Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cleaver Beaver

This morning - oh, wait, it was early afternoon by then (dang endless daylight! Gets me all confused!) Where was I...? Oh, yes. This afternoon I was driving out of my driveway in search of coffee when I noticed that one of my aspen trees had fallen down. This was to my right on a steep slope above the lower arm of my drive, and while the trunk was entirely on the slope, with none of it laying in the drive itself, I made a mental note to clear it when I got home.

But you know how quick thought is. As I drove past it, after a single hasty glance, a whole bunch of thoughts popped into my head. It took only a fraction of a second to think: Wait a minute. That's a young tree, not likely to be rotted in the trunk, so why would it have broken? Also, there was no wind last night to knock it down. And did I mistake it, or did that one microsecond I glanced at the break-point show what look like chisel-marks...?

So I put on the brakes, backed up 10 feet and squinted up the hill, hunched over my steering wheel to get the angle. Hmmm. Suspicious. I put it in park, told Finn to stay put and got out. The hill there is extremely steep, not conducive to climbing (or at least, not unless you're a quadruped of some description), so I only went up about 3 feet, just far enough to get a better look. Well, hm. That DOES kind of look like chisel marks. Peering closely at the dirt and leaf-litter on the slope, I thought I might be discerning a little trail of some kind - but it's pretty subtle, so I might be making that up. I ponder for a few seconds, shrug, make my way back into the drive... where I notice that the upper part of the tree has been sectioned into two or more lengths of trunk (two that I can see, anyway). There are multiple small branches that appear to have been chewed off the trunk, raggedy-edged, scattered here and there. The leaves of the aspen are just now wilting, and the exposed wood is still slightly damp. The short sections of trunk also have the scalloped appearance of chisel-marks at the ends, and there is a flattened area a foot wide in the weeds at lakeside.

Well, what do you know. I have  a beaver in my lake.

Then I think: Hm, do I really? because I haven't seen any signs of it, and the lake has no stream of running water in or out. But then I think: Well, streams aren't essential. I've seen beaver lodges in swampy wetlands. The main things seem to be deep enough water to sustain the beavers both summer and winter, and enough trees nearby for food. So maybe I DO have a beaver.

I've lived in this house for 13 years, and never seen hide nor hair of a beaver anywhere near here before, which is what makes it hard to believe I have one now.  On the other hand, it's quite a bit harder to believe that some human agency is responsible; what person would climb six or seven feet up that steep and slippery hill to cut down - with an axe, mind you, not a chainsaw or some more convenient device - a small, not-that-spectacular aspen tree on private property? And then chisel it into smaller sections, and drag those across the drive and toward the water? To say nothing of apparently gnawing the small branches off with their teeth.  There are, after all, any number of larger, more conveniently-placed trees to vandalize. Although those aren't aspens - which I like, and am not best-pleased to have gnawed down, damn it all. But that's wildlife for you. The moose eat my birches when I'd rather they eat my willow and alder, and the beavers apparently want to eat my aspen when I'd rather they eat... well, my willow and alder. Beasts these days. No consideration for my landscaping preferences. Ah, well. What are you going to do?

By now I'm pretty sure I'm not just hallucinating the potential presence of a very large semi-aquatic rodent setting up house right next door to me, because I can't put together a logical explanation that does not include a beaver. I can't picture some person doing this, particularly at night - because I'd for sure have noticed the tree down yesterday evening, around 6:30, when I was on my way to my friend Lori's house for socializing and general girlie debauchery. I did bomb in and out pretty fast  - zipping home after work to feed and walk dogs and collect bratwurst and a movie, and zapping back out equally fast to go to Lori's. Moreover, as it happens, I was out late that night. This was necessary, as we grilled the brats, drank beer, talked about boys (and mutual guilty pleasures such as "True Blood" and "Spartacus Blood and Sand" and any movie that includes horses, sword fighting, or - preferably - both) and generally enjoyed ourselves. For a while we picked over agates and other interesting rocks, some rough and others polished smooth and satiny, that Lori picked up at an agate beach she knows and flies to from time to time. Lori is an excellent pilot (and in fact, if you need a flying adventure in AK, I highly recommend you contact her at SkyTrekking Alaska so she can fly you around for fishing or hunting or Iditarod or what have you. She'll land you safe, and she seems to know everyone and everywhere interesting in Alaska. Apart from which, she's a ton of fun to hang out with. But I digress).

