Yesterday I wandered the campus of my alma mater, The University Of New Brunswick. A beautiful autumn day of sunshine and warmth, encouraging much walking and sitting. I also went into some of the buildings, one of which was the Harriet Irving Library, where I studied and also worked. The library is greatly changed, but one room remains much the same. It is the Lord Beaverbrook Room, so named because the personal library of that Lord and benefactor is housed there. Winged leather chairs and wood panelling. Foot stools.
I sat in one of those red leather chairs and picked a book solely because it was shelved upside down. It happened to describe the trial and execution of Charles I. I read a good half hour. It was only as I was going to put the book back that I noticed Lord Beaverbrook’s Coat of Arms on a sticker on the inside. And then I was taken by the fact that there were two anemic and mink-like beavers depicted, each holding a fish in its mouth. Beavers are vegetarian.
I can find no illustration of this coat of arms, but have found this description:
Arms: Argent two barrulets wavy Azure between in chief two maple leaves slipped and in base thistle eradicated Gules a bordure Sable charged with eight bezants.
Crest: Upon a drum Proper a cock [cockerel] Gules wattled armed and legged Or.
Supporters: Or either side a beaver reguardant holding in the mouth a fish Proper.
All this put me in mind of an encounter with real beavers that I had a few years ago. Perhaps the creator of Lord Beaverbrook’s Arms should have been walking with me.
I was walking along the river and heard the strangest noise. It was one of those noises which, when I found out what It was, sounded exactly as it should. A beaver was chewing at a branch on the bank of the river. First there were small rolling noises as the branch went through its hands, and then the ‘gnaw gnaw gnaw’, and then the turning noise and the cycles were repeated.
This went on fifteen minutes or so, then the beaver and I both heard noises in the water. We both saw another beaver approaching. The beaver-at-gnaw quickly went in her direction (though I can only guess which sex was which). They swam toward each other, then rubbed faces. The approaching beaver made small bawling noises like a young calf. They rubbed bodies and seemed to sniff each other, then they swam in different directions. This performance – the swimming away, the languid circling, the approaches – went on for twenty minutes. A couple of times the ‘gnawing’ beaver clambered over the over beaver’s back, but this lasted just a few seconds. The beaver which approached rubbed noses once again, and made the bawling sounds one more time.
I never appreciated how large beavers are until one of them came up on the bank. The water was clear enough to see their feet and tail move underwater (I wonder if the portion out of the water might have the 1/10 proportion of an iceberg). The sun was setting and they became difficult to see. However they decided to part anyway. One began to go down river toward the harbour and one headed to the other shore. For me an experience of a lifetime.