TALES FROM THE DUMP: A beaver tale

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On an expedition into the bush, columnist Walt Humphries discovered a marvel of beaver engineering.
photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Here is a beaver tale.

I love observing nature and trying to figure out how it works.

I was out on some of my mineral claims and was cutting some grid lines. I finished up in the afternoon at the end of a line and on the lake shore. Now I had to get back to the place where I had left my boat when I started work.

The shore was rather low and swampy. I had a choice. I could go back up the line to solid ground and then bushwhack my way back to the boat. Or I could try to work my way up the shore back to the boat. That was the shorter route and there were patches or humps of grass and willows. I could take advance of those, pick a route and stay reasonably dry.

I was tired and opted for the shorter swampy route. I was concentrating on getting from dry spot to dry spot when I came up to a channel. It was about a metre wide and not something I wanted to step into. So, I backed up a couple of steps, ran and jumped. I made it to the far side even if I did sink down onto my knees. At least I didn’t topple over into the water.

Just as I was getting up, I heard a rather loud and ominous smashing, crashing, splashing and had the distinct impression something big and furry was hurtling my way. Suddenly I was wide awake, and all my senses were in overdrive. I was pumped full of adrenalin and in the old fight or flight mode.

A big beaver went racing by in the channel I had just jumped across and did a big tail splash when he got to the open water of the lake. I breathed a sigh of relieve. It wasn’t a bear and it wasn’t attacking. I must have scared it and it was just escaping.

I had seen the channel and in the back of my mind I knew a beaver had built it but I hadn’t really taken a good look at it. Now I did and it really was a marvel of beaver engineering. It ran straight from the lake to a little pond about 30 meters. The pond fronted on a nice stand of birch forest, which the beaver was obviously harvesting.

The beavers chop down birch trees and then clean off all of the branches, which they haul back to their lodges for food. They also cut up what logs they can also haul back.

They eat the bark and then use the poles to add to their lodges. The beaver had found this appetizing chunk of forest and decided that if he or she built a canal, it would make hauling the branches and logs a whole lot easier and faster.

That was a pretty smart beaver, to figure it all out and the channel was well made. It was straight, in the right place and must have taken a lot of work to make. Beavers can build lodges, channels to make harvesting food easier and they can build dams to flood land so they can get to other birch trees.

Beavers have a problem on land where they are vulnerable to bears, wolves and other predators because they are slow and plodding. So, they want to stay close to the shore. But they eat trees and it takes years for trees to grow. So, getting food becomes harder and harder. The beaver either has to move to another lake or it has to build a dam and flood the land, so it can get at more trees.

The fact that they can figure all of these things out is pretty amazing and I consider them to be an intelligent species. Some people want to say that it’s all instinct, but it goes way beyond instinct.

Through trial and error, they have learned how to do these things and they do them well. There are lots of humans who couldn’t figure out how to do it. Something to think about.