Sedges Have Edges
by Jeff Lewis

I like to anthropomorphize as much as the next guy, so when our canoe passed through the ruptured beaver dam under the foot bridge, I attempted to put a human face on the occupant of the adjoining beaver lodge.  Initially, I thought calling him Michael Beavens would be a fun touch, but something about the obsessive way he piled up branches each night, only to have them pulled down by the ranger each morning, suggested that this luckless beaver wasn’t a New Jack Swinger.  Thinking that he might be the type of beaver that prefers using initials, I briefly considered B.B. Berry Beaves, Dr. C. Beavrett Beaucoop and, of course, I. Wanataykutu Beaveytown.  None of these conjured up the right mental picture and the names were too busy, even for a beaver.  I dismissed Bardles Bunfoul Beaver-Beavington and Bellyhugs Beaver out of hand, for being too fatuous and childish, respectively.  I also visualized a superhero beaver named Blithe (a bubbly superbeaver) or The Brandisher (rather dour), but then realized that all this had gone too far and I really should concentrate on viewing the nature preserve.  (Later, I settled on Beeleey Bally Beaver, because ever since I saw Billy Elliot, I’ve enjoyed saying “Beeleey” and “Bally.”)

We were on a canoe tour of the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area.  Our guide, the preserve’s education director, was a woman who spent a good deal of time persuading children to walk like coyotes.  She was one part ranger, one part third-grade teacher, a physically fit font of cheerfully delivered wetlands data.

After describing the beaver’s fruitless attempts to build an unnecessary dam each night, she pointed out kingfishers, painted turtles and water plants galore.  In fact, she somehow shamed us into eating cat’s tail reeds that she pulled up from the muck.  They tasted quite sophisticated—a cross between a leek and endive—but I still felt like I was eating something that grew in muck.

After our tour, she taught us a little rhyme that I’ll pass on to you:

Sedges have edges
Grasses are round
Both of them grow with their roots in the ground

She presented this as a chant over a finger-snap beat, but gave us the option of performing it as a rap.

While I believe our guide knew what she was talking about, I must point out that sometimes a catchy nature slogan can be full of lies.  For instance, my brothers’ kindergarten teacher used to say:

A feather is a letter from a bird

That’s pure bollocks!  It is a nicer message, though, than the wisdom that my mother imparted to us when we were kids, which I sum up with the following rhyme:

Leave the feather on the ground
It’s covered with parasites and disease
If you touch it you’ll be found
Lifeless, the consistency of Roquefort cheese

She didn’t use those exact words, but that was her message.  Since age six, I’ve stuck to the family feather policy of “looking with the eyes” and I have fine health to show for it.

In my anthropomorphic beaver world, I passed this sage advice along to Beeleey, who interrupted the ranger’s next dam demolition with an, “Oy, Mate!  Look with the eyes!”  The perplexed ranger tried to clear the fog from her head and made a mental note to drink stronger coffee before these early morning outings.  She waded deeper into the channel, in order to remove the dam’s foundation.  As she tugged on a stubborn maple branch, a silver-pelted figure glided across the foot bridge’s railing, stopping inches above her head.

Champion of the assiduous
Protecting builder, lodger and fresh-water fisher
A hero for all things amphibious
Ranger, beware The Brandisher

(Please do not perform to a rap beat.)

Copyright Jeff Lewis, 2004