Nature’s Most Industrious Builder

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(photo credit Lynn Rogers)

“Yesterday I wondered why the beavers were making paths up the outside of their lodge. Today, they spent the day showing me. Three beavers repeatedly dove down and grabbed vegetation and mud from the bottom of the lake and walked armload after armload of it up the paths to the top of the lodge. They emerged from the water walking upright, using only their back legs to walk up the steep sides of the lodge with their very short arms holding the load against their jaws and cheeks. The picture was taken from over a tenth of a mile away… At one point today I saw two beavers walking up a path side my side, both on their hind legs.

One of the beavers also spent time on the food cache eating branches that were above water. Later they will be swimming out from the lodge underwater, nipping off branches, and carrying them into the lodge to eat the bark and cambium as we observed on a beaver cam (webcam) that was in this lodge 20 years ago. Scenes from those old videos now play in the Northwoods Ecology Hall of the Bear Center (NABC) after playing for years in the Duluth Aquarium.”

The above excerpt was taken from Dr. Lynn Rogers “Daily Updates” from the Wildlife Research Center in Minnesota (WRI). I have been following this beaver story with great interest remembering my own experiences with beavers while living in Andover, Maine 35 years ago…

A wide slow moving stream meandered its way to the sea below the house on the hill and beavers had made a solid dam and erected a domed lodge in the center of the stream. Early in the summer the parents would swim up to me with their kits as I sat quietly on my bench by the water (a bench my father had built for his daughter.) Watching those furry little heads with bright beady eyes peer at me curiously as they swam next to their parents is a sight that I will never forget.

I soon learned the lodge was occupied by three generations of beavers. The beavers spent part of each summer “logging” the poplars at the edge of the stream. They created open mud slides that led to open water and every night I would sit on the little bench and watch these industrious creatures cut off the branches and swim with their small logs to the dam. Upon arrival they gnawed smaller branches off the logs divesting them of most of the leaves which they ate. They took some to the dam to shore it up and repair any leaks. As long as I sat quietly the beavers went about their work as if I wasn’t even there, but if I stood up suddenly or tried to rid myself of mosquitos by waving my hands, one beaver or another would slap his tail making a great fuss!  By midsummer the little kits could be seen swimming with a slender stick or two towards the lodge imitating their parents. There was something about those bright-eyed little kits that stole my heart. Later in the summer the beavers began to disappear under water with tender poplar branches. Those tasty leaves and sticks would feed them throughout the coming winter.

Perhaps the most astounding experience occurred the night an adult beaver climbed out of the water and stood up only a few feet away from me. I froze, barely breathing, but spoke to this adult in a low voice thanking him for the trust he and his extended family had showered upon me by giving me such a spectacular glimpse into the beavers complex world.

As fall set in that first year and every year thereafter beaver activity increased and many evenings I witnessed the beavers walking up their lodges in exactly the way that Lynn describes. I also watched the slow moving stream slide under skim ice. I observed the beavers from my bench for shorter and shorter periods now because of the cold, huddled in my winter coat.

The first year I spent beaver -watching my father died suddenly on November 9th (the anniversary of his death is today, just three days before the full beaver moon). Just before I got the call I awakened from a dream that simply said:

“Your dad has become a beaver.”

As the shock wore off and grieving set in I thought a lot about my father’s life. By profession he was an aeronautical engineer who founded his own international packaging company. He was a driven man who had alienated his children with his unpredictable violent outbursts, and it wasn’t until mid life that he began to be accountable for his behavior. It was then that I was able to see for the first time that my father also loved both of his children deeply. Family violence had destroyed my brother’s and my earlier relationship with him, acts that would have tragic consequences for my brother who turned that violence upon himself – dying by a self inflicted gunshot wound after graduating from Harvard with honors. My brother was also an international runner of great acclaim. This same violence destroyed my nervous system for life.

After my father’s untimely death I thought a lot about the relationship between my father and the beavers. The one hobby that my father cultivated when he wasn’t working professionally was carpentry. He was what I would call an extraordinary builder and finish carpenter in his spare time. He and my grandfather built one of the homes we lived in and my father designed and engineered the entire enterprise.

To dream that my dad had become a beaver on the day of his death after I had spent an entire summer submerged in the beavers’ world seemed uncanny, prescient. After he died whenever I watched those beavers I also saw my dad, remembering how hard he worked, how generous he was to others in need, how loyal he was to his family. To think of my dad as a beaver brought me enormous comfort and gave me some hope that something of him lived on in a positive way.

