My hostess wasn’t home when I ventured upon her land today, but I went with her blessings. And in return was blessed.
I’d barely stepped into the woods when a female pileated woodpecker called for attention as she tapped with intention and sloughed off pieces of bark in a quest for insects.
My own quest was to check on beaver activity, for I’ve traveled this land before and knew their previous hangouts, but . . . by the level of water behind the first dam the water was a wee bit low and I sensed no one was at home nearby.
Just below the dam, a tall sculpture created last year indicated that we grow ’em big in these parts. Beavers, that is. But really, last winter the water was higher and so was the snow, so it wasn’t a super hero beaver after all who had gnawed and shouted, “Timber.”
A wee bit downstream stood dam number 2, also not in current use. But . . .
By the path through broken ice, I suspected that an otter had checked out the scene rather recently.
Perhaps he had high hopes of finding someone at home. When I knocked, no one answered.
Dam number 3 was also defunct and I began to wonder if there were any beavers in the neighborhood.
And then . . . and then I spotted a tell-tale sign: fresh incisor marks on a single tree. Do you notice how they are oriented left to right? A beaver must turn its head to the side in order to scrap the tree trunk and reach the inner bark with its upper and lower incisors.
Beyond the new works, were plenty of old, the shades of the wood telling the story of years of activity.
And on some trees, new met old, adding more colors and designs to the art work.
An old lodge stood in the middle of the wetland that was fed by a brook and stream, where ice sealed the world above from the world below.
A closer look at the lodge revealed that it had been compromised, and the memory of an exploration last winter reminded me that a predator had been attracted to it but didn’t seem to find anyone at home. Today, it seemed, the house was still an empty chamber.
As I continued along the edge of the wetland, I found one tree where a beaver merely took a quick taste and perhaps didn’t find it to his liking. Or . . . a predator happened along and he skedaddled back through the icy water to the safety of home.
It became apparent that someone was indeed home, just not in the first lodge. And by the color of the wood, the logging operation had occurred rather recently.
Wood chips on the ice added to the assumption that this was a recent harvest and if you look beyond, you’ll see two dome-shaped lodges in the offing.
From the shore, both looked well mudded, like we might add insulation and Typar to our homes to keep winter temperatures at bay. This technique also makes it resistant to attack from predators. What it doesn’t keep out is other undesirable visitors often in the form of hordes of insects.
The closest lodge was rather skyscraper in height and I began to wonder, was it the living room and the shorter one perhaps the kitchen? Did you know that beavers heap sticks until they are well above water and then gnaw their way up into the structure to create a chamber?
Much of the color surrounding the houses and throughout the wetland was provided courtesy of leatherleaf and its upright leaves and future flowers stored within the tiny buds.
Not far downstream from the two lodges, an infinity pool any homeowner might die for gave proof that someone was indeed home. Keeping the water high is important for beaver survival since they need to access their food supply of munch sticks stored underwater near the lodge and come and go from said homestead via a secret entryway. Secret to us and most of their predators, that is. Water snakes came find them in season. And otters can find them at any time, especially when the possibility of enjoying a meal of a young one seems a possibility.
Below dam number 4 water rushed and ice formed.
Dam number 5 was along a different stream, and though it hasn’t been in use for several years, its structure is worth honoring.
The meadow above invites others to take advantage and in the spring muskrats and wood ducks were seen in this place.
That’s the thing about beavers; they create wetlands that create habitats for others to enjoy, such as the deer that left behind some rubs on trees by dam number 1. From the raggedness at both ends of the rub and smooth wood between, I knew a buck had roamed this land and rubbed his antlers, leaving an inviting scent for a doe to notice.
And a chipmunk hole surrounded by hoar frost indicated someone was eating and breathing within.
But . . . not all chipmunks have decided to retreat to their underground homes just yet. The funny thing about a chipmunk is that it can pose as still as possible for minutes on end so a predator won’t spy it, but the minute it decides to move, it chirps. Why is that?
Certainly, it seems, it sends out a message to others like the bobcat who left behind a print or two or three on several patches of snow.
I traveled this land today because of the generosity of my hostess and so for her I found a bunch of fungi and decided to honor her with a false tinderconk as my way of giving thanks for letting me trespass almost anytime I want.
I’d gone to check on the beavers and was pleased with the discoveries I made for I know where they are and aren’t active. And I’ll return because those five dams and four lodges are only a taste of what her land has to offer.
But, it was the ice that once again stopped me in my tracks. Like the water it forms from, I’m always awed by the artwork created, in this case chandeliers dangled.
Seriously. Seriously, my heart stopped when I found a three-dimensional heart sticking up from a rock. Seriously.
My favorite find of all though, was a reflection of my face as I rejoiced in the unexpected.
This next month I hope you’ll make time to do the same.