knife and work the skin away from the cut you just made. Notice
the colors – the white is hide; it means you’re close to puncturing the skin. See the red – that’s meat; it means you’re cutting
too deep. Work in the pink – that’s the color you want. Find the
angle with the knife – no, see the red, you’re too deep. There.
Yes, that’s it. Flick all along that seam and pull; work with your
hands where you can. You can’t cut the hide with your hands.
Good. Now you can get in and cut around that castor gland, see?
Use that sharp knife but don’t puncture the gut. Go light now.
Yup, around the other side the same way. Straight down from
the vent to the tail. We’re going to cut the castors right out and
save them. Feel this – that’s the oil sac. We’ll save that, too. That’s
his baculum. That’s how we know he’s a male. Now put the fillet knife in the leg hole and cut a circle right around the bone.
Now the other one. You’re too close to the bone – we
want that meat left on the carcass. Now the front
legs. Now I’ll flop him – there. You have to make a
cut along the back fur at the base of the tail – give
me the knife so I can get it started for you. That’s tail
muscle. See how hard this comes? Here, you take
over. I’ll pull the hide, you just worry about cutting.
This is where you’ve got to be careful not to nick the
hide. Stop! See the fur? You nicked it. No, you do it.
This is how you learn. We’ll be able to trim that hole
out. Just go slow. There. Excellent. Yes, work in the
red here. We’ll flesh that off. Sharpen the knife – it’s
dull from the spine. That’s it. You’re almost there.
Good – see how easy it’s coming now? Use the leg
holes for leverage. Right up and over his shoulders.
Watch the jugular, or you’ll make a mess. Excellent.
You’re good at this. Now see those lumps – those are
the ears. Cut through them – yup, straight down –
and then work towards the eyes. See them? They’re
subtle. Yes. Lance them the same way and work
down to the nose. Work around the jaw there. Now
take that knife and cut flush with the skull. Perfect.
Here you go! This is a hell of a beaver.
It took her another hour and a half to flesh the
hide. While she worked I split the tail, which I’d
later tan with brain paste like the Mahicans did so
she could make a sheath or a bracelet. I started a
maceration bath for the skull, which ended up in a
classroom. I butchered the carcass and brined the
thinly sliced meat in a maple syrup-and-salt solu-
tion, sautéed it with some onions that were grown in
calcareous Taconic soil, folded in some cheese from
a local dairy. I showed her how to stretch the hide on
a wire hoop. I showed her how to sew the leg holes
shut with fishing line. And when her mother came
to pick her up and said to me, in the context of a conversation
about fur prices, “So this animal lost its life for a measly twenty
dollars?,” we showed the kid the yawning divide between what
the wonks call consumptive and nonconsumptive forest users.
If life were a movie we would have shared the meal together, but
everyone had things to do, so I sent the kid home with a Mason
jar full of cooked beaver meat. See it on her lap as they follow
the asphalt home past the crow-picked roadkill, the drone of
automobiles and voices on the radio, the rows of stupid street-
lights that blot out the moon. A jar of wildlife between Gore-tex®
mittens. A jar of wild life, a totem representing everything that’s
real and pure and cruel in the natural world.
The kid would be 15 now. I haven’t seen her to ask how she
remembers all this.