Collier’s book shows how nature works

It must have been 50 years or so ago that I read for the first time about the inter-relatedness of natural things.

I remember being much impressed in how closely tied together things are.

The story was about an area somewhere in Wisconsin. At the time, I previously had not heard the word “ecology.”

Many years later, I read Eric Collier’s “Three Against the Wilderness,” which told how he and his wife and their infant son moved to the Chilcotin in the Canadian far north, and built a log cabin and lived there.

The country, he wrote, was dying for lack of water. And after much thought, he realized it was because beaver ponds had been destroyed when the last beavers were trapped to feed a fad in men’s clothing.

Collier hired a man he knew, and the two of them worked like beavers rebuilding the dams.

He had noticed that there would be a good run-off from the snowpack that spring, and they readied the area for it, rebuilding dam after dam.

When spring and melt-off came, the ponds slowly filled.

He had feared ranchers in the valley below would dynamite the dams to get the water, but that did not happen.

After weeks of back-breaking work, a series of beaver ponds sparkled in the sun, and wild things like muskrats and ducks and other water-dependent life immediately moved in.

A man from one of the Canadian offices came out to see what was going on and wrote a glowing report of what Collier accomplished.

But he recognized what Collier also had seen: There needed to be some way of maintaining the dams.

Collier wondered what he meant. Presently, the help arrived, in the form of two pairs of beavers, which immediately took over the big pond near the Colliers’ cabin and another, which they built themselves.

Drama occurred the night of a storm that washed a cut through a softer part of the dam, in which the men had used plain earth without rock or branch reinforcement.

As he watched in horror, the cut widened, the roar of the water got louder.

The whole enterprise seemed doomed.

Then, two small heads appeared at the edge of the current. Quickly, Collier cut small branches and limbs and laid them along the shore.

Then in despair, he went indoors.

In the morning, he awoke to a dead silence. Fearful of what he would see, he went outside.

The beaver pond sparkled in the sun, the hole neatly mended.

Every scrap of the limbs and branches Collier had laid out on the shore was gone, used in the dam.

What men with bulldozers could not have done, he wrote later, two little animals had accomplished. They simply refused to see water escaping over a dam.

There are many other stories of the Colliers’ adventures in an unyielding wilderness.

Ask the library to bring it in for you and have a good read.

Elizabeth Widel is a columnist for

The Chronicle. This is the 2,839th column in a series. She may be reached at 509-826-1110.


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