HomeNature JournalBeaver, the Artist

Beaver Dam on the South Toe River

All summer and into this lovely autumn I’ve been witnessing the work of the beavers. I didn’t even realize they were here, right along our stretch of the South Toe river, until June, when on one firefly-lit evening, sitting on the bank, I saw an animal swimming in the dark calm.  Peering over the bank with a mix of wonder and dread (because I thought it might be a rat), I watched the animal swim right up to us before it disappeared with a tight gurgle. “Slap!” on the water, further downstream.

That slap was mama beaver’s tail, and the rat-creature was her kit. I was thrilled.

Since then I’ve located their lodge, built into the exposed roots of a buckeye tree that cleaves to the bank of the river.  I’ve observed rhododendron and buckeye saplings neatly cut along the banks. And dams. Little dams on creeks and seeps and bigger attempts on the river. Having observed through the years the ever-changing riverscape, sculpted by both raging waters and the loads of rocks dumped by said waters, the beavers brings a fresh hand to the river.

Beaver Dam across the South Toe RiverAnd now they’ve built their masterpiece–a dam that stretches across the width of the river. They have raised the water level considerably, creating a wide pool of still water where once there was a narrow run of river.


Stillness on the River

This afternoon I sat down on the bank of the river and became a sponge. I absorbed the stillness of the water, watching circles of fish bites radiate outwards and yellow birch leaves land with the lightest touch upon the gentle silk of the pool. It is a temporal thing, this pool, the dam a work of many, many nights, constructed of rocks and branches, hewed by the teeth, a marvel of engineering, a massive undertaking, and an utterly temporal thing. The rains are inevitable.

I think about the beavers, driven by their biological desire to create habitat for themselves–water that protects and provides access to their forage. The rains will come, the river will rise fast, and their work will be swept away. And just as inevitable: they will rebuild. Even as the success of their dam depends entirely on rainfall, or rather, the lack of it, they will continue. They are almost certainly ceaseless in their undertaking, working without pause, for every afternoon when I visit the river the pool has risen, the dam more massive, more saplings cleared away.

Mark of the Beaver

And I want this. This drive that propels one forward without thought to what rain might come. I want the focus of the beaver, the unrelenting ache in the teeth that cannot be ignored.  The persistence of action that fells trees and remakes the riverscape. I want the sound of water overriding all other thoughts, urging me forward, out, to work, to do the impossible task, and then do it again.

There are a thousand rainstorms in my life. Much of my work is swept away, though often enough I am the rainstorm doing the sweeping. Just as often it is the beloved work of family. Still there is an ache in my teeth, a restlessness. I would do well to quit looking at the forecast, and set my body to the task at hand, which is reverence, which is stillness, which is color and metaphor and breath, which is habitat-making for the spirit in this utterly temporal thing.

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