Sharing a cabin with beaver cubs in the Canadian forest

I have taken the following passage from Chapter two of my recent book “Home Study Projects and New Ideas for English Language Arts.” Chapter two contains many ideas on how to get students interested in documentary movies. The first section deals with movies on Grey Owl, the Indian name assumed by a young Englishman, Archie Belaney, who left his home in England to take on a new identity as an Indian trapper and make his living in the wilds of Ontario. The second half of chapter two suggests to students that they work at home on projects. The main writers/miniseries producers that I recommend to them are Ken Burns, Michael Moore, Alex Haley, Herman Wouk and the team that produced the book (and miniseries), The Story of English. I try to make the point that Haley and Wouk are too important to be ignored and there is a real danger to attaching importance to only the most recent productions in books and miniseries.


In Pilgrims of the Wild (1934), Grey Owl describes how he laid trap for a mother beaver in order to get her fur. When he went to collect her from the trap she wasn’t there. The following day Grey Owl and Anahareo [his Mohawk wife] are paddling their canoe in a nearby lake and notice two very small beaver cubs swimming behind them. Sensing a connection between the absent mother and the kits, they struggle to get the cubs into their canoe:

“By the exercise of considerable patience and ingenuity we eventually caught them, and dropped them aboard, two funny looking furry creatures with little scaly tails and exaggerated hind feet, that weighed less than half a pound apiece, and that tramped sedately up and down the bottom of the canoe with that steady, persistent, purposeful walk that we were later to know so well. We looked at them with a kind of dumbfounded bewilderment.”

[a few days later, in their cabin]:

“These were no cringing terror-stricken wild things with feral eyes
that cowered fearfully in dark corners, but a pair of very wide awake, aggressive personalities, who fastened themselves on us as their protectors. They gave themselves completely into our hands, and proceeded to levy unceasing demands on our attention. They allowed us at no time to forget the responsibilities that we had incurred, and before long they had us trained to sleep with one eye open and one hand on the milk can. Feeding them was a problem. They would not drink the diluted milk out of a dish, and having no feeding bottle we conceived the idea of loading a slim twig with the sweet milk out of a can, closing the beaver’s mouth over it with our fingers, and pulling out the stick. Masticating this sticky mass kept them interested for long periods at a time, and they did not need much of it, so this scheme simplified matters considerably. They were very gentle, and
they had a kind of naive disarming friendliness of disposition that
took it quite for granted that they belonged, and that we were well
disposed towards them and would see them through.” (…)

“After feeding times they desired to be picked up and fondled and it
was not long before they made this a regular habit, falling asleep in
odd places such as the inside of an open shirt, half way up a sleeve,
or draped around a person’s neck. Should they be removed from
these places they would immediately awaken and return in the most
determined manner, and if placed in their box they awoke at once,
and with piercing outcries demanded to be again taken up, grasping
our hands and lifting themselves up by means of them. (…) They
soon got to know our voices and would answer concertedly with
loud exclamations when spoken to. (…) Their voices really were
the most remarkable thing about them, much resembling the cries
of a human infant, without the volume but with a greater variety
of expression. (…) The best known and easiest [sound] to recognize was the loud, long and very insistent call for lunch, which chorus broke out about every two hours.” (p. 252)

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