Saturday, August 30, 2014

Leave it a Beaver

            This past July when the older two grand boys were here staying with us for a week the weather vacillated between hot and downright cold. We had many cool days that week but we also had plenty of warm ones. We had rain and sultry steamy days as well as picture perfect bucolic evenings. Looking for a respite from the heat one morning my grandchildren Brayden and Bricen and I went down and played in the edge of the creek and walked barefooted through the tall grass in the neighbor’s meadow that runs parallel to the bubbling stream bordering our property.  Sparkling water hurried past caressing the amber rocks that protruded above the surface. Grass tickled the undersides of our feet and the sun heated the tops of our heads. The popular leaves in conspiracy with the breeze rustled and danced across the dirt road making soft clicking sounds.

            An underwater shadow moved swiftly downstream equal distance between the grassy banks of the small creek. Immediately I looked skyward to see what bird or plane was passing over that would cast such an immense shadow. Nothing was in the heavens above me except a brilliant sun in a sea of cobalt. Instantly I again looked toward the creek to find the shadow and reorient my eyes after glancing towards the sun. The watery silhouette passed out of sight into the dim light beneath the bridge and briefly disappeared. Shortly thereafter the dark watery submerged shape passed out of the shadow and again into the sunlight.  Brayden shouted, “Look Grandpa it’s a beaver swimming down the middle of the creek!” As my eyes adjusted I got a better look at the apparition moving beneath the water. It was not a beaver but a musk rat, one of the largest I have ever seen. The boys were thrilled to see something so exotic. There is a distinct difference between a muskrat and a beaver but when they are swimming rapidly past underwater the difference is almost imperceptible. The beaver has a blunter nose while the muskrat’s nose is sharp, more pointed. The flat broad tail of the beaver is in stark contrast to the narrow, hairless, rat like tail of the musk rat. The fact that Brayden and Bricen spotted the creature surprised me considerably since it was little more that a fleeting, indistinct shadow moving hurriedly and silently down the creek, never surfacing or hesitating, almost dream like. It shows you just how sharp their vision is and the strength of their observational powers.  Thinking what you saw was one thing when it was actually something else is a bit of a conundrum. The boys were unfamiliar with musk rats and really wanted it to be a beaver. I should have left it a beaver but having the fatal curse of being a teacher I could not.

            Beavers are second only to humans in their ability to change and manipulate their environment. We have had beavers living here in the past and their foraging of the trees, shrubs, grape vines and blueberry bushes adjacent to the creek is disastrous. Thank goodness it was a muskrat!

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