Beavers are the Shiva of the animal world. Who knows how a beaver chooses where to make her pond? But once she does, trees fall like spears of light then overnight disappear, dragged to underwater lairs, or left to float eerie carcasses, every branch and shred of bark stripped clean.
Last week I saw the beaver who’s been cutting down the woods near my house. It was evening, the weary light thinning through the trees by the time I reached the bridge. Sound came first, a crack so loud I flinched, thinking my neighbor had shot his gun. But across the newly flooded swamp, I saw a brown head cutting a silver v. Beaver, the first I’d seen.
One black eye visible, staring, back and forth she swam, a crease in flat silver, then she dove like some huge furious fish and her dark tail flicked up and slammed the surface. Another crack echoed through the trees, her warning. [End Page 1]
Now my beaver swam faster and faster, back and forth before me on the bridge, fierce, her whole being focused on this one resolve, to make me go away. Again she slammed the water, sound booming through the trees.
This swamp was hers, her trickling dam, her fallen trees, her growing pond. Each day water rising. When I didn’t move she began to track me, that dark eye locked on my standing figure.
And this time, when she dove, she took me with her, my svelte younger self moving through the hot water ladled with silt, down to the bottom of the pond where she had carved her underwater trails, clawing roads through the deep muck.
When I surfaced I was middle aged, messy in my ways as if I had grown four sets of yellow teeth, two layers of fur, claws, and dark scales cascading down the thick paddle tail. Half fish, but no mermaid. [End Page 2]
Leila Philip is the author of three books of nonfiction, including the award-winning memoir, A Family Place: A Hudson Valley Farm, Three Centuries, Five Wars, One Family (Viking 2001, Penguin 2002, SUNY Excelsior 2009). She has received numerous awards from her writing including: the Pen Martha Albrand Citation for Nonfiction and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, The National Endowment for the Humanities, the Radcliffe Research and Study Center, and most recently, the Guggenheim Foundation. “Water Rising” is the title piece of a collaborative project of text and image which counterparts 11 watercolors by artist Garth Evans, with 11 pieces of Philip’s writing. The book Water Rising, is forthcoming in 2014.