The industry of nature

  • Staff Illustration/Andy Castillo

  • The lake where the beavers live. Staff photo/Andy Castillo

Staff Writer
Published: 5/4/2020 8:32:17 AM

As April’s cold rain turns to the warmer days of May, the lake of my childhood is invading its shoreline. Sections of the trail I sometimes run have become muddy. Trenches have been carved into the reeds. The beavers who live there are at war with the trees.

These developments, which I have written about previously in this column, have intrigued me and, over the past several weeks, I have observed their progress as it has been made in leaps and bounds. A few pointed stumps were the first visible sign of their effort. Days later, I noticed felled logs halfway in the water and halfway on the land. Clearings appeared overnight. With each passing day, the lake seemed to be a little bit larger than it was before. For a while, the beavers focused their efforts on the eastern side of the lake, near the lodge.

Yesterday, however, I noticed evidence of their labor on the lake’s westernmost shore.

The cattails surrounding a boardwalk and short jetty had been flattened and channels had been carved through the reeds like the trenches of war, giving the beavers access to a large swath of untouched trees. Their efforts are as coordinated as they are industrious.

On a recent evening walk, I turned a corner in the woods and came across a large beaver perched on a rock eating its dinner. I stepped on a twig, causing the beaver to slide into the water and strike the surface with its tail. I could tell from its snout, pointed slightly into the air, that the beaver was sizing me up. It continued to strike the surface until I’d left.

A part of me is frustrated by their labor. In the absence of humans, the lake is being transformed. At the same time, I fear for their safety. Beavers, acting as the offensive arm of nature, are perpetually pitted against the expansion of western society. They usually lose. For example, beavers turned adjacent preservation land behind my wife’s childhood home into a swamp. Eventually, a neighbor tired of their industry and had the beavers killed.

Not to say there aren’t examples of humans and beavers living peaceably together. The owners of Quonquont Farm in Whately installed devices that prevent water levels from rising too high. The beavers venture onto the land to scavenge for fallen apples on the outskirts of the farm’s orchard. In turn, they bring nature to the farm’s doorstep.

I’m unsure what will happen to the beavers at the lake if they continue their expansion efforts. I hope it won’t come to the worst.

If there’s one thing this pandemic has taught me, it’s that humans and nature must coexist. Left to their own devices, the beavers could destroy the footpaths at a place that is dear to my heart. Conversely, unchecked, humans are on a dangerous journey toward the destruction of the Earth. A balance must be achieved for the survival of both.

Andy Castillo is the features editor at the Greenfield Recorder. He can be reached at acastillo

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