An infrared beaver — white on the cold, black pond water — grabs a willow twig with both of her tiny, long-fingered hands, devours it quickly like a stick of candy and spits out the leaves. Then she pulls the branch toward her razor-sharp incisors and — stops. I click on the red triangle button and watch this beaver’s 14 seconds of feeding fame again. And again.
What is so compelling about this image of a beaver and enjoying her midnight snack? (If you want to test this video on yourself, email email@example.com and I’ll send back a copy.) If I must guess (and I have no choice), I would say the answer involves local and global reality.
Nothing is more local than the life of a beaver. She spends her life building dams of sticks and mud, patching her crude barriers when they leak, digging dens or fashioning lodges, munching on willow, alder, aspen and the cat-tail roots, bearing kits to carry on the family business. In the process, she creates wetlands that provide habitat for insects, fish, birds, frogs and many other creatures, including humans. But actually her activities are self-serving: to create a safe space along with conditions that provide a food supply for herself and her kind.
We humans also live in the local here and now. Like beavers, our daily activities serve our immediate concerns: brush the teeth, pay the rent, get the children off to school, shop for dinner, and so on. But through some trick of nature, we have also become conscious of a global reality. Some of us, at least, are watching the ecosphere that sustains us — our pond, so to speak — deteriorate. No one is patching the leaks. When we look to our nation’s capital for leadership, we (at least some of us) see a crude, reactionary political spasm that we call Trumpism. Around the planet, the picture is not much better — mostly a toxic drama of opportunism, finger-pointing and chaos.
What can we do in the midst of this madness? Clearly human consciousness must change, and change quickly, if we are going to have any shot at navigating through a perilous inflection point in human and geologic history: the dawn of the Anthropocene.
But human consciousness is an amazing phenomenon. Right here in Ashland, we have groups ‘thinking different’ on a national and international scale. If you want to help change the world, check out the Geos Institute (geosinstitute.org) and their Climatewise program (climatewise.org) or the Post Growth Institute (postgrowth.org). These are serious people with big ideas that are working.
Meanwhile all of us must deal with what is in front of us, our local reality, and trust that rationality will scale up. As for me, I’m hoping for a way to protect beavers from unlimited hunting and trapping by 2021. Temperatures are rising, snow packs are shrinking and we need all the wetlands we can get. The time has come for the Beaver State to partner with its beavers.