Two nights before my 33rd birthday, I had a dream about a beaver. (The mammal, not the euphemistic lady part. Just to be clear.) In my dream, I was watching the beaver as it swam around a small river doing beaver-y things. It was chewing a small stick, a slender bit of willow, and I said something to the effect of “Silly beaver, you can’t build a dam with that. It’s just one stick, it’s too small.” I followed worriedly after the beaver as it swam downstream, calling out that this was the wrong stick, that it needed to go back and chew down a proper tree, some big, knotty cottonwood or decades-old pine.
Not heeding my advice, the beaver swam the stick along the shore to a slight bend in the stream. It stuck one end in the mud, bending the other end to wedge between some rocks. And I could see it suddenly, how one stick becomes a dam, that you didn’t start with the giant logs, that you started small and manageable, and added to that. I stood and watched as the beaver moved stick after stick, adding to the dam until it had actually changed the flow of stream, water rippling around the heaped wood.
As I stood there, I became aware that my children were with me, also watching the beaver work. I looked down to answer their questions and when I looked up the dam was almost complete. The stream had been drastically changed. It was now large pond, feeding in on one end, the dam on the other, a vast expanse of still, stoic water in between. There was wildlife everywhere, deer feeding on the grassy edges, heron wading in the shallows, muskrat breaking glass-like surface with their whiskered noses. It was peaceful, and it looked finished.
The beaver swam towards us and I was a little afraid. My kids all clambered to the shore, wanting to pet it, to pick it up. I told them beavers were wild animals, that you couldn’t hold them, but when the beaver got closer, when its feet hit dry land and it shook its pelt out, spraying my laughing children with water, I realized this beaver was different, it was safe, because it was actually me. I was the beaver. (I realize how this sounds, hold your giggles til the end, please.) I walked over and picked it up and looked into its eyes. It told me (sort of telepathically, I guess) that I shouldn’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid, it said. I wasn’t. I held the beaver in my arms and looked out over what it(we) had accomplished.
I don’t normally look for symbols. I don’t read my horoscope, or try to interpret my dreams. I have become wary of trying to superimpose order over what seems to be chaos, of trusting the universe to be anything but complete and uncategorized mayhem. After my marriage/life fell apart, there seemed, to me, to be no truth, no direction, no signposts to look for and follow. I felt like it was all just a mess.
This has been my mantra for the last year: what a mess, what a mess, what a mess.
I went to Stanley, Idaho for my birthday. I spent three days surrounded by the Sawtooth mountains, drinking coffee on the porch of my cabin, contemplating my life, contemplating my mess. I threw dandelions into the Salmon River, watching them bob their yellow, cheerful way downstream to the town of my birth. The Salmon is called the River of no Return, which seemed pretty apropos, all things considered. Everything is here is different, but not better. Beetle blight has killed most of the trees, the hills are fire-scorched and ashy. There are no more red fish in Redfish Lake. One can't help but look around the altered landscape and repeat my mantra on a much larger scale. What a mess, what a mess, what a mess...
I had a nice time. I ate hot dogs and napped, two of my favorite pastimes. Sitting on the dock at Redfish, I decided that if I were to ever get married again (a possibility that seems as far out as visiting the moon, at this point), I want a canoe. I want a whole life different than the one I had before. I want travel and mountains and nature, I want back the life I thought I'd have, before domesticity and compromise and heartbreak smothered it.
On the way home, I had the realization that I could, I suppose, get my own canoe. That I don't have to hitch my canoe-ownership to anyone else, that it could be something I enjoyed on my own. That I could be a tan, independent Stanley Girl that don't need no man. I could just be alone. Like, forever. Live in a cabin. Write books. Canoe. I could go full Thoreau, at least on weekends. I got semi-attached to the idea of this before I remembered that canoes are impossible load onto a car by oneself. So, fuck all that.
It's easy to find clarity in the mountains, much harder to drag back down the hill with you. When I got home, I googled “beaver dream meanings”, grasping at twigs, anything to help me keep the feeling of spiritual stillness I felt while standing in the craggy shadow of the Sawtooths. A dream interpretation site informed me that:
Dreaming of a beaver is associated with building and construction, ambition, the hard work required to meet your goals, emotions, and the support of community. If you dream of a beaver building a dam, it means that you should transform your ideas into real-world actions and stop isolating yourself from coworkers and friends who can help you make your dreams a reality.
