In January of 1961, a southern right whale was found washed upon a beach on the west coast of Vancouver Island, thousands of miles from its home waters. Biologists went into a frenzy, writing academic paper after academic paper, tossing theories back and forth.
In January of 1971, there were multiple Sasquatch sightings within 10 miles of Grand Forks in southern B.C. It caused a buzz around the world for years afterwards, and to this day every summer the folks of Grand Forks still make money off those supposed Sasquatches from tourists passing through.
In that same month in 1981, a kettle of 24 ferruginous hawks was seen battling above the top of Big Mountain in Whitefish, Montana. The skiers paused among the snow ghosts and stared. There was one injury as a young snowboarder was paying more attention to the battling birds than the trail and went hurtling off the edge of Hellroaring basin and into the out-of-bounds areas.
On January 18th, 1991, a women befriended a very small, very distressed beaver kit. It was a most unusual beaver kit in that it seemed very interested in being the woman’s friend and not at all interested in returning to the nearby frozen slough. The distress was mostly due to her trying to scare it away. There was a small hole in the ice — surrounded by discarded beer cans and stumps sitting on end, probably left over from local ice fishermen — from which the kit emerged as she was strolling by. She tried shooing it back towards the slush-filled opening but the kit just sat there and smiled. It was the smile that did it. She couldn’t ignore the fact that a beaver had smiled at her.
The woman, whose name was Meredith McGrath, had lived in Magrath for all of her 60-some-odd years. Southern Alberta was a beautiful place to live, always some place to explore, always something new to discover — that is if you could stand the wind that came roaring over the mountains like tsunamis of air breaking over the Rockies. Meredith didn’t mind it. After all it brought the West Coast’s warm air every winter, and she’d always believed it’s what made the air so clean and fresh in the summers. A little wind was a small price to pay for such a bounty.
Beavers were a pretty common thing, occupying the small rivers that criss-crossed the prairie like a network of veins. And a short drive west or southwest would bring the mountains with their accompanying wildlife, so Meredith wasn’t particularly surprised to see a beaver. To be sure, a beaver in January was a thing to behold, but stranger things happened in the land of the chinook. When the warm winds came, minus 30 could give way to the heat of the desert in just a a few days. And something like that always brought surprises.
On this particular day, Meredith had been out for a walk down the coulee that meandered across the landscape east of town. She had driven out in her pickup because the weather was warming and she wanted to check on the ice on the slough before her nieces and nephews arrived in a few days. Afterwards she just continued past and down into the valley to take in some nature.
Meredith smiled back at the beaver and said, “Well, I guess you’re going to need a name, little fella!”
The beaver didn’t answer.
“Shall we head up to the truck?” Half believing the beaver would stay behind, she turned upslope and headed for her old brown-and-tan Ford parked on the edge of the slough. Without turning her head she could sense the beaver scrambling up the hill. There was no snow to slow the little fellow down, and he seemed to keep up pretty readily.
When Meredith opened the driver’s door, the beaver reached up with his front legs. Meredith reached down and gave him a boost into the cab. He jumped up on the vinyl seat, moved over to the passenger’s side and settled in, peering at her with his eerie brown eyes. Meredith sighed, hopped in, pumped the gas pedal exactly two and a half times, and turned the ignition to start the engine. The old 400 roared to life. The beaver didn’t even blink. She threw it into reverse and backed onto the range road.
As she headed back home she considered living arrangements. The old chicken coop was empty but smelly: she’d had chickens until about five years ago. There was plenty of space in the loft over the shop. If she left the attic stairs down the beaver could have his own bachelor pad, and the shop was heated year round. She hadn’t been up there more than once or twice since Barney had left. It was mostly his junk up there, and the beaver could do whatever suited him. It would be nice to see some of the dusty old spaces used again.
That resolved, Meredith glanced down at her new companion. He had closed his eyes and was resting his head on his front paws. His rich brown fur glistened, and she barely resisted the urge to reach over and stroke him like a cat. This is going to take some thinking, she mused to herself. This fella’s definitely not a pet.
He was definitely not a lot of things, but she had no idea just what this particular creature was.
“Well, I guess there’s time enough,” she said aloud to the sleeping beaver with a quirky look on her lips. “I guess we’re going to find out soon enough, aren’t we?”