Adorable Aquatic Mammals Of Rainbow Lake

[Castor canadensis. Source: Wikipedia]

beaver n. A large aquatic rodent having thick brown fur, webbed hind feet, a broad flat tail and sharp incisors used for felling trees and building dams.

–The American Heritage Dictionary (5th ed.)

When late summer arrives here in the North Country and the leaves begin to turn red, gold and yellow, I like to reminisce about the fun facts and involvement I’ve had with the wildlife that is abundant in the Northern Tier of New York State, deep in the Adirondack forest, where animals and plants, from bears to wildflowers flourish.

I’ve written about the fascinating lives of spiders, black flies, mosquitoes, gnats and bees. This year, I’d like to turn my attention to the cuddly little furry critters that scamper about my yard at all hours of the day and night. The squirrels are just so full of life…they scamper about and make cute attempts to scratch holes into our eaves so they can live in our attic. The deer almost seem ready to eat out of my hand as I sit on the front deck. Every time I walk across the tiny little patch of grass that we like to call “our lawn”, I get yet another chance to check my body for ticks.

We don’t see too many bears so I’ll skip them.

But what we have, living in some lodge in some hidden part of this relatively large Rainbow Lake, are a pair of beavers.

So, let’s talk about beavers.  The North American beaver (Castor canadensis) can weigh up to 71 pounds! I got that fact from Wikipedia, so it must be true.

Are they social animals? You bet they are. They come right up from the lake and into our yard. Why just about two months ago, at night, while I slept just a few feet away, one (or both) of the local beavers chewed through and felled my wife’s favorite Poplar tree. I noticed it the next day when I was taking the recycling bags to the garage. There was the tree resting against the house, just outside our bedroom. Actually, the tree (about seven inches in diameter) was resting against our power lines.

This was serious. Our cable TV could have been taken out. How was I going to watch Dancing With The Stars or The Hoarders? We called the National Grid (sounds so Canadian) and within an hour they had the tree down.

Not one moment of interruption of our favorite shows!

But it was not all bad. We gained some useful information about our friends, the beavers. They loved Poplars and Birch. It so happens that I love those trees as well.

So, what did we do? Simple. We caged the trees. Our friend who sells us firewood and does some trimming (his name is Forrest, really) caged our vulnerable trees.

Now, because of those miserable beavers (what were they going to do with our tree, dam the lake?), we have a yard that looks like a display at Disney World.

How attractive is this:

Or this:

Or worse, this:

At least they left these under our dock. Maybe I can find a nice walking stick from this pile:

In search of more beaver lore, I went to The Wild Center in Tupper Lake. There, in a tank, was a beaver. I felt some aggression rise within me. I stared into the beaver’s eyes and said: “You will not conquer me. You will not take out all of our favorite trees on our .5 acre lot. I am still the master of my domaine. Do you hear me through this thick plate glass? I will not be ruled by you!” I suddenly realized that the beaver was stuffed. A small crowd had gathered around me.


“Harriet, take the children to the car.”

“Don’t worry, Timmy, he’s just a grumpy old man…you know, like grandpa was when he became senile.”

I had to save face. I pretended I was a WWI veteran and slowly limped away humming It’s A Long Way To Tipperary.

I can only deal with these little frustrations philosophically. Soon, none of this will matter. The sun will expand to the size of a Red Giant and consume all the inner planets. Or, global warming will flood the Adirondacks.

And, if none of this happens, we’re going to spend the winter in England. I know they have hedgehogs, but I’m not sure about beavers. Hedgehogs don’t build dams, (I don’t think) but the beavers can gnaw away on our wire cages all winter.

At lease I don’t have to build a Wall.

[With the exception of the lead illustration, all photos are mine.]



