Although often considered only a nuisance (and thus seldom given the recognition they deserve), beavers provide many benefits to humanity. Their dams provide a habitat for many sensitive plants and animals. As much as their dams may cause some flooding problems, they can also help to reduce some flooding problems by slowing the flow of water. Also, beaver dams can actually improve water quality.
In this folk tale, our hero is at first annoyed by the sight of the beavers, but, it turns out, he has actually drifted into the middle of a turf war. He finds himself in a dangerous situation, and ultimately discovers that those he considered enemies turned out to be valuable allies.
How Beavers Nixed the Wassernix on Ildechs Grick
Robert L. Schreiwer
Prior to the founding of Baumansdarrif1 and the rise of the coal and zinc industries, Ildechs Grick2 was a significant source of trout for the families of Lower Towamensing. The fishermen shared the creek with a colony of beavers3, though they found the beavers' dam to be annoying when the heavy rains came in April. The dams slowed the movement of water from the Ildechs into the Lechaa4, and the ponding water formed marshes that became breeding spots for mosquitoes.
Early one summer morning, before the sun had fully risen, a poor Kesselflicker5 named Harr Schneider, brought his simple rowboat to the creek. He glanced over at the beavers, who were busy expanding their lodges with mud and sticks. He thought to himself, "If those beavers were not causing the banks of the creek to turn to marsh, I would not have to swat at mosquitoes, and I would not need this boat. I could sit along the banks and fish."
Harr Schneider decided that the beavers must be removed from the creek. He decided that he would bring his gun with him the next day. The thought also crossed his mind that the beavers' pelts would be warm in the winter.
Harr Schneider pushed his boat out into the creek and cast his line into the water. A few minutes later, he felt a bump on the bottom on the boat from the water beneath him. The beavers began to churr loudly, and Harr Schneider suddenly felt that he was in jeopardy.
Suddenly, a blurry figure manifested itself in the water. It appeared to Harr Schneider like a large gruesome frog. He recognized this creature as a Wassernix6, who would hold his soul as a prisoner in her underwater den if she were to get a hold of him. Panicking, he decided to row back to the marshy bank of the creek. He had no sooner dipped his oar into the water than he heard a loud splash behind him. He turned to see the figure rising out of the water. The creature's appearance shifted from a blurry and scaly green to that more of an old woman. Harr Schneider let out a loud call for help, but no one was near enough to hear him.
The creature stood on the top of the water, and, with one kick, caused the boat to capsize. Harr Schneider tumbled into the water, and the Wassernix grabbed him. Harr Schneider felt as if his soul was being torn from inside of him, and he realized hat he was about to perish.
Just as he was beginning to feel himself slip away, he heard a muffled din within the water. The Wassernix released her grasp on Harr Schneider, and he was able to spring himself from the bottom of the creek back to the surface.
As he coughed and spat water out of his lungs, he looked toward the beavers' lodge. Some of the smaller beavers were slapping the water with their tails, causing the Wassernix to become frightened and disoriented. The larger beavers were swimming in circles around the Wassernix, taking bites at her in an effort to guide her towards one of the lodges.
Harr Schneider swam quickly to the shore, and, once out of the marsh, he watched the beavers continue their attack on the Wassernix, who was now donning her original appearance. The beavers dragged her below the water, and the last Harr Schneider could see of the Wassernix was a blurry form.
Harr Schneider thought to himself, "The beavers took her to a prison like the one she planned for me." He went home and pondered his good fortune.
Every day during that summer, Harr Schneider returned to the marshy water and left the beavers a gift of freshly-cut poplar and birch branches7. He never saw the Wassernix again.
The beavers are gone from the Ildechs, but it is said that their lodges still lie at the bottom of the creek beneath a layer of mud and sediment. Trapped within one of those lodges is the Wassernix, whose plans to trap Harr Schneider were thwarted by her captors.
1 Present-day Bowmanstown, PA, which was incorporated in 1808.
2 Lizard Creek in present-day Carbon County, PA.
3 Beaver = Biewer in Deitsch
4 Lehigh River
6 Water sprite. Wassernixes have some differing personality traits in different tales, but one common theme is that they are generally hostile to humans and animals. They are originally residents of the Unnergegend ("Under Realm") but have acclimated to existence in the Hatzholz ("Hard Wood," the physical plane in which we live), which is why they can appear in spiritual or various physical forms. One of the reasons they are said to trap humans (and, in other tales, animals) is to sap the energies of the souls in order to be able to continue to shift shape.
7 Poplar is sacred to Berchta (and perhaps Holle and Haerricke), and birch is sacred to Freid (Frigg).