The yearling beaver is hungry, but when he tries to filch a piece of tender green shoot from his baby siblings, his mother hisses sharply. He moves toward the lodge’s diving hole, but his father blocks the way and chitters at him. The yearling slinks to one side of the den and begins grooming his fur with his right hind foot. The divided nail on his second toe makes for a kind of comb that simplifies this process considerably.
There are three new kits this spring, which keep his parents busy. His father moves to help with the feeding, and the yearling sees his chance. He slides into the diving hole and out into the pond.
The sky is bright overhead. The beaver dives, but not before the old trapper on the bank nudges the young girl beside him. “See, I tol’ you that ole lodge was still occupied!” he says gleefully.
* * *
“Old Pete ain’t gonna trap it, is he?” Andrew whispers. The two children are crouched on the edge of the beaver pond, peering at the yearling beaver feeding on the opposite bank.
“He says he needs a new hat, and beaver tail is mighty tasty,” Alma answers.
“He don’t need a new hat!” Andrew says loudly. There’s a slapping sound on the water to their left, and the yearling turns and slides into the pond.
“I didn’t even see the other one,” Andrew says sorrowfully.
“Should of kept your voice down.” Alma stands up.
“How can you watch ’em like you do and not worry about Old Pete trapping ’em?”
She shrugs. “Everything dies. Mama says it’s all part of God’s plan.” She moves away, toward the rocky path that leads up the Cimarron River toward home.
“Old Pete don’t need a new hat,” Andrew insists as he follows.
* * *
“Beaver tail is almighty tasty,” Old Pete observes as he sits on the front porch whittling a stick.
Andrew scowls. “Papa says it’s all fat and grease. Not good at all.”
“Fat tastes plenty good when you’ve been eatin’ venison and elk a long spell. Wild game’s almighty lean.”
“You been eatin’ here,” Andrew insists. “We’ve got plenty o’ fat from the hogs.”
Andrew’s mother comes out of the house. “The kindling box is empty,” she tells him.
He rises obediently and heads toward the woodpile.
“Are you still teasing him about trapping that beaver?” she asks Old Pete.
The old man grins. “He’s a right risible youngster, ain’t he?”
“Who admires you, although I can’t think why,” she says tartly. “He’s beginning to believe that men kill for the sheer pleasure of it.”
Old Pete grunts and tosses his stick to the ground. “Think I’ll help with that kindling,” he says.
* * *
“I ain’t gonna place a trap for that beaver, son.” Old Pete and the boy are resetting a garden fence post. Andrew holds it steady as Old Pete shovels dirt into the hole.
“Alma said you need a new hat.”
The old man chuckles. “Hat’s good fer another season or two.”
“But what then?”
“Somethin’ll turn up.”
“You said beaver tail was tasty.”
Old Pete leans on his shovel. “Funny thing ’bout that. Only really tasted good when there was plenty to trap an’ the peltries were sellin’ high.” He begins tamping down the dirt around the post with his foot. “You think this’ll be strong enough t’ keep those elk out?”
“I hope so. Mama got pretty mad at them last spring. She was out here with the shot gun, but Papa says all she did was scare ’em. They’ll be back when they’re hungry enough.”
from Old One Eye Pete