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Castor fiber, Eurasian beaver. From 'Eager,' by Ben Goldfarb. Chelsea Green Publishing.

NATURE’S TURN: A fresh look at neighboring beaver ponds

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By Monday, Jul 30, 2018 Farm and Table 1

July 30 – August 12, 2018

Mount Washington — A small beaver pond glistens through a hemlock woods, 50 yards from our garden. Many years ago, whenever paddling a canoe at dusk, a beaver popped up and swam close by. Occasionally, Castor canadensis, the North American beaver, startled and delighted us with the slap of its tail on the surface of the water. We have frontage on the water but the pond belongs to our friendly neighbor.

A quarter-mile beyond the pond, a red maple woodland that had the appearance of dry land was, over several years, transformed into open water. A new, magnificent beaver dam was visible from the road, as well as a lodge of mounded sticks. Kingfisher and heron flew over our garden on their way to and from the ponds. The water level raised, a narrow channel opened, connecting the ponds. We paddled our canoe up the tight, shallow passage, pushing back overhanging alder branches and meadowsweet while enjoying a succession of wildflowers that grew along the way; we almost reached the dam.

Beaver dam from ‘Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter.’ Chelsea Green Publishing

When long saplings were found heaped across a narrows close to the man-made cement dam and spillway at the far end of the original pond, our neighbor was alarmed. His solution to preventing the water level from rising and possibly overpowering the cement dam was to have the beavers trapped and removed. This is the usual practice. In the absence of an alternative plan, the beavers were killed. The exquisitely constructed dam at the upper, new pond was broken and dismantled. The vast expanse — about 15 acres of mostly open water — that we had come to appreciate as a vibrant part of the natural landscape became a mud flat. It seems an invitation to invasive species. Kingfisher and heron sightings have dwindled.

I tell this story now because it is a common one that, I have just learned, could have ended differently. That story is told in the publication this month of “Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter.” Environmental journalist Ben Goldfarb relates: “In researching “Eager,” I traveled just about everywhere that beavers can be found, from the slickrock deserts of Utah to the hardwood forests of Vermont to a highwayside canal in Napa, California. I met beavers on farms and beavers in forests, beavers in raging rivers and beavers in irrigation ditches, beavers in wilderness areas and beavers in Walmart parking lots.” Mr. Goldfarb also travels through the history of the formative years of our country and introduces us to problem-solving farmers, scientists, naturalists and conservationists past and present. “Most of all,” he writes, “ ‘Eager’  is about the mightiest theme I know: how we can learn to coexist and thrive alongside our fellow travelers on this planet.”*


*Eager: The Surprising Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter” by Ben Goldfarb, Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, Vermont, July 5, 2018. Pages 11 and 13, respectively.

Audio excerpts – https://soundcloud.com/chelsea-greenpublishing/the-surprising-secret-life-of-beavers-and-why-they-matter/recommended and https://soundcloud.com/chelsea-greenpublishing/badlands-without-beavers-how-teddy-roosevelt-became-a-conservationist

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  1. Judith Lerner says:

    I always so enjoy reading your columns. I’ve been working hard indoors all morning and my brain is frazzled. Your story, sad as it is, makes me feel more peaceful. Reminds me what is really important. Thank you, Judy.

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