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The War Against the Beavers

Learning to Be Wild in the North Woods

2005
Author:

Verena Andermatt Conley

The War Against the Beavers

A beguiling tale of the ups and downs of backwoods living—now in paperback!

The War Against the Beavers is a wry and funny account of two people’s ten-year apprenticeship in backwoods living. Juxtaposing idyllic descriptions—hiking and cross-country skiing, swimming and canoeing in clear waters—with the intensive labor of maintaining a wilderness homestead, Conley draws a beguiling picture of the ups and downs of backwoods living.

This is a fascinating story about the difference between the destructive forces of nature and the destructive forces of humans. It begins with a charming naïveté and ends with a clear-eyed wisdom.

Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature

A lifelong city dweller, Verena Andermatt Conley had long harbored romantic ideals about the natural world and dreamed of a wilderness retreat for herself and her husband, Tom. When a sizable tract of land along the Vermillion River on the edge of Minnesota’s Boundary Waters—complete with two primitive log cabins—became available, they jumped at the chance to own a piece of paradise. The War Against the Beavers is a wry and funny account of two people’s ten-year apprenticeship in backwoods living, from their arrival as literal babes in the woods to their education in the ways of nature as they face plagues of insects, fungus, storms and droughts, and embark on a lengthy campaign to eradicate a colony of beavers that threatens the peace and beauty of their forest refuge.

Juxtaposing idyllic descriptions—hiking and cross-country skiing, swimming and canoeing in clear waters, harvesting berries and wild rice—with the intensive labor of maintaining a wilderness homestead, Conley draws a beguiling picture of the ups and downs of backwoods living. After a period of peaceful coexistence, the beavers become bitter enemies whose depredations threaten to turn a substantial portion of forest into marshland. Odd solutions—axes, shotguns, and dynamite among them—and extermination attempts by still odder locals hardly faze the beavers. It is only the arrival of a mechanized, and much more menacing, threat—bulldozers and other heavy machinery clear-cutting the woods—that restores perspective to the obsessed cabin-dwellers.

Having come to the North Woods to escape the rigors of modern life, the couple finds instead that their beliefs on animals, humans, and nature are tested. They emerge from the experience with a hard-won wisdom and a new and deeper understanding of the ever-changing character of wilderness.

The War Against the Beavers

Verena Andermatt Conley was born and raised in Switzerland, where she grew up reading picturesque and adventurous portrayals of the great American wilderness. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The War Against the Beavers

This is a fascinating story about the difference between the destructive forces of nature and the destructive forces of humans. It begins with a charming naïveté and ends with a clear-eyed wisdom.

Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature

Following in the footsteps of Thoreau, Verena Conley gives us a vivid and good-humored account of the pleasures and frustrations of learning her place in the natural world. Her Minnesota Walden is resplendent but also beset by natural and man-made plagues that continually threaten her serenity. The book's wisdom is that it reveals how she finally triumphs over her complex environment by recognizing that for the most part she doesn't have to.

Ross McElwee, director of Sherman's March and Bright Leaves

Verena Conley's book is written with a wonderful attention to the details of life—the smells, touches, sights of the world. Her humor and common sense about the quest for a personal arcadia delight and inform. A great book to read aloud—especially in a car escaping a city.

David Black, journalist and Law and Order screenwriter

The War Against the Beavers is Verena Andermatt Conley’s humorous account of her backwoods life along the Vermilion River and how she and her husband dealt with beavers.

Duluth News Tribune

The War Against the Beavers

Contents

Acknowledgments
Prologue: A Cabin in the Wilderness

Part I. Babes in the Woods

Heading for the Wilderness
Home Alone at the Cabin
Summer Pleasures
Forest Paths
The Art of Ricing
Winter Pleasures
Of Mice and Men
Round-robin with the Weasels
Icy Roads
Cabin Opener
Tree-Planting Ceremony
Bruno the Bear
Blueberry Hill
Raspberry Picking
Devastation

Part II. The War against the Beavers

The War Begins
Jim Rondeau
Strange Bedfellows
Tree Nailing
Nature Attacks
The First Trapper
A New Beaver Dam
The Logging Letter
A Tour with the “Forest Coordinator”
Amos, the Eco-Trapper
Edna, the Woodswoman
More Beaver Stories
The First Victim
A Silent Spring
A New Plague
Urbanization
The Beavers Return
Joe Ahearn
Big Timber
Wolves
More Chaos
“Nature’s Ways”
Back to Blueberry Hill

Epilogue