Story last updated at 8/5/2009 - 12:30 pm
One can hardly explore Southeast Alaska without running into beavers - in person or at least in evidence. They thrive in the excellent habitat abounding for them here. Along the rivers, creeks, lakes and especially in the muskeg, they build their dams, canals and lodges.
When I was a kid, I thought beavers built ponds so they could eat the fish that would live there. Seemed logical, but of course that is not the case. It is far more clever. First off, they don't eat fish, rather they eat a variety of plants - bark, roots, grasses, and aquatic plants like the water lily. They build dams to create pools of still, deep water for predatory protection from bears and wolves and to float food and building materials across spans where it would be crazy or impossible to drag them. A pond also provides an easier place to stash and access their winter supply of yummy branches and sticks.
I noticed a nifty beaver lodge just the other day in a large muskeg as I was driving down a logging road. It was located next to a small lake only about 80 feet from the road and it appeared that you could walk right over there, but not so fast - the first thirty feet of tall grass, four foot skunk cabbage and deep, narrow canals pretty well hindered anything that wasn't swimming.
Not to be deterred, I drove way down to the far end of the large bog and was able to walk in through a stand of trees, across the spongy Sphagnum Moss and right up to their pragmatic hacienda. I know I really should have called first, but no one was around - just a pile of leftover barkless branches where they had apparently dined and neglected to do the dishes. Luckily for them I am not a bear, nor did I have any particular desire to rip big holes in their happy home, which in any case would not have been easy. It was sturdily built of branches, weeds, lots of peat and mud, with the usual underwater entryway.
Beavers are reportedly nocturnal but I have seen plenty of them at all hours of the day over the years. Unlike most wild animals that quickly run off, beavers are always looking for a photo op. Whenever I spend time picking cranberries along a lake where they live, one will inevitably swim over toward me, circle a bit, slap his tail and dive, then repeat, often swimming straight at me and coming quite close for a better look. There is one creek I visit regularly where I actually call for them and one (most often Bucky) will usually come do the circle thing and check out the danger level.
My favorite sighting was the mother beaver with the cutest little nursing baby beaver sitting on the edge of a slough that ran through the tall grass. Mother was quite preoccupied with batting swarms of bugs off her nose and eventually she dove back in the water with baby following close behind. They must have been aware of my presence because they began the ritual circling. Soon mom slapped her broad tail on the water's surface with a loud crash and baby immediately followed suite with a comical imitation. They finally swam off for a while, then returned to the same site with large and small branches respectively and commenced doing lunch.
Sometimes, while quietly fishing and unaware of their presence, I have been quite startled by the splash of a beaver tail right next to me. It is always a treat to share their space for a while and observe their doings.
Like the beavers always say, it's dam if you do and dam if you don't.
Carla Petersen is a remote-living freelance artist and writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.