I found this stick while I was walking in upstate New York, and was amazed. It is remarkable how close the beaver came to eating all the bark and cambium, without biting too deeply into the sapwood, which are the slightly rougher areas. The marks reminded me of a David Pye bowel– using a hand placed gouge as an example of “workmanship of risk”. But this was teeth/paw/eye corrodination.
This stick is not craft, because craft is a learned human activity. This stick is the left over activity from a meal, the bones of a beaver brunch. If this stick were used by the animal for some purpose, we might consider it a tool, if shaping enhanced its use. Could we consider non-purposeful shaping a kind of animal art?
An average sized beaver is about 60 lbs. They can swim underwater for 25 minutes, and eat through a 5 inch diameter willow tree in about 3 minutes. To chew, they hold the stick in their front paws, much like we hold corn on the cob. The stick below was about 2 inches in diameter. Look at those crisp bites through the endgrain.
I started thinking how many tools I would need to replicate this stick– a somewhat dull chisel to get the bark off, a small gouge for the cross grain slices, a curved bowel adz to slice the endgrain. I would most likely have to make a miniature scrub plane to get this high degree of regulation on the surface. And even with these tools, I doubt I could do such a good job. And it would take me much, much longer.
I realize that teeth are not tools, and that a beaver is not a craftsman.
But looking at this stick reminds me that the skillful use of simple tools is an efficient, beautiful expression of craft.
4 Replies to “Leave it to Beaver”
I’m really enjoying your meditations, Jeff. This one has left me pondering how best to train the beaver to work in the book lab – chewing of course, but using the tail to reshape spines, and maybe even dam construction could be considered a transferable skill – perhaps in combination with double fan adhesive bindings?
I also noticed the appearance of Setbacks in your sidebar – is it making a comeback? a MUCH needed journal, I think.
Excellent point. I’ve used monkeys for some projects, which I wrote about in Setbacks. Let me “chew” on this for a while.
Bring back Setbacks!
Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.