Anyway, we watched "Dear Frankie" (a truly charming little gem of a movie which no one seems to have seen) and by the time all was said and eaten and drunk and done, it was well past midnight. We're at that stage of summer where midnight is dusk, now - not full dark, but not exactly the full-light twilight it's been for the last few weeks. So it's possible, on the way home, that I missed seeing the downed tree when I pulled into my driveway at one in the morning.... but I don't think so. So I'm fairly certain that my little stealth tree-faller was at it between one a.m., when I got home, and 6 a.m., when I was up and about and letting dogs out. Certainly before 2 p.m. when I left the house in search of coffee. I'm 100% certain that it didn't happen earlier than 6:30 last night. Being as how beavers are largely nocturnal, the beaver theory would fit with the timing. And I'd just about guarantee that if a person was in my driveway messing with my trees, my dogs would have gone ballistic. So even if my other logic were faulty, I still can't see another theory that fits better than the Marauding Beaver theory (aka the Castor canadensis caper).

So now I guess I'm on beaver watch. I'll have to try to protect my remaining aspens. I love them - their quivering leaves flashing green and silver in the slightest breeze, their straight white trunks, the way they change their silver-green leaves into shimmering golden coins in the fall; the way they cover my drive in gold leaf like alms before winter. So while I'm sympathetic to the needs of the local wildlife, I really hope there's something else out there they can be convinced to eat, instead of cleaving down the rest of my aspens.

Years ago, a friend of mine's little boy had a sore throat. Meaning to tell his mother that he had a hot scratchy throat, he tried to say he had a fever in his mouth. But because he was learning to talk, he said instead "Mom, I have a beaver in my mouth." So despite the depredations on my aspens, I guess it could be worse. I may have a beaver, but at least I don't have a beaver in my mouth.


Dragon43 said...

Way cool.
Chicken wire around the trunks of trees you want to keep? Might deter other gritters also.

Get you a trail camera like I use & catch them in the act and you can see for sure what is wandering around at night.... ???

Holly said...

Last year, about this time of year, DD and I were at the gamelands with a couple of dogs. It was dusk and the light was fading fast at the pond we were at but we lingered because it was so beautiful out.

*CRACK* came the first loud explosion....

we looked at each other, shrugged....sounded like a rifle shot but this was WAY out of season

*CRACK* it came again and that was when we noticed the sleek head duck below the surface of the pond.

when they slap those tails, it's loud!

MaskedMan said...

I like Gus' trail-cam idea. Sportsman's Guide catalog has some decent ones at a reasonable price.

Beaver will quite happily use existing deep still water - they dam streams only when they can't find suitable water already in-place.

They prefer Aspen over Alder and Willow, but will eat them too - They'll also go after Birch. If you don't have any sedges growing on the lake shore, you might want to see if you can introduce some native sedges to the area - it may reduce the damage to your Aspen.

OTOH, if you've got a new immigrant to your shore, there needs to be a lodge, and Aspen is a favorite building material for that - expect more trees down.

Oh, and they're long-lived. Expect a neighbor for life.

AKDD said...

@Dragon: THat's a thought. Although the other trees I'm mostly worried about moose, and they're too tall to effectively screen out. OTOH, it's their living, so I don't mind it THAT much. I just wish they'd eat the trees I like the least.

@Holly: I'll have to listen for that. I got called in last night (well, this morning) around 2, and didn't see hide nor hair (nor broad scaly tail)... but I"ll keep both an eye and an ear out.

@MM: the thing is, my lake is pretty shallow. I'm actually pretty surprised a beaver thinks it's deep enough to winter in - but what do I know? I'm sure beavers are way more expert at this than I am. I will say that I find beaver to be pretty cute, with their wee little ears and giant orange teeth. And if I actually CAUGHT one eating my aspen, I would leave it alone. But I still wish the dang things would take down my alder instead! (Or maybe I should take them down myself... I may have more fish to smoke at ANY MOMENT. Alder is good for that.)