Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Requiem for a Beaver

I buried a beaver today. It had crawled out of the water and was lying dead in the middle of our dam yesterday morning when I walked over to feed the horses. I could find no wounds of any kind so I don't know why it died. Or why it chose to do so in the most people-trafficked place in its environment.

I also don't know why its death made me so sad, considering how many times I've cursed the beavers for clogging up the overflow from our pond. For years, I've battled their dam-building instincts, tearing out their night's work each morning. Or part of it. They worked faster than I. But when friends and neighbors suggested I have the beavers trapped and removed, I demurred, saying the beavers had as much right to be there as we did. Surely I could outsmart them.

I certainly tried enough methods. One of the most successful was an electric fence suspended above the water a few feet out from the overflow. The beavers stayed away as long as the fence was on. The instant it was off, however, they had both fence and overflow clogged up. I often had the fence off when working near the pond since I didn't particularly want to be zapped myself. And I often forgot to plug it back in. Hmm... maybe I'm not as smart as a beaver.

Pound for pound, I'm certainly not as strong. It was amazing the size of logs beavers could tow and jam into the overflow. When I dismantled their work, it was not a hodgepodge but rather very carefully interlaced sticks and mud... and as our contest grew more intense, bricks and hunks of concrete or whatever they could find.

I piled the stuff I pulled out into a big heap in the orchard. My grandson told me I should burn it or the beavers would just bring it back to use again. I did burn the pile and then the next pile and the next. But I never saw any evidence the beavers reused their construction material. Instead, they cut down new trees that I'd rather they didn't. We had wrapped woven wire fencing around our fruit trees, a couple feet up, years ago to protect them from beavers, which it did. But they cut down anything unprotected near their pond.

In the early years of our feud, a beaver would slap water as I crossed the dam in the evening to feed the horses, warning his family that a human was in the area. But they soon grew complacent and ignored me, going about their business of eating the water plants and carrying some into their underground home. But in the evening of a day when I had dismantled their dam yet again, at least one beaver would slap its tail over and over, obviously angry at my dam-wrecking. (To see a Hungry Beaver video, visit FinkLinda's videos on YouTube or try this link:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0Er7bPuypY)

This summer, Johnny dismantled the electric fence and, with his backhoe, dug out some of the mud that was accumulating by the dam . Where the pond used to be six feet deep, it was now mudded up to the top of the overflow. That desecration of their efforts put the beavers into overdrive. So determined were they to fill in what Johnny had taken out, that I could not keep up with their nightly handiwork. I told Johnny he had to do something. So he did. And it worked.

Johnny sunk metal fence posts into the mud and curved a stock panel in front of the overflow, abutting the concrete dam on both sides so there was no way a beaver could get anywhere near the overflow. That was, apparently, too much for the beavers. Or else they were just too busy working on their second dam, the one they built upstream of our pond to create another pond, mostly on our upstream neighbor's property. Ironically, we may have solved our beaver problem just weeks before the papa beaver died. Perhaps it died of despair since it could no longer clog the overflow.

Our beavers had kits this summer. We saw two of them swimming and, late at night, heard their begging mewing sounds. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJmddAFiGiI). Perhaps they are still there. I hope so. It has been fun having beavers to watch. But I don't miss the work of liberating the overflow and I hope the survivors don't try clogging the stock panel... if there are survivors... we have not seen any beavers since the patriarch crawled out to die.

I buried him in the arboretum. The water level below ground is very high this time of year, especially after all the rain we've had recently, so he is in a watery grave... but what could be more appropriate for a beaver.

May his tribe increase... and may they leave my pond overflow alone.

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