Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Canada IV: The Beaver Hunt

"Is she sportif?" The walk leader asked sceptically, as I trotted off to get some trousers to put on under my Primark sun dress.
Chris replied with a Gallic shrug. "Un peu."

We set off from the hostel at a breakneck pace. The bearded old man lead us away from the path, through bushes and over fallen trees, over brooks and under thorned branches. We were Bella to his Edmund, Jane to his Tarzan, the camera man to his Challenge Anneka. Every time he paused to let us catch up I'd slap at the insects and try yet again not to ping the foliage back into anyone's face.

But already we were seeing signs of the beavers. It was like a company of midget loggers had been at work in the pristine forest. Everywhere you looked trees were felled and branches gnawed through. Sometimes a deep, triangular rift had been bitten into trunk, only for the beaver to lose interest and leave the booby-trapped tree precariously in place. And then there were the dams: whole systems of minor dams to allow the beavers easy access to the heart of the woods, then huge, Gothic structures which acted as their winter homes.

Our guide pointed up towards the canopy. He let out a rapid volley of French. "Giant beaver!" He explained. Apparently beavers can walk on the top of the ten to twenty feet of snow this region gets every winter, and use the elevation to take wood from the tops of young trees. We laugh and marvel, obediently.

But it is when we are waiting for the grand final - the money shot - that our guide drops his favourite joke. It's sun-down, and we're watching the lake for signs of the beavers themselves, when he breaks the silence. He mutters something. Everyone laughs. I look confused.
"Did you get that?"
I shake my head and smile.
"Why do beavers have flat tails?"
"Je ne sais pas."
"Because ducks give blow jobs."
I "ahh!" and nod furiously, feeling that something may have got lost in the translation, and keep scanning the horizon for beavers.

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