If a tree falls in the woods, does anyone hear it?
That’s an age-old riddle that assumes that the creatures of the forest don’t really count, just we two-leggeds.
For several months now, I’ve been keeping my eye on a huge Elm that towers over Duchesnay Creek, a mile or so east of the Union of Ontario head offices. Ducks and suckers swim past the tree daily, and the odd deer likely rubs its budding horns on the Elm’s corduroy bark.
I’m guessing about the ducks, suckers, and deer, but am certain that one animal is in constant contact with the tree. That would be the beaver that has gnawed away about eight inches of its 18-inch trunk.
Depending on your outlook, beaver are either one of God’s most industrious creations, or society’s greatest nuisances. Once they get a project in their furry little heads, nothing – and I mean nothing – can distract them from their goal. You can try to trap them, corral them, shoot them … and the trees they fell to build lodges or dams will still block driveways, back up creeks and cause flooding over country sideroads.
My Elm tree is close to a bend in the creek, whose meandering flow will certainly by stopped if the beaver decides to steer its fall southwards.
Without ever having laid eyes on him or her, I can say two things for sure about this beaver – he/she has tremendously sharp teeth – the texture of this tree’s wood is about the same consistency as concrete. My other informed guess is that this creature has a sense of theatre – it has left the Elm in its current whittled-away condition since the snow melted from the creek’s banks; it is keeping us in suspense.
My mind wandered back to the Elm tree while watching the proceedings during June's annual general assembly of the Anishinabek in Sheguiandah First Nation. I was craning my neck to scan the beautiful wooden rafters and interior walls of the Round House just opened by Chief Orville Aguonie’s community.
Then Garden River Chief Lyle Sayers and community member Darryl Boissoneau made a surprise presentation of a wooden war club to re-elected Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee. They talked about traditional leaders like Shingwaukonse, part of Tecumseh’s alliance that was instrumental in repelling ten American invasions in the War of 1812.
A little while later National Chief Shawn Atleo mentioned that he too had been the recipient of a wooden war club by well-wishing community members back in Ahousat. “When you love someone, you confront him,” they told me, the National Chief said.
All the assembly discussion about perpetual First Nation political struggles over land and jurisdiction reminded me of the persistence of the beaver, and how they just never quit, never give up, in the face of any foe, no matter how daunting it may seem.
I think that my Elm tree is going to topple sometime this summer, and I just hope I am there to see it fall.
It will make a noise that I guarantee will be heard by many.
Maurice Switzer is a citizen of the Mississaugas of Alderville First Nation. He is director of communications for the Union of Ontario Indians and editor of the Anishinabek News.