I had been sitting patiently at the wetlands along the Rhine for about two hours waiting to photograph some of the birds that frequent the river. The place was beautiful, with mist hanging over the tree tops. To the naked eye, however, it seemed as if all living creatures had abandoned this part of the river.
I had seen another photographer in the distance also waiting patiently for nothing to happen. I was about to leave when he walked across and joined me for some conversation. We spoke about photography in general, and more specifically about our experiences photographing nature and wildlife. He told me that there were beavers in this area, yet he had never seen them. I asked him how he knew. He said that the farmer had told him, since his crops had been eaten by them. However, the farmer had also not seen them. He knew that there were beavers since there were trails of bits and pieces of crop that were left between the farmland and the river, in the mornings.
He then proceeded to take me on a guided tour along the river showing me evidence of the existence of the beavers. He pointed out burrowed tunnels on the bank of the river. He showed me the trails of foliage across the gravel cycle path that separated the farmland and the river. He also showed me huge sculptured indentations on the trunks of large poplar trees. As I looked at the trees, I couldn’t imagine an experienced lumberjack doing a better job of chopping the trunk with such grooved precision.
As I was shown all of evidence, I felt a strong desire to see and photograph the beavers. Being told and shown evidence of their existence was not enough for me. I needed to witness and experience the beavers for myself. As a psychologist, I knew that the most effective way to learn about anything is to move into the experiential domain and to personally witness and observe what is being spoken about. Telling and showing are only secondary levels of the learning process. The primary and most impactful level of learning is to go through an experiential process.
After reading up about beavers and their habitat, I felt compelled to go back to the wetlands in search of the illusive beavers. Beavers are nocturnal rodents, but can be seen at dawn or dusk. In the 1900’s, they were hunted to near extinction for their coats. They were reintroduced into a number of European countries in 1960-1970.
Before sunrise every morning for a week, I sat patiently waiting for the beavers.
My first sighting felt surreal. The beaver seemed to emerge out of nothingness, swimming across my line of vision. Throughout the week, the sightings were sporadic as they swam passed me, or emerged from the burrows on the opposite bank of the river. There was only one morning in the week that I did not see them. I felt satisfied that my search for the beavers was so richly rewarded. I now knew that they definitely existed. Seeing was truly believing.