A tell-tail tale

Posted 2/1/23

Writing is a lot like skinning a beaver. It takes some preparation, some time invested, and diligent follow-up to make it all worthwhile. 

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A tell-tail tale


Writing is a lot like skinning a beaver. It takes some preparation, some time invested, and diligent follow-up to make it all worthwhile. 

I sat hunched over one of our recently harvested beavers in my basement as I considered the similarities and the merit of this simile. 

As it so happens, this is my 100th column for The Way Out Here. I tried to think of some special and extravagant thing to write about for this auspicious mile mark, but in the end, I decided to write it with the same humble approach I wrote my first one. 

The Way Out Here has always been about honest, clean country living and the valuable opportunities that kind of living provides. One of my favorite opportunities in these columns has been to write about this lifestyle and share it with others. I’ve covered subjects that have breached some readers’ realm of comfort I’m sure, but I do it not for the thrill of antagonizing—rather to wholly and fully share my experiences as much as a public platform like this will allow. 

Sitting here in the 40-degree cellar, working the pelt of this beaver free, I know not everyone who reads my column will be excited to hear about the harvesting of fur and the process by which I preserve and use it. Although some prefer these insights into the tasks of a hunter, I feel I’m reaching beyond my comfortable base of supporters and fellow outdoorsmen here. As with skinning this beaver, I have to be delicate in the way I present some of this, but also ask if it’s worth taking the time to execute correctly.

I am not malicious, either in the taking of the beaver or in the treatment of what it gives me in resources. I have a responsibility to it as the steward of what now remains. 

I guess what I’m trying to say is that as an author, particularly in this genre of creative nonfiction, I have obligations to uphold the way of life that rewards me with so much to write about. So too, do I owe integrity and consideration to my work as a writer and to my readers, presenting what can seem to be a gruesome world as one of wholesome principles. A way to see how the world works outside the modern constructs of civilization.

The way out here is a world unto itself, with raw and wild forces of nature helping and hurting with indiscrimination those who choose to embrace it. 

I spread the fresh hide of the beaver over my knee and begin scraping flesh and fat from the skin. I began to think about how, even in this day and age, trapping animals and using their hides are not lost practices, but they certainly could be less common than other current pastimes. 

I’m glad I have certain conveniences, such as my laptop to write these columns. I could see myself clacking away on a typewriter, or even writing these tales by hand in an old worn notebook, but then how would I ever have them printed for others to read? 

If one thinks long enough, it is easy to consider the parallels that lie between my two most used tools: The knife and the pen. 

With my knife, I have secured food for my family, whittled art into scraps of branches, and fixed any number of things around the farm and in my travels. With my pen, I have shared the details of my most cherished labors of love, educated myself and others, and expressed myself in ways the mere spoken word can fail to do. 

Tacking the hide down on a flat board, I see it stretched out before me, drying already into the parchment-like leather it is bound to be before being used for any number of other things. The way out here, I see a story in every task and an adventure in every undertaking. While by day I work by the grit of my knife, by night I gather the bounty of my mishaps and meanderings to yarn the fruits of my labors. 

beavers, metaphors, writing, the way out there, author


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