What has this?
to do with this?
Hmmm. The top photo, snapped on a bay of Leech Lake, Minnesota, features a rogue-ish beaver gathering weeds, and chewing them happily. There he was, not all that far from my oar locks, so I sat still, let out as much lens as I could, and tried to grab and shot or two. Only once in my life have I been around an upset one of these creatures, only once have I heard that clap of near-thunder when the flat tail they conveniently sport comes slapping down on the water. I sort of wished he'd do it again, but he seemed too taken by his breakfast. He was, however, nice enough to pose for awhile.
The second photo, snapped at a cathedral in Dordtrecht, the Netherlands, features some master craftsman's tedious reincarnation--a hand-carved rendering--of a very famous ecclesiastical moment in the history of the the Dutch Reformed churches--the Synod of Dort, 1618-1619, an event which, even by its own description, seemed to last for years.
What was at risk was nothing more or less than the sovereignty of God--or so argued the traditional Calvinists. The agenda was a consensus assessment of the theological principles of one Jacobus Arminius, a learned professor always described as sober and faithful, who maintained that the regeneration of the human soul could not be said to be an event totally and unequivocally orchestrated by God alone--that there was, in other words, something to say for human will, for free will.
He lost. He and his Remonstrants, as they were called, were thoroughly spanked and set on their way, while one of the documents to emerge became one of the "Forms of Subscription" of the denomination of which I am a part, the Christian Reformed Church--that being, the Canons of Dort (not to be mistaken for a all-male singing group from the college where I teach).
The Canons of Dort created the acronym T-U-L-I-P, which may well be Holland's national flower for all I know, but has nothing to do with bulbs and beds. T-U-L-I-P is a scratchpad, a quick memory aid in knowing the traditional tenets of Calvinism. (I don't care to argue, by the way.)
Finally, the Synod of Dort, which declared to all of Europe and which the pilgrim fathers watched with more than passing interest (they were living in Holland then, but soon to leave for America) lent its name to the institution where I've taught scholars for the last forty years, almost none of whom have even the slightest idea why the institution holds on to a mysteriously unpronounceable name.
No matter. I've wandered.
What has a beaver to do with the Synod of Dort? That's the question I'm asking.
By now, you must have determined the obvious answer.
Look closely at the synodical delegates--each of them is sporting a beaver hat. That's right. Even among the uptight Calvinists, beaver hats were a must have. I don't know if the fashion began in Paris in those days, as it does today, or if John Calvin himself sported one and thus triggered this most beloved fashion statement. To me at least, what's most amazing about that replica synodical moment is the preponderance of beaver hats.
The beavers who gave their lives for European fashion were themselves European in 1619, but it wouldn't be long before continental demand would grow far beyond what its own wetlands could supply and send all kinds of hard-living, tough-drinking European adventurers out to America's wide-open spaces, where they'd become frontiersman, trappers, bound and determined to quench European thirst for beaver hats. One could argue--I just love this--that it was the portly, furry beaver, more than any other character, who triggered exploration of the far reaches of the North American frontier, places like the world where I live.
Sacajawea, the Shoshone teenage mom who likely saved Lewis and Clark and cohorts from an unhappy fate, was married--well, he won her in a poker game--to a French-Canadian fur-trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau, just the kind of bloak I'm talking about.
I don't know. I like it. If I can link some reed-chewing Minnesota beaver to the Dutch Synod of Dort somehow, I'm quite sure that the world is not as chaotic as it sometimes seems. Rest easily--things have meaning.