Essays - Winter 2017

Good Neighbors

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When beavers came between us and a farmer down the road, we knew something more was at stake

Design Pics Inc/Alamy

By Tamara Dean

December 5, 2016



One Friday in June, our neighbor Rod, who farms the parcel north of us in western Wisconsin, pounded on our door. Just back from a run, I was stretching on a mat. I didn’t want to get up, but when I did, I was glad to see Rod on our stone walkway. We had always enjoyed talking, and our visits were too infrequent. Yet that morning, his expression was stern. His cheeks flushed scarlet. He shifted from leg to leg, as if the ground were rippling.

“David there?” he asked.

“I’ll get him. Would you like to come in?”

Rod looked away. “Out here’s fine for me.”

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“The beavers again.”

“We trapped them.”

“Well, they must have come back to life!”

I had never seen Rod angry, or even irritable. If not exactly friends, we’d been friendly since my partner, David, and I moved to the country 11 years ago. We were the kind of neighbors who would help each other out of a ditch, even though we might not call each other first in an emergency. Whenever we met Rod or his wife, Margie, on the road, we stopped and talked. Most often, Rod talked—about his time in the army, the raccoons in his corn, his acres of walnut trees planted as an investment for his children and grandchildren. His demeanor was gentle, his voice as soft and mumbling as a pleasant stream.

But that morning Rod was furious about the beavers. They had undertaken an engineering project of human proportions near our shared property line. Where a creek entered our land from across the road, they had woven a stick-and-mud berm that paralleled the road for 100 yards. The berm interrupted the creek’s path to the river and had created an oblong, chest-deep pond. Spring rains caused the pond to swell. Water crept northward into the lowland acre where Rod planted corn.

When David came to the door, Rod gave me a formidable look. I understood that our neighbor was counting on a man-to-man talk and wouldn’t address me, even though I owned the property and the beavers were officially my problem. I disappeared into the house.

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Tamara Dean has written for Orion magazine and The Southern Review, among other publications. The author of the book The Human-Powered Home, she lives in Viola, Wisconsin.

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