East Boundary Beavers

It is dusk.  They swim together across the pond to a tasty patch of cattails.  They dive for the roots, come up together, and chew the wads that they hold in their long orange-nailed fingers.  They roll around, holding each other for a few moments, until one floats silently to a willow stand, cuts four plants – chomp, chomp, chomp, chomp – with its very long orange front teeth, then disappears seamlessly with the willow bouquet, into the lodge for the kits.

A little while later, she is seen floating in stillness.  Peaceful, in no hurry, she watches.

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Then more willows are cut, the small branches discarded, to float downstream to the dam, to be woven later.  She eats the bark, like an ear of corn, manipulating and rotating it with her hands.

They both swim to the dam for their nighttime vocation of building, weaving alders and willows, and patching with mud and rock.  He clutches a wad of mud he has just dug to his chest, swims to the chosen spot and pats it into the dam with his hands.  She brings a rock in just the same way and places it strategically against a leak.

Each evening, the beavers eat first, but are always doing at least two things at a time – shaping sticks for the dam, while eating the bark. The original multi-taskers. They keep the water table high. They attenuate floods. They prune the willows perfectly, so that they grow back plentifully to use for the dams, lodges and for feeding their families.

How do they decide which dam to construct, patch or change on any given night? Is the plan to work on the lodge tonight? It all seems so architecturally planned in advance, their vision and foresight astounding. I can just imagine them, glasses on their noses, consulting the blueprint that they created. They get so much done every night, yet they never seem to be in a hurry. Always deliberate, but always serene. I aspire to the cooperative way in which they work, as well as their tranquil steadfastness.

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All the other wildlife are dependent on these sleek, shoe- button- eyed, large nosed and round- eared creatures with the big flat scaly tails and bright orange teeth and nails.  The wetland is here because of them.  This whole valley was influenced by them before they were trapped out in in the mid 1800’s. They are a “keystone species,” meaning they are central to the survival of many.

There was an effort from 1930 – 1950, to reintroduce them, but beavers are now considered a nuisance, and hated by many.  However, some of us know how beneficial to the land and ecosystem they are, not to mention our hearts. We appreciate that our neighbors on both sides love them, and understand their role.

The first year we were here (we bought our land in 2004), there were two families of beavers – one at either side of our land, just over each boundary fence.  They both had a lodge, and they both had babies.  There were no beavers on our land, only old abandoned remnants of dams.  We would gaze longingly at the neighbors’ ponds and wish that we too could have beavers on our land.

We enjoyed visiting the lodge closest to our camp site (on the east side of our land) every evening. It was exciting to watch them, to listen to them talk to each other, and to share direct eye contact with them as they swam in circles, studying us.

An adult would appear first, circle the pond, then dive under and back into their lodge to have a family discussion about us.  “Eeee eeee eeee. Mmmmm, ah mmm eeee eee.  Are they safe? Are they the ones that were here last night? Eee, oh mmm?” Their sound reminded me of a cross between guinea pigs and a litter of new puppies. Who knows, not that I would EVER anthropomorphize, but they could just as easily have been saying, “Gosh Dad, are you going to bring us some willows or what?  We’re hungry!”

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Then up would pop a youngster, who would swim briskly around, dive, come up again, and invite play.  Pretty soon the whole family was swimming together, eating some, carrying willow sticks to the dam, and putting new mud and sticks on the lodge.  Then inevitably, BOOM – the loud tail slap, and they would all disappear in a flash.

We enjoyed that family for a couple of years, but during the summer of the third year, the creek dried up. People whose families have lived here for generations said they had never seen it dry up completely. The beavers had just started to build a dam on our side of the fence.  Though beavers are good at survival, they are totally vulnerable without water. Sadly, we watched the family disappear one by one.  We were sad for a long time over that loss. The lodge, without maintenance, fell apart, as did the dams. I don’t know if they were killed by coyotes, bears or lions, but their predators too, were desperate without water, and needed food. The next fall, a rain event washed the dams away, leaving only a few sticks, chewed in beautiful patterns.

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I look forward to telling you about all the beavers on the west side, on another day. Also, about all the beavers we have had and have on our land.  They have been a great source of joy for us – the beavers themselves and the ecosystem they have created. It has been an interesting, fun, creative and funny dance – encouraging them, but also working with some of their more undesirable behaviors, and figuring out how to solve some of those differences.

We built our new house overlooking the west side pond, and the pond on our land, and have been watching them from our porch, and from the other side of the creek for several years now.

