And why we need to adopt their strategy
“Times of change”
Unless you live under a rock, there is probably not a single buzz phrase you have heard more than this one in the past few months.
Yes, we are living through times of change that are testing our ability to adapt, stay optimistic, and approach uncertainty with energy and resilience. What you will read in this piece will hopefully give you new perspectives and strength about how to adapt to change.
A few days ago, I received a notification from Headspace, the popular meditation app, prompting me to watch a video about beavers that would apparently help me approach a new morning, a new day.
Unsure of how this could possibly make my day any better, I decided to give it a shot.
*I have been trying to recover the video, which excellently produced and narrated, but I haven’t been able to (if someone knows how, please do let us know in the comments below 🙂). I will try my best, however, to paraphrase it and convey its message as accurately as possible.*
It turns out this video taught me several lessons about beavers that I had no idea about, like the fact that they are considered “the engineers of the forest” because of how significantly they change the environment around them. Livescience.com provides a colorful summary of how they do this:
Beavers have a tremendous impact on ecosystems. Dams alter the flow of rivers and can flood hundreds of acres. Dams prevent erosion and raise the water table, which helps purify the water as silt builds up and breaks down toxins, according to ADW. As sediment and debris build up, carbon increases and nitrogen decreases. The chemical changes alter the type of invertebrates, and the new water source attracts new species of birds, fish and amphibians. Flooded timber dies off and a forest becomes an open water ecosystem. Over time, abandoned dams decay, and meadows appear.
But even more importantly, learning about what beavers do helped me grasp a concept that I believe is worth knowing about: impermanence.
To explain this fascinating notion, it is necessary that we first take a look at beavers’ modus operandi.
Beavers’ vulnerability to predators is the main reason why they engage in such complex processes. Please excuse this oversimplification of “how beavers work,” but hopefully you’ll get a thorough enough picture:
- Beavers first find a constant, heavy water stream suitable for building dams.
- Using branches, stones, and other materials, they build dams to flood the area where they want to settle.
- They then start to accumulate materials to build a lodge in the middle of this flooded area, creating underwater entrances and exits to their lodge that predators can’t access.
- Lodges enable beavers to accumulate food for the winter, get and stay dry, and breed and raise new kits.
Here is a more visual explanation:
Before we get into what happens after beavers construct their homes, let’s explore the idea of impermanence.
Impermanence: the state of not lasting or staying the same forever (Oxford dictionary)
After reading this definition, it would then be fair to say that we are experiencing the golden era of impermanence. No foundation seems stable, nobody is immune to change, assumptions are a thing of the past… Everything is changing.
Now, back to beavers. Here is where we can learn from them.
Beavers embody impermanence. The dams they build to flood their surroundings and become isolated from predators drastically transform the environment around them and, to paraphrase the mentioned Headspace video: “eventually, it is (the beavers’) own hard work what pushes them out of their home”.
Over time, the accumulation of sediments resulting from beavers’ activity becomes too thick for water to flow, as a pond forms and certain species like ducks or turtles find their new home. When the supply of trees around the now dry pond dies out, the new terrain becomes pasture that feeds and hosts yet other sets of new species.
If beavers thought like humans, they would freak out. Their dams and lodges are now gone. Everything they worked for, the house and the environment they built to raise their families, is gone. I’m guessing that if beavers had a human brain, the narrative in their head would look something like this:
Oh man, now that we were starting to get comfortable here, we have to move… If anything we should have moved last month, when the weather was much nicer. And I hate packing!
This sucks. I mean, where are we gonna get mushrooms as delicious as the ones next to the tree around the corner? They only have those here! I’m going to miss this place.
I told you we should have stayed on the other river! The family that settled there still has at least 10 more years to go!
Although it would be hilarious, beavers don’t behave this way (fortunately for them!). When they see they can no longer live where they originally settled, they just move on. They find a new river, build a new dam, construct a new lodge, adapt to life in a new location.
They know they can’t revert the changes that they exerted on the landscape, so they just move and again look for a new environment to settle in. They seek to regain control over their actions and the consequent outcomes.
Easier said than done, surely, but this is a much healthier approach to change than the one we usually adopt. We often waste too much time and energy trying to figure out our next steps and, even worse, unnecessarily worrying about what we might encounter in an uncertain situation.
In contrast, and in order to be better prepared for the next time we’ll have to “build a new dam” or lodge, we should never get comfortable, never assume that something lasts forever. It might seem unsettling at first, but implementing a strategy that keeps change in mind will save us enormous amounts of energy and stress, and make us ready for what’s next.
If you thought we were done with buzz words when we mentioned “times of change,” wait for this one: “new normal”.
Everything seems to be shifting to a “new normal”. We usually like normal, because it means comfort, routine, predictability, knowledge about how to act and what to do. But what if that “normal” changes? We can feel anxious and overwhelmed. We lose sleep and tranquility because, again, we seem to have no control over the outcome. Well, we are not the only ones dealing with changes. Beavers deal with “new normal” every few years.
Yes, beavers are wired this way, it’s embedded in their nature. And it’s hard to adopt the optimistic “everything happens for a reason” approach after negative events take place in our lives, but don’t you think that it is true that a door closing usually involves another opening, much like the beaver’s leaving its habitat causes new species to move in and start to flourish?
Beavers teach us that impermanence is not only inevitable, but necessary. It enables us to keep evolving in different areas of our lives, it teaches us that change is essential for survival and development, and it pushes us to start experiencing the next chapters of our lives.
It’s time for all of us to look at beavers, to learn and behave a little more like they do. It will surely help us deal with these times of change.
*Even though I performed thorough research on this topic, I am no animal expert. If you think I misexplained anything in this article, please do let me know in the comments. All corrections are welcome.