Sunday, September 21, 2008
Today I headed off for a walk in my parents' woods. They live on a hill and their property slopes down, down, down to a river at the back boundary. Dad has cut nice trails through the woods so that they can easily enjoy their woods from their Kawasaki Mule utility vehicle.
As I walked along the trail called River Road that parallels the river, I noticed a new trail intersecting River Road--to the right (uphill) and to the left (down to the river). It wasn't a wide drivable trail like most of my father's trails and I knew that he had been laid up with a back injury since my last walk down there two weeks ago---so who had breached the No Trespassing signs and cut a trail down the hill to the river?
I decided to investigate and followed the path toward the river first. The trail was very well packed down--I briefly wondered if some local teenagers had decided to come down to the river to party and then remembered that there were about a gazillion acres of woods around so why would they choose these? Then I thought maybe moose--but it would have taken a moose stampede to have packed down the trail so firmly. Actually, I was just having fun with my imagination, I was pretty sure that I knew who was building new trails for us but from the bank of the river I could not see any construction.
But there was evidence. Wood chips. Well, now, I was smiling and excited because these wood chips were fresh, I could still feel the sap on them.
I followed the trail back across River Road and up hill, I had to crouch down to get through the trees, the trailbuilders were much shorter than I--and then I entered a clear cut. I counted 13 freshly cut stumps.
Beavers are nocturnal animals, starting their work at sunset and finishing up at dawn--I suspect that these trees were cut last night, everything looked very fresh.
I have been fond of beavers since one freed Lady from her muzzle at the climax of Lady and the Tramp. But since that dramatic scene, I have learned more about them. Beavers begin their industrious activity in the fall. They work together as a family to build their lodge. They float the logs and sticks downstream, add mud and excavate their lodge from the bottom.
In Winter World:The Ingenuity of Animal Survival, Bernd Heinrich writes about entering one of the abandoned beaver lodges on his property one summer day. He said: "I carried a flashlight, to have a look around. The den I examined contained two platforms. One was slightly above the other, and in both the floors were liberally strewn with small debarked twigs, the remnants of take-home meals. The chambers were roomy enough for me to be able to turn around, but it must have been a tight squeeze for a mated pair of beavers, together weighing about one hundred pounds. Add their two to five yearling offspring, and an equal number of young from the current year, and it must have been a tight, cozy fit."
After leaving the beaver trail, I continued down River Road to my intended destination, Poet's Point. Looking upstream, I could see the beginnings of the lodge.
This is going to be a favorite project for me over the next few weeks, so expect more on our little beaver family. I may even hide in the woods one night to watch them work.