It was a balmy 35° F today, and I got out for a walk in the late afternoon as the sun was getting low. As I was walking along the high bank above the river, I spied one of nature’s greatest woodworkers. Drawn out by the warmer temperatures, she(?) was squatting on the ice along the edge, eating the thin bark off of the branches she had clipped.
The soft snow made for quiet walking, and beavers have poor eyesight. I walked within 20 yards and stood watching her work the stick like a long ear of sweet corn. I could hear each little nibble.
I just had a little point-and-shoot camera with me, and snapped the best shot I could get before moving on, grateful for another encounter with one of my favorite animals. Most meetings have occurred while canoeing, and they usually let you get pretty close, not knowing quite what to make of it. My son and I have even been splashed by a thrilling tail slap off the starboard bow.
I keep a few beaver-chewed sticks in the shop, and I marvel at the lovely pattern left on the surface, better than the tool marks left by any gouge. I even made a bowl once on which I left the handles and rim straight from the beaver’s teeth.
Seeing the beaver today also got me thinking about we humans that are nibbling on sticks with bits of steel. These beaver-inspired thoughts may apply especially for those that are just beginning their carving journey, or just thinking about it. (It’s been three years since I started this blog, so I’m bound to repeat myself. I even included links as proof!)
Dig in. The information available can be overwhelming, and you don’t need nearly all of it. Read, take a class, watch videos, but mainly put steel to wood. Savor the process and your personal progress, without asking too many devilish questions. That beaver may be acting on pure instinct, but we humans also have our instincts. A strong one is to create; act on it and revel in it. You’ll overcome problems as they arise, or at least learn where you could use a little more help.
Don’t be overwhelmed by the dizzying numbers and varieties of tools available as you get started. Get a few good tools, then get to work. The tools will add up over time. At some point you’ll probably wonder where they all came from. This can be a tough thing to balance.
I may not be qualified to judge a beaver’s intent, but I’ve seen fallen trees that sure looked to me like the toothed-one was shooting for a different outcome. Make mistakes and take chances with design. Have fun. I have dumb ideas and make carving mistakes all the time, and I’ve got plenty of company.
When you screw up or things just aren’t going right, take a walk. You might see a beaver while you’re out, or a sunset as you near home to help put it all in perspective.