Beaver Bog

Our Sophia Street neighborhood includes a one-kilometer square area we call “the bog.”

If you come looking for it by that name, you won’t find it.

The bog is paved over. Asphalt roads, concrete sidewalks, poured home foundations and backyard gardens cover it.

Regularly, the city of Vancouver spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep it covered.

But the bog resists.

In 1890, it was called “Tea Swamp.” Tea Swamp was easily visible to the naked eye. Its drainage point, Brewery Creek, was well-known. People rarely visited, unless they were hunting beaver. In 1910, a local newspaper featured a photo of two neighborhood ladies, “proud owners of beaver hats from beavers killed in their own neighborhood.”

Tea Swamp was the product of hundreds of years of beaver engineering.

When beavers find a clean, flowing creek, near flat land suitable for a flood plain, they get to work. They clear the birch and aspen trees that line their creek, harvest the leaves for food, and cut the branches into suitable logs. Log by log, they build a thick dam along the creek, creating a pond – which they perceive as a new neighborhood. When the pond is fully engineered, they build a lodge with an underwater entrance.

For hundreds of years, this was a beaver neighborhood.

In the early 1900s, railroad developers decided it ought to be a human neighborhood. They hunted down the beavers, drained their pond, and covered up their land.

But the pond would not drain.

It continues to pool under the asphalt streets, disrupting the thin new layers placed on top of it. Year after year, the city of Vancouver cuts into the asphalt, replaces and reroutes drainage pipes, and puts a new asphalt patch into place.

Every street in this section of the neighborhood is a quilt of multi-shaded asphalt patches. These streets swell unevenly with moisture and shifting pipes underneath.

We live, we drive, we build here.

But we know: human engineering is no match for beaver engineering.

We may wish it were. We may fantasize that our science is better than theirs. But when it comes to management of natural resources, it is not.

Beavers are conscious in ways we are not.



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