A dear friend recently asked about the origins of my most recent short story. Not surprisingly, my life experiences form the basis of everything I write, even the fiction. In the case of “Untrapped”, my experiences are almost as dramatic and interesting as the story that evolved from them.
Many, many, years ago I was working the hotels in Bethlehem NH, washing dishes, bussing tables, working in the bakery. The work wasn’t hard and the off time was a lot of fun. Being 13 or 14 and on your own is rather exciting as you can well imagine. Somehow I learned of a farm job opportunity on the outskirts of Bethlehem and thought it might be fun to apply. The money was rumored to be far better than the $150 a month plus room and board that I was receiving at the hotel. I hitchhiked (too young to drive) to the farm. I wandered around a variety of unmarked buildings looking for someone but the place appeared to be unoccupied. I yelled a few times just to make my presence known. As I came to the back of one of the smaller buildings, I came upon wall of small cages occupied by minks, hundreds of them. They were actually quite animated, endearingly charming and incredibly cute. They were also caged, abused and soon to die. I wandered over to the next building. The stink nearly forced my last meal to vacate my body. In the stifling July heat, 55 gal drums of mink carcasses were rotting. I briefly looked into the killing room and knew immediately that no amount of money could keep me there. I walked back out to the road and started walking back to town.
Fast forward half of a lifetime to the pleasant if somewhat obscure town of Jefferson, NH. Nestled into the west side of the Presidential Range in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, it was my home for ten years. I lived on a gravel road with no human neighbors nearby. The lot adjacent next to mine was steeply sloped into a flat bottom of vernal pools and swamp. After I had been living there for a few years, a beaver, misplaced by a severe storm from a nearby stream, dammed up the outfalls from the swamp and turned into a fine beaver pond. For several years, I enjoyed his presence. Some ducks found his pond and came back year after year to raise their young. I spent many hours watching the ducks grow up. Their first aquatic landings were always clumsy and fun to watch as the ducklings narrowly avoided the trees and swamp growth and splashed noisily onto the water’s surface. Year after year, the lodge grew bigger and the dams grew higher. Eventually, the town road agent determined that the road was endangered and put a contract out on the beaver. A local trapper was hired to rid the town of this industrious pestilence.
Over a period of time, I saw a number of victims fall to the traps set for the beaver, but not the beaver! Apparently, he was much too smart for the traps. At least one coyote, a couple of raccoons and some other unrecognizable critters fell victim to the traps.
One day, I was walking up my gravel road with my two dogs. My dogs ran ahead and were sniffing at something at the water’s edge. I could see the Shepard’s tail wagging, but the Scottie was out of sight. A swarm of black flies hovered over them. As I approached, I could see what had them transfixed there at the water’s edge. The beaver, totally exhausted and caked with drying mud was nearly dead from his efforts to free himself. He hardly reacted to the presence of my dogs or myself and surrendered himself to fate.
I was dressed in my office clothes and had no tools, so I quickly walked back home, slipped into some jeans and went back to the pond. Three times I pried the jaws open and three times they slipped and snapped back onto the poor beaver’s leg. I thought it would have been amputated just from my clumsiness. On the fourth try, I was able to pull the trap away from the beaver. I nudged him. At first, he just laid there, but with the 3rd or 4th nudge, he slowly slid into the water. That seemed to revive him immediately, and he quickly swam away .
In a rage, I pulled the trap free and hurled it deep into the woods. Later that day, I called Fish and Game to complain. That trap had been set illegally right at the water’s edge (they are supposed to be submerged) in a place where my dogs or someone’s children could have stepped into it.
The Fish and Game officer said he needed the trap to see whose tag was on it. He also informed me that because this was a “nuiscance” beaver, there was no legal trapping season. I went into the woods and eventually found the trap, but the Fish and Game officer had little interest in pursuing the matter.
The beaver continued to outsmart the trapper for the remainder of my tenure in Jefferson. Sometime later, I did go back and saw that the pond was drained and that the area was restored to being a boggy bottomland. I can only imagine that the road agent and the trapper had to escalate the war to get rid of the beaver. Usually that means a rifle and some dynamite.
As long as I live, I will remember the beaver, the sound of his tail slaps, the families of ducks, and all the fauna and flora that eventually came to his pond. He was a good neighbor.
So that is the truth behind “Untrapped”, all else was fiction.