Quest for dams, lodges reminds us of beavers’ impact

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On some of our country rides when we find ourselves with free time, my husband Fred and I see beaver dams and sometimes lodges near the road.

On a recent excursion we decided to stop, walk through the woods along Bloomery Swamp and look for a beaver dam that we knew was there. Fred was familiar with the area, since he frequently fished there during his youth. He kept telling me what kinds of fish he and his cousin used to catch in this same place in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Memories were strong that afternoon.

As we watched our steps through the woods, wearing protective clothing and rubber boots, we encountered standing water, some moist but not dry ground and numerous trees and thick underbrush as we walked toward the place where we thought beavers might have built a dam and also a lodge where they take shelter.

Taking in the surroundings of the woods, listing to birdsong and trying to avoid briars and maneuver rocky inclines, we talked about what we know about beavers. We know that beavers are sometimes called a “keystone species,” one that has a large influence on the environment.

We also know that beavers can be destructive and cause great damage to farmland and personal property. Flooding of farmland is a problem that farmers have to deal with sooner or later. We know of farmers who have found it necessary to destroy beaver dams in order to restore their land to a condition suitable for their purposes. A problem with destroying dams is that beavers get busy — true to the beaver reputation — and build a new dam within a matter of days.

Excessive water from beaver dams has been known to flood railroad tracks, a problem that has to be corrected to ensure safety of train traffic.

On the other hand, the dam-building habits of beavers contribute greatly to the restoration of our precious wetlands, which provide a habitat for numerous plant and animal species, such as birds, fish, frogs and any number of endangered species.

Now, back to our to our search for a beaver dam and a lodge, a find that would make our afternoon quest complete.

As we walked, we fairly quickly saw evidence of beavers in the area, yet we did not see one of our industrious friends in sight.

We noticed a tree that had been chewed on the trunk near the water level, surely done by a beaver to get bark for food and to attempt to claim the tree for building a dam. Our search took us downstream to where we thought we might find what we were looking for. Fred kept saying that he knew there was a dam downstream because there were numerous dead trees in the woods caused by standing water, but due to the undergrowth and briars, we could not continue our walking. The woods were getting deep but not dark.

We never found an active dam or lodge on that particular day, but we knew in our bones that they were surely nearby.

What we did find was peace and contentment, communion with the local natural surroundings, deer tracks, a few science lessons, music of the woods, knowledge that the land was teeming with flora and fauna and, unfortunately, a little plastic, aluminum and paper left by careless humans, not beavers or other local wildlife.

Thanks, Fred, for leading our quest and for contributing knowledge about the wondrous woods and beaver activity.

The afternoon was not wasted; it left room for another quest on another day and at another location for our flat-tailed friends and their clever work.

Sanda Baucom Hight is retired from Wilson County Schools after serving as an English teacher and is currently a substitute teacher in Wilson County. Her column focuses on the charms of home, school and country life.