Once They Were Hats : In Search of the Mighty Beaver
Overview - Finalist for the 2015 Lane Anderson Award and the 2016 Butler Book Prize Beavers, those icons of industriousness, have been gnawing down trees, building dams, shaping the land, and creating critical habitat in North America for at least a million years. Read more...
More About Once They Were Hats by Frances Backhouse
Finalist for the 2015 Lane Anderson Award and the 2016 Butler Book Prize
Beavers, those icons of industriousness, have been gnawing down trees, building dams, shaping the land, and creating critical habitat in North America for at least a million years. Once one of the continent's most ubiquitous mammals, they ranged from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the Rio Grande to the edge of the northern tundra. Wherever there was wood and water, there were beavers -- 60 million (or more) -- and wherever there were beavers, there were intricate natural communities that depended on their activities. Then the European fur traders arrived.
In Once They Were Hats, Frances Backhouse examines humanity's 15,000-year relationship with Castor canadensis, and the beaver's even older relationship with North American landscapes and ecosystems. From the waterlogged environs of the Beaver Capital of Canada to the wilderness cabin that controversial conservationist Grey Owl shared with pet beavers, Backhouse goes on a journey of discovery to find out what happened after we nearly wiped this essential animal off the map, and how we can learn to live with beavers now that they're returning.
Publishers Weekly Reviews
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Backhouse (Women of the Klondike) sets out to restore some respect to the waffle-tailed, buck-toothed, industrious Castor canadensisbetter known as the beaverin this thoroughly entertaining and informative cultural history. "The humble and much-maligned beaver is actually the Mighty Beaver, arguably North America's most influential animal, aside from ourselves," Backhouse writes. Beavers sculpt geographic landscapes, guide the evolutionary paths of other species, and even have their own unique, louse-like parasite. Backhouse begins her quest for beaver redemption with a pilgrimage to the Beaver Capital of Canada, a nondescript stretch of ponds and dams nestled in Saskatchewan's Pasquia Hills. From there, she charts the beaver's unique history in nine chapters covering the animal's prehistoric ancestors (including some giants), its centrality to First Nations peoples and fur traders (pelts were indeed made into hats), its return from the brink of extinction, and its canonization by biologists as an indispensable keystone species in North America. Backhouse's writing is casual but always illuminating, and she approaches her furry subject with both reverence and humor. This book should interest a wide general readership as it gives the beaver its well-deserved dues. Agent: Carolyn Swayze, Carolyn Swayze Literary Agency. (Oct.)