Passports 12: The Legendary Hedges of Devonshire



In most standard dictionaries, “hedge” will be defined as a row of shrubs to separate lawns, fields or pastures.  In Devon, they can also separate your sense of self-confidence and driving skill from your very soul.  If you drive seven miles along a “two-lane” road with these hedges, the fear you will feel is not unlike what you would feel if you stood before the very Gates of Hell and cursed Satan at his own doorway.  You enter the seven mile stretch, easy of mind, free at the wheel, confident, joyously celebrating the astonishing landscape and geography of this fabled west country county.  They you emerge at the far end, a mere seven miles of driving–you emerge gaunt, pale, perspiring, white fingers gripping the wheel like a death choke, unable to speak or formulate a coherent sentence.  You are breathing fast.  Your pulse rate is up around 375 beats per minute.  Your eyes are glazed over.  You try to speak.  The only sounds from your larynx is something that resembles the gibberish of a Neanderthal.  Your lips and tongue cannot form the simplest syllable or even articulate a vowel.  You attempt to say: “There, that wasn’t so bad”, but what comes out sounds like “Nnneeeyayayabaaa”.  Your brain functions are fried like a bad sausage at a county fair that has been cited for Botulism.  In rapid succession, you have calculated the cost of two side-view mirrors, the door handles, the paint job, tires, windshield and radiator.  And the car isn’t even yours.

The road, or more accurately, the lane, is wide enough for 1 1/3 car widths.  You don’t have to be a German mathematician to see that the numbers don’t work.  So, the road builders have put in “lay-bys”.  In theory, it works like this: You drive until you see an oncoming vehicle.  There should be a pull-over (lay-by) for you to edge over or the other car to edge over.  Sometimes, you have to back up a bit.  But, somehow, it works (most of the time).  And, God help you if you meet an oncoming milk truck… At some point, your mind, your soul begins to separate from your body and you are floating–high above the hedges.  You’re looking down at two cars passing each other within the width of a spider’s thread.  You cease to care about the cars because you’re nearer to God now and the trip to Paradise is going to be shorter.

Don’t forget to recall that the steering wheel is on the right, you’re driving on the left and you are shirting gears with your left hand.  You are so close to the opposing driver that you can estimate what time he shaved this morning.  If it’s a woman, you can count the curls of her ebony hair tucked behind her right ear.

But you do emerge.  Your faith in God is enhanced.  But, the promises you made to the Almighty for a safe seven mile passage is going to cost you.  You have to build an orphanage in Bolivia and a leper colony in Patagonia.  Somewhere, way back in your brain, you hope there are no lepers in Patagonia.

No wonder my father hated trimming the two hedges that bordered our lawn.

But enough about my twelve ‘out-of-body’ experiences.  Let’s take a closer look at the hedges of the most hedged county in all of England.

If you find yourself walking along a lane with hedges, they are, without question, astounding in many ways.  The use of hedges to enclose small fields has been found to date back to the Neolithic Age (4,000 – 6,000 years ago).  Many, if not most of the counties in the British Isles, have hedges as part of their characteristic landscape.  In the Lake District, to the north, the hedges are mostly stone.  But in Devon, that are whole plant communities.  I was astounded to learn that Devon has over 33,000 miles of hedges!  The reason for this is that county has held onto its traditional agriculture practices the longest.  In other parts of Britain, the hedges have been torn down to make way for larger field systems.  Many of these hedges are being replanted.

The typical Devon hedge is made of an earth or stone bank that is topped with the shrubs.  A full 25% of this counties hedges have been dated to 800 years or more in age.

A typical hedge is made of up 600 species of flowering plants, 1,500 species of insects, 65 species of birds and 20 species of mammals (perhaps the most famous being the “hedgehog”).

How can one estimate the age of a hedge, you may ask?  Well, a fellow named Hooper has come up with a formula.  If you count the number of woody species in 30 yards and multiply that by 110, you will get the age of the hedge (within a range, of course).

In the end, I offer two bits of advice: If you travel to Devonshire, either let a bus take you around and let the tour company worry about the damages, or, get a Hummer and become the Mad Max of southwest England.

Be a hedgehog.

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