Photo by Michael Despines.
Photo by Michael Despines.

David and I watched a bit of a tv show last night that I think must have been on sneaky animals. It included a bit about sea otters. This male sea otter waited for a momma sea otter to leave her baby in a safe spot and go fishing. He then kidnapped the baby and gave it back, unharmed, in exchange for the food the momma had. The show made me look for an animal tale for today. Beaver Builds a Slide is a Shoshone tale. The Shoshone are a Native American tribe from an area around Wyoming, Nevada, Utah and Idaho. I read the story at

In the beginning, beavers had tails that looked very much like an otter’s tail, long and narrow and covered with hair.

Once, in the middle of winter, an otter was swimming in the cold river. She climbed onto a snowy bank, threw herself down in a belly-flop on her stomach and slid down the slide. It was so much fun she laughed, climbed up higher, and slid down again.

Otter saw Beaver the builder dragging a tree branch he had chewed down to repair his dam. She called to him to come and play with her, to try sliding down her slide.

Beaver said it didn’t look like much fun. He would rather work on his dam.

Otter insisted and eventually Beaver climbed out of the water and slid down the chute.  Beaver told her that the slide wasn’t well built. “The slide isn’t long enough, the shoot isn’t smooth enough, the water isn’t deep enough. Trust an otter not to know how to build anything.”

Otter just laughed and said she’d like to see what kind of slide Beaver would build.

Beaver replied, “I could design a better one than that and I will.” He started to climb up Cinnabar Mountain. He chewed down trees by gnawing them with his sharp teeth, smoothed the snow in the chute by patting it with his webbed feet, pushed rocks out of the path with his broad blunt nose. It was hard work, but by the end of the day Beaver stood at the top of Cinnabar Mountain. Below him was a long smooth slide that curled and twisted around the terrain until it dropped with a swoosh into the river.

Finally it was time to try it out. It looked steep and dangerous to Beaver. He decided it would be safest to try it sitting down and at the last minute sat on his furry, narrow tail.  Holding fast to his tail, he shoved off and careened down the slope, faster and faster. Otter threw herself joyfully on her stomach and followed closely behind. Beaver leaned into the curves and steered past the bumps. The speed thrilled him until the splash into cold water at the end. Otter tumbled quickly behind him, laughing all the way.

Otter said he was a master builder and that it was a marvelous slide. She said they should do it again, but Beaver responded that no, once was enough.

Otter pointed to Beaver’s tail. “But Beaver, look at your tail. What happened to it?”

Beaver pulled himself out of the river, looking at his tail. It was now flat and shaped like a paddle. All the hair was scraped off by the wild ride. He flexed his tail and shook it, delighted with the possibilities. “I can use it to slap the water and warn everyone of danger.” He dove into the water to try it out. It made a perfect slapping sound. “How wonderful, but it’s back to work for me, Otter.”

“And since that day all Beavers have a paddle-shaped tail as they work hard every fall and winter to build and repair lodges and dams. And Otters, well Otters are still the same. They love to laugh and play on the icy slopes, sliding all day long.”

I like how the story depicts the animals personalities, it fits just how I see them. And the story respects both of them, the beaver is not “better” because he builds – they just are who they are. Otters do always seem to having fun. Okay, I’ve only actually seen them in zoos, I think, but they are so cute! Beavers I’ve seen in real life, but only a couple of times.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all. Feel free to join in.


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