Opinion: Beaver tales


Published: 11-18-2023 6:00 AM

David Emerson, of Old Ways Traditions in Canterbury, is a woodworker.

Recently good friends of ours, a true outdoor couple, invited me and Anne to go on what has been our favorite hike here in Canterbury, Spender Meadow. We hadn’t been there for a while, we do shorter hikes now at 81, but we couldn’t resist. Spender is a dammed marsh. The dam has been maintained by beavers, many beavers.

Perhaps the first time I went there was on a fall day with a skim of ice on all the ponds on the way there. Spender, however, had no ice along its west edge. Where the ice started we could see ice-free channels leading out through the ice. There was one beaver heading out one of the channels. I soon realized the channels were from spots on the shoreline where established trails started, about six of them, where the beavers had been harvesting their winter food supply.

On this visit, however, we soon realized a major flooding had come down the outflow stream, dropping the water level of the marsh five feet. I called a friend after who is very knowledgeable about dams and he figured it was likely from the heavy downpours we’d had in July, typical effects of global warming. The beavers had rebuilt some but I was pretty sure this was more than they could handle. We could see a lone beaver in the far distance.

I’d had no experience with beavers when 68 years ago we came to Canterbury to buy the farm that’s still our home. While my parents went into the house to negotiate the purchase I found myself in the yard surrounded by a very excited passel of kids. These were “state kids” as we called them then, or “foster kids” in today’s parlance. They clearly had something they very much wanted to show me. They led me down through the back fields and into the woods, which soon became swampy. I could see standing water ahead but it was filled with fully leafed out trees. It was a brand new beaver pond that the kids had watched the beavers create!

Fast forward. Anne and I are camping with our two daughters on a very small island in Fountain Pond at Shaker Village. As I was waking up, well before full daylight, I could hear, “kersplash,” then again, repeatedly. It sounded like large rocks being thrown into the pond. As the light increased I could see splashes. It dawned on me that these were beavers.

In retrospect, I know these were beavers, telling us with their tail splashes that we weren’t welcome.

I’ve had more beaver experience since than I could possibly put in this piece.

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One of my favorites is a beaver swimming along right beside us as we walked along a Shaker dam, looking us over, checking us out. It had probably never seen a full-size human up close before.

Indigenous, industrious beavers seem to be all over the place around here. They do, of course, provide invaluable work for the regulation of our watershed. Fortunately, they are making a comeback, with some human help. I think the Spender beavers could use some help. I hope they get it.

Best beaver reading: “Beaverland,” by Leila Philip and “Once They Were Hats,” by Frances Backhouse. Both books detail how we can help beavers (and much else.)