My Father Becomes a Beaver

An All Hallows Story – Transmutation?

The year my father died I fell in love with beavers. All summer I watched them at dawn and dusk gnaw down the poplars, drag them to the plume, observing keenly how the trees slid so easily into the stream… as the kits grew, little furry heads accompanied their parents carrying whittled sticks in their mouths to help shore up their ever expanding lodge. I always sat quietly so some evenings around dusk the kits would swim right up to me. Occasionally one would slap a leathery flat tail before diving deep.

This beaver felled a huge maple

When the call came on All Hallows Eve my father sounded sad and resigned. He was being operated on for colon cancer that week. The shock of finding out so suddenly choked me up with grief so intense I could barely respond. He had told no one he had cancer. We hung up. A trip to NY and to*** the hospital was distressing. I saw my dad twice. The first time he barely acknowledged me; that night he looked into my eyes and called me “his girl,” words he had never used to describe me, his daughter, during our entire life – time together. Two days later, after returning to Maine, I awakened from a dream with the words, “your father has become a beaver” just as the phone rang. My father had died minutes before.

A second frantic trip to NY was cut short. My mother had decreed there would be no funeral. If anyone needed to have a memorial of some kind it was my father who had spent his entire life doing his best to care about his family and other people. He was an extrovert that tried too hard to please. Although, sometimes overly kind in public, privately he had a problem with explosive rage. As a child I was terrified of him – I never knew when mindless chaos would erupt and it destroyed any sense of safety I might have had being with him (I so desperately needed to feel safe. I had been an unwanted child; almost aborted it turns out). 

Yet in retrospect, I remembered that my dad was the one who held my head while I was throwing up, carried me in his arms when I fell asleep after a long car trip. My father took me to the hospital, the circus, read to us at night, helped his children climb the circular stairs of the Statue of Liberty, bought me my first prayer book when I chose to become Episcopalian, told me that when he prayed it was always to Mary…. 

It didn’t help that my mother and her family kept her children away from my father’s Italian family. We grew up with cousins, aunts and uncles we barely knew. My mother despised Catholics and Italians and made no secret of it (why did she marry one?). My little brother and I knew enough not to cross her, and sadly, aligned ourselves with our mother although secretly we never shared her beliefs. When my brother killed himself (‘myself’ – I wrote this word first by mistake – gives the reader an idea of how close we were) it was my father who went to see his dead son, who made every necessary arrangement. I stood by him. Helping. My father burned the Navajo Hogan my brother died in, in my parents driveway. I can still remember the smell of burning skins… My mother drove me out of the house at midnight.

The morning after I returned home a pure white dove appeared on the ground along with the other mourning doves I routinely fed outside the window. A white dove? I had never seen one before. I had the uncanny sense that my father was trying to communicate with me through that bird, perhaps an aspect of Mary? The dove stayed only one day, leaving me if possible, more bereft when s/he left…

When I spoke to my uncle Alex, my dad’s only surviving brother, he told me another even more incredible story. He was eating pasta one night when he bit into something hard. When he pulled the object out of his mouth it was a tiny white stone dove. We had been in the process of planning a Memorial service for my dad just before this happened. The miraculous presence of the dove sealed the rightness of what we were doing, although personally I had never had doubts and either had my aunt and uncle.

As soon as my father was cremated and his ashes returned, my mother pawned them off on one of my sons who promptly gave them to me. No one wanted them. 

The Memorial service would be held in two months time. I called my mother to invite her. She screamed “you selfish girl” and I hung up. My father adored his two grandchildren. When I contacted my sons and they informed me they would not attend the Memorial service either I was sickened. I knew from personal experience the dark power of my mother’s ability to influence young people in a negative way. My children, who loved their grandfather deeply, were making a horrible mistake that they would come to regret for the rest of their lives if they ever woke up, and I knew it. 

