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Possumhaw: Not worth a dam


Shannon Bardwell



I know I'm going to hear from the beaver lady, but if she could have seen Sam's face, she would have understood. 


Six years ago Simm Taylor gave Sam three cypress saplings. Sam planted all three near the Prairie pond and tenderly cared for them. That summer was a dry one, and although Sam diligently watered the saplings, only one survived. 


As the cypress struggled, Sam took an old grill salvaged from the backside of an abandoned refrigerator and fashioned a protective cage. At 2-feet high the cage would fend off any critters, deer or beaver, which might try to relieve the tree of its bark. 


From time to time we'd walk or ride the Gator to the cypress tree and finger its lacy needles. The tree's roots were now deep and watered by the pond. We watched the cypress sprout green in the spring and turn a deep shade of orange in the fall.  


This fall the cypress towered 6 or 7 feet tall, still spindly and delicate. She was wispy and waved her sunset-colored needles against strong Prairie winds. Then we came closer and saw; we stood and mourned. 


Just above the cage was that familiar gnaw. The tree looked as if a giant pencil sharpener had sharpened the trunk right in the middle. She wavered in the wind, looking as though in a moment she should fall. 


Cypress chips lay scattered around the base of the tree. Why did the beaver damage the tree, if not to take it?  


This solitary cypress stood in the middle of the field when a stand of trees was 100 yards away. On the other side of the pond, trees stood 6 feet from where the beaver traditionally builds its dam. Why this lone cypress? 


Sam's face drew taut; his mouth formed a straight line.  


"I'm sorry," I said. Sometimes at a loss there's nothing else you can say. 


Looking at the scattered bark and the pencil-shaped gnaw, I remembered that at the house was a piece of wood gnawed into a ball that looked just like the cypress tree. 


"What is this," I had asked. 


"A beaver ball," he said. 


Then Sam explained how he found the ball in the woods and how the beaver had shaped it with its tremendous front teeth. It was a show-and-tell piece to visitors. 


One day I had cause to question Sam further about the beaver ball. His answer was, "What else could it be?" 


"You made that story up and I've been telling people this is a beaver ball!" 


He laughed again, "What else could it be?" 


Looking at our now-damaged cypress I asked, "Do you think we could wrap the cypress's wound and save it?" 


"Maybe I'm not meant to have a cypress," Sam said. 


In my head I heard a song lyric by Big Daddy Weave, "Sometimes all we can see is the struggle."


Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.


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