Though climate change has brought us many losses over the years – species lost, beaver colonies lost – today we have beavers. Today the wetland is full of water. Today, I am grateful. Hopefully, we will have lots of snow, and the ecosystem will enjoy a wet spring and summer.

I find it difficult to prevent my mood from being dependent on how much water we have in the creek. I strive and choose to be happy, not “because” of anything, but happiness for its own sake. Climate change challenges me on that score. I work with that one a lot.

Look for the next beaver installment called, “Beavers are Great, but They Ain’t Free,” but first, there are other animals to talk about.

Thank you Brett Housego for taking the picture of the beaver while you were here visiting from Scotland.

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18 thoughts on “East Boundary Beavers

  1. Hey, Mary, I saw your post and thought, “well, I’ll skim read it.” Then I got pulled in from the first words and read the entire post word for word. Fascinating descriptions of your furry, clawy, toothy friends! I’m eager to hear more.

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    • I’m glad you liked it, Julian. Still new to the whole blog thing. When you get it in email form, do you see the banner and whole blog or just this post? I think you can click somewhere to go to whole site, no?
      Thanks for visiting. I hope you come back.

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  2. Ahhh, Mary, you are so fortunate to live so close to a wetland wilderness. We live in the mountains but they are relatively dry and loaded with animals, large and small but we are in a valley with a few other humans but also with dogs that keep most wildlife at bay.

    We have to settle for our domesticated folk animals. We went and picked up three kittens from a rescue vet today and brought them home. It only took a few seconds for them to glom onto us humans in their new home and perhaps a minute or two more for the two 100 lb dogs to warm up to them. Our older male cat is still not sure and is keeping his distance. It’s been four hours since they’ve arrived and as I’m typing one is on my right shoulder and another is on my lap. The third is the smallest and youngest from another litter and she is out exploring somewhere – she is the least fearbound and most adventurous. We named them Fuzzy *longhaired’, Wuzzy – sleek and short haired (these two are litter mates and probably 10 weeks) and Osa – the smallest and probably only about 6 weeks old but looks like a tiny baby bear.

    What is astounding is how very quickly they adopted me as their surrogate mother and now are permanently bonded (literally) to me. About 4 years ago we had the two dogs and 5 cats. When we would set off for a walk through the woods or along the dirt road there would be all 9 of us in a row. It was a scene out of a Dr. Doolittle film. Animals are so delicious as friends and companions – especially if you can let them live as they are naturally wont to live. Their lives may be shorter but, I think, so much more alive – much like my own.

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    • Nice, Dennis. I saw the pictures of you and them on facebook. What a nice family you have!
      Have a wonderful time with the new additions!They grow so fast.

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  3. Thank you! This is great…

    To answer your post question. It comes in email and gives you the first chunk and then to see the rest you have to open to your blog. But your writing is amazing and makes you have to keep reading 🙂

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    • Thanks Nikki! I am glad you like it. It’s weird. Some people are getting the whole post in email. So you don’t see the banner and the rest of the blog. Sometimes, the pictures don’t even come up. I want it to be how it was for you, for everyone. Do you find wordpress easy or hard? I want people to see the whole blog – SpiritWalks part and all. Thanks. I love your blog too. Lot’s of good info. You are the go to person for nutrition!

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  4. Great beaver story. We have beaver also in our little pond, The pond also dryed up 2 years ago but luckily the beaver did not have far to go. The river was not far away.

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  5. I remember well Jess and I down at the pond with you in the early days watching for the beavers as i had not seen a beaver before. Your account here takes me to be “right there” with you. Beautiful , thank you,

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    • Thanks Mishie! They change the landscape so much when they are here. I hope we get enough snow to keep the ones that are here now alive. I hope you will see some the next time you are here.

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  6. Great blog, Mary. We miss the creek beavers at our old place. It was always a highlight to watch them, and they kept the creek full all summer behind our house with their hard work. We have beavers in the Coquille River down the hill, but have only seen their chopping small saplings so far. Rainy, rainy day here today. Water everywhere.

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    • Having them right now is wonderful, but it all depends on snow pack if they will survive. It’s great you have some close by, but sitting on your porch overlooking the river at your old place was pretty special. Are there willows there on the Coquille?

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    • Sadly, they have not. There have been beavers on the west side, but with our drought, when the stream dries up, they are vulnerable. We have at least 2 in there now, so we are all praying for more snow to keep the creek flowing all year so they can live. Thanks.

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