Unless your remote control is on the blink or you’ve been conveniently occupied during the late local news, you know that they’ve been seen everywhere: under trees, on benches, entangled on the concrete lip of the Tidal Basin, all blissfully unaware of innocent passers-by or slow, shuffling park rangers. Too lost in the moment to lose focus, too busy getting busy to be distracted. Nature in full bloom amid nature in full bloom. And they really are everywhere: You can count more than 10 conducting their special brand of business several strokes past a Thursday midnight.
I’m not talking about flat-tailed Rodentia, either. No, it’s springtime in Washington, which means the gathering of God’s creatures causing the hullabaloo at the Tidal Basin this evening is humanthough no less single-minded than the wily duo of Bonnie-and-Clyde beavers I’ve been sent to find. These are wonderfully randy couples: fondling, snuggling, engaging in the life-affirming rituals of pre- (and, for all I could tell, post-) coitus. All on one of the most-tourist-trafficked days of the District’s calendar. And at the exact time when this schlump scribe was ordered to go out and ask basin bystanders questions about…[this is your big chance: insert own joke here]…the beaver hunt.
And here I am: at once shocked, humiliated, andyes, I admittitillated. Summoned to the cherry blossoms to find a tree-eating media darling and finding this: Caligula under Thomas Jefferson’s steely gaze. Joined by a crew of equally beaver-curious co-workersall hard-bitten newsroom professionals who agreed to participate only under the special anonymity of code namesI soon find that the simple questioning of regular joes and janes about North America’s largest rodent was really just endless coitus interruptus. Washington, D.C., may be known as a stiff town, but this is ridiculous.
My colleaguesWard, June, Wally, Eddie Haskelland I start the long walk around the man-made pond, instantly alert to any signs of the beaver, and immediately come across a strolling middle-aged couple, their gray-haired heads pressed gently together, their dumb grins blissful.
“Hey, guys,” Eddie Haskell shouts out, “have you seen the beaver?”
Slightly annoyed, the man harrumphs, “Yeah, he’s in my trunk,” and pulls his confused mate through our group.
Slightly shaken but certainly not stirred into bolting the scene, we keep walking, bothering even more couples and taking the occasional timeout to investigate the beaver situation for ourselves. We are highly skilled trackers; nothing gets by our well-trained sights.
“Look!” June shouts. “Is that a beaver?”
“It’s kind of dark,” Ward says, peering into the water.
“No,” Wally says sadly. “Just ducks.”
At the first sound of curious rustling in the thin, shadowy forest fronting the FDR Memorial, I sweep my flashlight beam toward the trees and find the startled denim asses of a man and a woman caressing each other’s hair. Mr. Lover barely lifts his head and peers at me through the harsh glare of the light.
“Uh, have you seen the beaver?” I ask, apologetically.
“Over there,” he answers, motioning nowhere and lowering his head back to the ground.
[Note to journalism majors: After the initial query, you will usually employ what is referred to in the business as “the follow-up question.” However, when your sources are about to do the nasty, sometimes it’s best to simply move on.]
Another couple, high-schoolers at best, 20 paces east, cross-legged and holding hands. Lots of eye-gazinguntil the flashlight, that is. Embarrassed by their annoyed glares, I flee, murmuring a slew of “sorry”s behind me. I feel like a chaperon at the prom.
When my crew journeys over to a felled tree”Look at those teeth marks!” Ward wails; “Beaver prints in the mud!” Eddie Haskell hollersI sheepishly wander over to a well-dressed twosome sitting at the basin’s edge, the glowing Washington Monument in the background perfectly splitting their coupling down the middle. Before I notice the overflowing picnic basket and the glasses of white wine supported by relaxed fingers, they turn to me. This much is obvious: I have interrupted a magic moment. Either she’s pregnant or he’s got a ring in his pocket; with my luck, probably both.
“You guys haven’t seen the beaver, have you?”
“Nope,” the man says.
I hang in there, maybe because the guy is looking at me as if I’m about to bum some change.
“You guys do know about the beaver, don’t you?”
Again, from him: “Nope.”
“Come on! Peter Jennings was even talking about him today!”
Finally, the woman, a well-dressed blonde, turns to me, smiles, and says, “We’re totally innocent.”
Good answer, but I’m nevertheless devastated, lost, bereft of both beaver and valuable beaver information. Plus, if Cupid were around, he would have shot a sling’s worth of pissed-off arrows into my ass by now. Did the thousands of other reporters have this trouble with their beaver stories? Did they ruin countless romantic evenings? The bunch of sissies probably went during the day.
We continue our stomp, away from the light of the Jefferson Memorial and into relative darkness. I’m carelessly waving my flashlight’s gaze in every direction: water, sky, treetops, feet. And then I find them: the couple of the eveningalthough calling them a couple is a stretch. Somebody is mounting, somebody is being mounted, yet both partners are doing their damnedest to fuse into one. When our voices and obtrusive artificial light find them, they become motionless, like opossumsalbeit extremely horny opossums. In fact, these two are so stillare they even breathing?that I’m tempted to poke them with a stick.
“At least somebody’s seeing some beaver tonight,” Wally whispers. [What, you thought I’d go the distance without a single crass one-liner? Come on, people.]
My ragtag group of unbelievably platonic workplace pals sighs, nods, and moves on, leaving the hot-and-heavies to fend for themselves against the not-so-understanding gaggle of rangers combing the grounds for an assortment of ne’er-do-wells. This would be the perfect time to tell my colleagues that both male and female beavers secrete a substance called castoreum, which acts as a sexual attractant, apparently for humans as well as other beavers.
But that’s just when we scope what we’ve really been looking for: Around one o’clock, Eddie Haskell spots a sleek sonofabitch jetting through the still, murky water toward the bridge over the Washington Channel inlet. We celebrate for a few minutes, then go sneaking around once more. Let’s face it: Who can focus on an innocent critter when there’s a wilder kingdom to be witnessed on dry land? Like they say: When the basin’s rockin’…CP