Saturday, April 12, 2008

Beaver Dam


Residents of Biltmore Lake are pissed. They paid good money for picture postcard views from their McMansions, and now the damned beavers are starting to do what beavers do - gnaw on trees. This will be grist for a few more newspaper stories, but it’s easy to see where this is headed. In the words of one observer, “Western North Carolina is being developed to death.”

I remember walking out one evening to inspect an apple tree near Wilson Creek. From a distance I could see something was amiss. The tree had been toppled! And I knew right away the beavers had done it. They had already started piling limbs and rocks in the creek. Within a few weeks, I could launch my canoe above their dam and paddle upstream for a couple of hundred feet, on the pond they had created.

About fifteen years ago, I sat in on a brainstorming session for economic development in Jackson County. Breakout groups had self-sorted themselves between the natives and the outsiders. Detecting the natives’ lack of enthusiasm for gated communities and golf courses, one of the outsiders noted hopefully, “At least they’ll be dying out in the next few years.”

Since then, natives might have resented seeing one subdivision after another carved into the mountains, but were accomplices nonetheless, thanks to their libertarian tendencies: “If a man owns a piece of land [or a dog…or a woman, we could infer], he ought to be able to do what he wants with it.” That timeless rubric of stubborn independence was the one scrap of mountain heritage that developers could embrace whole-heartedly.

So now we have Bear Lake Reserve. But heaven help any bear that dares to set foot upon the fairways of that monstrosity’s golf course.

At Pawpaw Cove any habitat that might have been suitable for pawpaws has long since been bulldozed away. But my, aren’t those Bradford pears pretty!

And just down the road, Jack Debnam has his Stonehaven development, a fitting name since it appears to be a haven for no living thing.

Power intoxicates. When people become inconvenient, the answer is genocide. Around here, when nature becomes inconvenient, the answer is ecocide. The casualty list grows every day. Endangered species in Jackson County include the Appalachian elktoe mussel, the Carolina northern flying squirrel, the Indiana bat, and the rock gnome lichen, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

On an unusually warm December afternoon last week, I lay down in my garden. Overhead, a woodpecker semaphored his way from one side of the valley to the other. A raucous party of crows carried on. The only other sound was the Aeolian song of the wind through the pines. Having gardened here for almost twenty years, my body is drawn to this soil. My body is the soil. The minerals that became the lettuce and potatoes, the peas and beets, have become a part of me. I could call it a mystical connection between myself and the soil. But by any measure, the connection is undeniable.

The beavers of Biltmore Lake are messing with the wrong folks. When you’ve built a million dollar house, you’ve earned the right to have things your way, to spend your life in a carefully manicured facsimile of nature. And when you die, you can spend eternity in a hermetically sealed box protected from the elements.

For myself, it is comforting to think of my ashes carried away on the wind and water, my bones mingled with the rocks and the roots of the land that I love. To be a part of this place is not a bad thing at all. Maybe that’s what the beavers are trying to teach the people of Biltmore Lake.

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