The Beavers in My Life

I recently came into possession of the most wonderful piece of beaverwood I have ever seen. It’s more of a log really, two feet in length, willow, gnawed in four places. Some beaver in the Columbia River Watershed feasted upon it, thereby setting the log loose in a river or stream, where it floated and floated until it floated across the bar and came to rest on a beach at Fort Stevens State Park. A curious human being discovered it and brought the log into my care. It’s now in a window of my writing parlor. Found art. Free of charge.

As I stared at the log on a rainy afternoon the other day, a thought occurred to me: Beavers have circled through and around me my entire life. I lost my virginity in Beaver Creek, Oregon. I taught at Beaverton High School. I once dated a nurse who lived in Beaver, Oregon. I much prefer the OSU Beavers when it comes to college football even though I attended UO.  I wrote something called the Beaver State Trilogy. I find and then display interesting pieces of beaverwood in my home. I used to have a friend who dated a biologist whose expertise was beavers. I now have a friend in Astoria who met in Seattle a visiting biologist from Scotland who hopes to reintroduce beavers into the moors. I’ve created a writing workshop that is beaver-themed. I collaborate with beavers to build driftwood forts on Oregon’s beaches. My publishing company recently added a new logo of a bucktoothed beaver holding a microphone like some furry beatnik poet. I love informing people that Oregon has the only two-sided state flag in the nation and a golden beaver is on that other side. I once watched a beaver build a dam in a remote creek way up in a coastal watershed. It was probably the best silent hour I’ve ever spent in the woods. I recently adopted the beaver, along with a wooden tennis racket, (naturally), as the two critical metaphors I need to channel a means of reinventing myself. (More on the tennis racket later.)

And then there was the Beaver Man. I’ll never forget my magical encounter with him. It was almost two years ago when I unexpectedly walked into his beaver gig. I love walking unexpectedly into other people’s gigs.

He pulled his pickup truck next to mine in the graveled lot of a Seaside park overlooking an estuary. It was a spring or summer morning. The Ford truck was red and green, dented and ancient. The neatly painted white lettering on the truck read: SAVE THE BEAVERS. YOU NEED THEM. THEY NEED YOU.

I had to meet him. I got out of the truck and went up to him. I asked if I could take a photograph of him standing by the truck.

“Sure you can brother!” he said. “It’s all for the beavers and getting the word out!”

The word?

We started talking. Five minutes into our conversation, I knew I had met the world’s most passionate spiritual advocate for beavers and walked into one of the best Oregon gig stories of my life.

His name is James Murphy and he owns a romping tan lab named Marley. He has a house in outer SE Portland but hated Portland now and rarely went back. He was a wandering man of the North Oregon Coast now, evangelizing for the protection of beavers.

James riffed with the most interesting and unconventional grammar and I thought it the most beautiful stream-of-conscious speechifying I’d heard in years. Who cares if it was almost impossible to quote him properly? Beavers don’t care about conventional grammar or proper quoting! They just want to be left alone, eat wood, build dams, create marshes and salmon rearing habitat, and play their antediluvian role in the ecology of healthy watersheds.  James understood this perfectly and wanted to educate others about the benefits of this maligned animal that was once nearly hunted to extinction because of a fashion trend.

This crusade began a year ago after angels told him to take care of animals. “I’ve known for years about beavers,” said James, “and it was time to start doing something for them. I had to.”

James scouts the local creeks, wetlands and rivers for signs of beaver activity and also imagines their return to places where they are needed to restore damaged watersheds. He’s documenting beavers and beaver dams in some way that doesn’t involve conventional scientific documentation. He’s seeking, finding, observing, and rhapsodizing. James is a “naturalist” of the very old school. He’s gigging.

At one point in our conversation, James broke out a little book with a cork-like cover. “It’s my Beaver Book,” he said, handing it to me. He told me he’s collecting names, telephone numbers and email addresses of people who will go to Washington D.C. and lobby for the protection of beavers. I happily signed it and provided my contact information. I was surprised by how many names were in there. He’s been, well, busy as a beaver, and people are responding.

James exploded into a smile when I asked if it would be okay to write up his story and help spread the word. The Word.

“Yes brother!” he said. “Yes. Do whatever you can!”

“I’m calling you the Beaver Man,” I said.

“Yes I am!”

As a postscript to all of this, I have a friend in Portland who recently saw James’ rig parked in front of a home in outer SE Portland. I told her she had to contact James and let him know that I had included his story as a chapter in my book about gigging. I wanted to get him copies, hundreds of copies, so he could give them away to people who signed up for duty in the Beaver Book. We would gig within each other’s gig and keep spreading the word! She left a note on his truck and we are still waiting for a response.