask Smithsonian: How Do Spiders Make Their Webs? | At the Smithsonian | Smithsonian Magazine.” Ask Smithsonian. Accessed June 9, 2021. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/ask-smithsonian-how-do-spiders-make-webs-180957426/.