Beaver Medicine

I know where the new beaver lodge is! Thankfully, top hats are out of fashion, and we have a healthy beaver population here in the canyon.

For the past three years (winters of 2013-14, 2014-15 & 2015-16), the beavers were busy working on an extravaganza to the south of JCRC and my standard joke when showing visitors around was: “Apparently, the beaver family has produced several children and they all needed jobs!”

Since that dam broke during last year’s spring runoff (2016), I can see two tunnel entries to their lodge, below the former waterline that once allowed the beaver to enter and exit safely. Here’s a pic taken in winter (of 2015-16) of the lodge they built on that site (at right)

At the end of September, 2016, the leaves in the high country have already dropped, but down here in the canyon, at 6,000 feet, our glorious fall colors are just starting to peak. My boots crunch on the dried leaves that have already fallen and the air is sharp and crisp as a Winesap.

I feel the days getting shorter and, although I love this time of year, my heart is heavy too. It wasn’t long ago that I was swimming in this river and I didn’t realize at that moment that it would be my last swim of the season. It’s another ending in the Great Turning of life.

One of my oldest friends, Deborah Fitzgerald, was visiting and when we walked down to cross the bridge so we could hike on the other side of the canyon, we found it blocked by a beaver-felled cottonwood. I wondered if the beavers were choosing a new site or if they would occupy the one from previous years again over the coming winter. After our hike, we drove back down in my work truck so we could clear the road and gather a little firewood. I like to leave the trunks so the beavers can feed on them through the winter and I can pick up what’s left (sans bark) in the spring. As I cut the tree, Deb threw the smaller branches, still in leaf, over the side of the bridge into the riverbed.

The next day it became clear that the beavers were choosing a new site there at the bridge. Those smaller branches had all been moved and placed downstream from the bridge to begin construction of a new beaver dam. You can see the early signs of construction in this pic, about 5 days later.

During the rest of last fall, they rearranged the entire area, which they’re very good at doing! In this pic, you can see the pond after only two weeks: this view shows the pond from the bridge, so you’re only seeing the very top of the dam.

Beaver are often seen as pests, but that is a far-from-accurate characterization. Here in the canyon, we have had concerns on occasion that the ponds would cause flooding of our road, but so far we’ve been able to avert that. I thought about having them trapped and relocated somewhere where their riparian habitat restoration skills are needed, but could only find the good work being done by the Klamath Watershed Partnership (Here) in Oregon. Unfortunately, they couldn’t take our beavers because they cannot be transported across state lines!

Check out this link for a good, brief overview of why beavers are “Worth a dam!”

The only thing I’d add to the above is in reference to the following statement:

“While infamous for killing trees, beaver dams actually create diverse habitats.”

That’s true and it is also true that beavers eat primarily cottonwood, aspen and willow: all of which are not killed when felled by beaver—if you check out these areas a year or two later, they will be full of new saplings sprouting from the original tree stumps.

Gifts from the Beaver: Unless everything is covered in snow, I occasionally gather some of the beaver shavings in a stuff sack I carry in my pack. Then I dry them in a basket on top of my woodstove—they make excellent kindling for scattering on the coals early on a freezing morning!

Beaver Medicine* in many native traditions is Builder or Builder of Dreams. For those of us, and I am certainly one, who see and relate to the Earth in that way, there’s a lot to be learned: such as the symbolic connection between water and the emotions, the concept of what can be done through cooperation and teamwork and the wisdom of designing and building structures that enhance the environment, among many other things.

It’s been great fun watching how they use their superior building skills. Sometimes we’re fortunate enough to see the beavers (mostly nocturnal) swimming in their pond and slapping their tails at us as they dive to escape into their lodge.

Now, since winter (2016-17) arrived, their new pond has often been frozen and covered with snow—the tracks on the surface recording who’s been there. Here’s a pic of me at the pond taken by our friend, Nancy Taylor from Montana, on Christmas Day, after a gorgeous snow storm all day on Christmas Eve.

References:

It turns out that Beavers have the dubious distinction of having become the first “natural resource” to be exploited by Europeans beginning in what is now Canada. By 1930, the North American population was nearly wiped out and only recovered due to conservation efforts. They have been introduced in Europe and have established viable populations. Check out the link to Natural History Notebooks for more on this.

There are several cool beaver videos on You Tube, if you’re interested, just search beavers. Here are a couple short ones I like to share:

Beaver Dams (2:30)

Amazing Beaver Experiences: (3:17)

Also, beavers play a prominent role, along with Pierce Brosnan, in the feature film: Grey Owl. Based on a true story, it’s worth watching . . .

I wish I could describe what happens when I spend time in nature: it’s like a blessing, like grace. I can feel it in my mind and body, in my heart and soul. It is not something “out there” . . . it is my Wilderness Within, it is kinship. I’ve basically designed my life around this one thing because it nurtures and inspires me. More than ever, each of us needs to renew this lost connection. It’s easy to forget the value of our connection to nature, yet when we reestablish it even in the smallest ways, it can make a profound difference. When you think about it, all of us humans everywhere are descended from earth-based tribal cultures—and they knew a thing or two that we have ignored at our peril!

Please feel free to share your feedback below and thanks for joining me!

*Medicine & Totems: Earth-based, tribal cultures had a vastly different relationship to the Earth and their fellow creatures, all of which they experienced as relatives . . . family. The term “medicine” meant something very different than what we commonly think of today. For native peoples, who lived in nature, not apart from it, their concept of medicine referred to anything that improved one’s connection to the Great Mystery and to all of life. Native American medicine is a holistic term for a way of life that means walking on Mother Earth in harmony with All That Is. I think we miss out on enormous wisdom when we disregard what they know.

One of the reasons this resonates with me so deeply is that I’m part Native American. Secondly, I’m a member of the Ojibway Tribe, but that’s another story, and I’ll look forward to sharing more down the road. Also, I plan to write a more complete description of what I’ve learned about the wisdom of nature, animal medicine and totem animals from my personal experiences and intuitions as well as from various other resources. Of course, these teachings vary from tribe to tribe, but a reverence for the Earth and all the wild creatures with whom we share it, is a common thread.

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