It went on to say that dreaming of beavers dams may suggest that I am transitioning beyond a great period of grief and that the flow of emotions has suddenly been unblocked, releasing many months and maybe years, of tensions, resentment, and sadness. That I should, as beavers do, spend time with my family, in play, have fun, take care of myself, and that in doing that, I would unblock the flow of my creativity and build my future.
Fucking A, beaver. So much for chaos.
I’ve decided to trust in the beaver. I’ve made it my totem animal. Whenever I feel hopeless and tired and afraid, I will meditate on the beaver, building its dam, stick by stick, and know I can do the same, that every small action I do, every small thing I accomplish can be put toward a larger whole. That I am building a dam, and it doesn’t have to be done tomorrow to feel good about what I’ve done today.
My brother brought his one month old baby, Evan, over to our parent's house last night for some snuggling. He and his baby-mama just broke up, for a lot of reasons, but the catalyst, or at least one of them, was that she wouldn’t let any of my brother’s friends meet the kid. They split last week, and my brother was finally free to show his brood off to his pals.
We sat around oo-ing and ah-ing, pretending not to notice that the Evster (a wee blond ball of cuteness that I think looks an awful lot like me because I am a narcissist) has a seriously lopsided head. Like a smooshed melon, but adorbs. Midway through the evening, Matt L, my brother’s best friend since grade school showed up. For some unexplained reason, he brought a stripper with him. Not a friend/girlfriend/lover that he’s known for awhile who also happens to be a stripper. He brought a stripper he just met. To meet his best friend’s baby.
Let it be known that I have no problem with strippers. Some of my best friends take their clothes off for a living. I emceed a burlesque show last weekend and there were tits and feathers everywhere. I love poles and dancing, and nothing seems more logical to me than combining the two and putting yourself through nursing school. Even as the end to its own means, stripping can be a very feminist activity. You know me, you know I think a woman owning her sexuality is one of the most empowering things, like, ever. So, fuck yeah, ladies, twerk that shit.
Her name was Destiny. She had bleached blond hair with black roots and meth teeth. She was wearing a leopard print tube top and low rise jeans that were so low we could see her star-tattooed pubis mound beneath her potbelly. Her g-string stuck out the back of her pants about three inches, which was a real treat for everyone when she bent over, which she did a lot. She spent most of the visit texting and arguing loudly on her phone with a man she referred to as “Dave the Slave”. He was, she explained, “super dark-skinned, but not black” and “completely wrecked” over her.
After telling my brother that his infant looked “dumb when he's crying”, she informed us that Dave the Slave would be stopping by, and asked what the nearest cross street was. I was in near-tears from suppressed laughter by then, watching my brother try to handle this situation with diplomacy and tact. He has the sweet earnestness of a new father, the wide-eye nervousness that accompanies those first few months of parenthood when you think everything has to be just so for your kid. When you're acutely aware that you are now responsible for the spiritual growth and development of a whole human being, so you better get your role model shit together, fast.
Me, I've been a mom for fucking ever, so I just sit quietly snort-laughing. Ignoring my mother’s silent, glaring reminders to be tolerant and nonjudgmental, her hissed whisper that "there but for the grace of God go you, Emily". I'm not laughing at Destiny. If I've learned anything from this last year, this horrible, humiliating, excruciating year, it's that you never laugh at Destiny. You don't smirk at what the universe is trying to tell you, you don't roll your eyes and come to your own smug conclusions. You don't try to compel your story only towards fortune, doing your sniggering best to ignore kismet as it kicks you in the pants again and again.
I'm not better than Destiny. Not wiser, not smarter. I'm not laughing at her, at her fragile bravado or her exposed underbelly. No. I'm laughing because I know that behind my brother's polite smile, he is dying of the "I told you so's". I know he’s thinking this is EXACTLY what his ex-girlfriend was picturing when she said, “I don’t want your fucked up, weirdo friends around our baby”. I know he's having to swallow his own version of humble pie, and I know, from my own recent experience, how chalky and awful it tastes. For parents, this would surely be a "teachable moment", but I'm his sister, so fuck all of that. I just get to laugh and laugh, because that's what siblings are for, the chortled mockery of our mistakes that somehow lessons their devastation.
At the end of the evening, Matt left, taking Destiny with him. We never did get to meet Dave the Slave.