 Meanwhile, I placed the ashes on a table where shafts of light lit up the plain brown box almost all day long…My father loved the sun. The little prayer book that he had given me found its way to the top of the box. I kept it open to a passage that I poured over and over during my two- month vigil … “my father’s house has many mansions…” 

 I cleared a place within a copse of cedars for my dad’s ashes, dug a hole before it became impossible to do so…It was still November…I spent thanksgiving alone except for the beavers who I had been visiting all along until the week before when thick ice froze over the stream. Oh, how I missed the beavers; it was like losing my dad again… by then I understood (on one level) why I had the dream about my dad becoming a beaver when he died. He was a man who got things done, a doer just like the beavers; even in his spare time he was always busy building something (To this day when I think of my father I also think of beavers). 

beaver pond in fall

That thanksgiving morning it dawned frigid and clear. I took a crowbar down to the stream, punching a big hole in the ice. Then I sawed up a few poplars and stuffed them into the black water. My thanksgiving gift to the beavers, an offering to my dead father…The next morning I raced down the hill to see if the beavers had accepted their thanksgiving feast. The poplars were gone, and a solid sheet of ice covered the open water.

On January 9th 1994, two months after my father’s death, I met with my Aunt and Uncle and their son Billy and we honored my dad’s life as a family….

When I returned to Maine after the Memorial service, I immediately dug through mountains of snow to place my dad’s ashes in the earth. 

 The ordeal was over; I could hardly believe it…  Peace that literally ‘passes all understanding’ flowed through me like the purest water as I felt my father’s spirit join me in that snowy cedar grove. My father taught me a lesson that I would never forget: 

Funerals are not just for the living; they bring peace to the dead. 

*** I am editing the sentence where I am visiting my father when a mourning dove SLAMS into my bedroom window and somehow survives; stunned, the bird flies away miraculously unharmed as I race out thinking it has to be dead. Every – living – thing, virtually every -thing is connected within and beyond space and time. The ultimate “both and”.

A word on transmutation:

In biology, transmutation occurs when one species change into another by the process of evolution. Another way it might occur is by nuclear transmutation. Some studies show that it occurs within living organisms.

If Einstein’s thesis is true, namely that energy is neither created or destroyed; it simply changes from one form to another then my experiences reinforce what we already know – All Life Occurs in the Round.

Endings and Beginnings: Re -membering my Father

beaver.jpg

 

It’s cold – 18 degrees – the coldest it’s been all fall, and the sky is clear, the air bone dry. I awaken remembering that today my father died on another Thursday many years ago at age 74, only two years older than I am now. I imagine the ice closing around the beavers’ den whose members have flooded the field with water below my house.

 

The morning of my father’s death, moments before I got the call, I awakened from a dream that told me that my father had become a beaver. That Thanksgiving, the first of oh so many that I would spend alone over the next twenty some years, I opened a hole in the ice, cut some poplar branches and sank them under water for the beaver family I had befriended the previous summer, who in my mind now bore my father’s name and were intimately associated with him. I wondered then about death and transformation.

 

I spent that first winter after my dad’s death learning everything I could about beavers.

 

It was uncanny that the dream picked the beaver of all animals to transmute my father’s energy (and perhaps information too), because although my father was a man who lived his life in the fast lane in a concrete world, paradoxically he was also caught under water. Rarely did he surface as the deeply compassionate family man he was. His young children experienced continuous uncontrollable bursts of rage and terminal impatience. We learned to fear him. My father’s uncontrollable temper remained a lifetime nemesis.

 

I buried my father’s ashes twice. Now they lie beneath the house under Trillium rock, near those of his only son, a child he adored, a child whose death he never recovered from. Fortunately, I gave him two grandsons to love.

 

During most of my father life I did not believe he loved me, so I was stunned to experience a profound rush of his love for me after his death. Memory re –surfaced from the deep (Did the beavers help me?). The times my father comforted and held me when I was a small child, holding my head tenderly and cleaning up the mess when I threw up, rushed trips to the hospital without my mother, tucking me into bed, reading nightly stories, teaching me about the stars, and later as an adult, appreciating the way my father provided financially for his distant wife and family, the weekly visits to see his own mother that continued for ten years although she no longer knew him…

 

I think it was piecing together these memories that taught me that actions always speak louder than words, that fiery tongues of anger, anguish, disappointment do not make the man (or woman). What made my father so special was that he was capable of deep feeling and acted on that feeling in concrete ways to care for those around him, especially the members of his own family.

 

My father spent his life as a caregiver.

 

This was a revelation to me as was the insight that followed; that I too have lived my life as a caregiver, a woman who not only loves her family fiercely but also one who loves each tree, bear, dog, and bird caring deeply for all. I am my father’s daughter, after all.