As thanksgiving approached that first year I knew that I would be spending the weekend alone except for the beavers, who by this time, had disappeared under ice. I decided to honor my father and the beavers together by giving my friends a present. So on thanksgiving day I took my handsaw and chopped down two tender poplars after asking for permission to do so… Next I took a crowbar and bored a big hole in the ice not far from the lodge and stuffed the first poplars into icy black waters. Late that day I sat on my frozen bench and called to the beavers, telling them that I had a present for them. I stayed there until almost dusk half frozen – hoping for a sleek brown head to appear, but of course no one did. Yet, when I walked up the hill, I felt as if I had done something important that mattered.

That night I lit a candle for my dad next to the box of ashes that I alone was responsible for burying. The place I had chosen was in a cedar grove next to a mountain brook, but I had not yet finished clearing and preparing the spot.

The next morning I raced down the hill to the stream, and to my amazement and joy, the poplar branches had disappeared! For the next three days I repeated poplar gift giving after reopening the hole in the ice, though I never glimpsed my friends.

In a few days the cold set in for good and a light covering of snow covered the lodge. I loved the fact that the beavers were warm and toasty in their house under the ice. For some reason just knowing they were there brought me an amazing amount of comfort, and all that winter not one day ever passed when I didn’t think of my dad with love.

PLEASE CHECK OUT THE FOLLOWING RESPONSE – AMAZING!

Check out this article «BEAVERS AND FATHERS REMEMBERED»: https://www.martinezbeavers.org/wordpress/2019/11/11/beavers-and-fathers-remembered/

The Littlest Lizard

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A little voice called me to the door breaking my afternoon meditation. ‘The Littlest Lizard is out and about.’ Without thinking I grabbed my IPhone, opened the door and was disappointed to see that the sun had already left Littlest Lizard’s lair, a rocky crevice in the cactus garden wall.

 

Disappointed, I turned to re –enter the house and there he was, clinging to the wall like spiderman, just inches away from my face. “Oh, there you are” I exclaimed happily as I snapped a few pictures taking careful note of his girth. He bowed to me three times.

 

This sagebrush lizard is only about an inch and a half long (with tail) and is the only lizard that has been around for the last ten days. The other three little lizards must have fattened up enough to brumate, but this little guy is so tiny that he has to keep hunting to survive the coming winter.

 

I am pleased to report that Littlest Lizard is gaining the necessary weight. Every warm day I meet up with him and we have a conversation while he basks in the sun above his crevice or on the adobe wall keeping a sharp eye out for potential prey.

 

And every day when he appears I run for the camera only to discover that he has disappeared like a phantom. This habit of his has been driving me crazy because I wanted just one good picture of him, a picture that would indicate that he might really be as small as I say he is. Today I may have succeeded thanks to that insistent little voice. I love the way Littlest Lizard turned around to peer at me as if to say – ‘that’s enough’ after I took two pictures.

 

Most animals I know would prefer not to have a human peering at them through any kind of lens. My dogs are a good example. If they see me coming with a camera they immediately close their eyes or turn their heads away. I’ve followed bears that led me through thick brush and briar patches turning around every few minutes to check on the progress of the annoying human with the black box and never letting me get close enough to get one decent photo.

 

Don’t ask me why but sagebrush lizards are my favorite reptiles in the world. As a child I do remember going to the circus where my little brother and I could buy geckos for 10 cents that clung to our coats after being attached by a tether and pin. Of course I was too young then to understand the cruelty involved. Most of these hapless lizards soon expired. My mother showed us how to feed them by attaching a bit of hamburger to a piece of thread, and a couple survived for a while. I shudder now just thinking about those poor reptiles hanging on for life on cold winter days…

 

I’d like to think that my present relationship with sagebrush lizards has helped to even out my unintentional childhood unkindness towards the geckos that I so eagerly bought with my allowance.

 

When I first arrived back in Abiquiu I was distraught believing that all my house lizards were dead. The first day I ran into a very well fed garter snake that slithered into the cactus garden wall. Normally, I am very fond of snakes but when I spent three days calling for the seven plus ‘house lizards,’ and no one appeared, I despaired. With all the five – foot prickly weeds cascading over the overgrown garden and obliterating the path to the house I figured my sagebrush lizard family had all been eaten. Most of their basking territory was covered in an unruly green jungle.

 

Imagine my shock the fourth morning when I called out to my friends for a final time while attacking nasty weeds with a pair of clippers (that eventually left me with horrible blisters and bloody hands) when my favorite female lizard suddenly materialized with her very distinct markings. She was so plump! Thrilled to see her I moved slowly towards the wall. When she bowed to me I knew she remembered me and was acknowledging me as her friend. This lizard lets me pet her, and sure enough after a bit of conversation I was able to stroke her velvety back a few times before she moved away. Is she some sort of lizard “watchdog – woman” looking out for her own kind I wondered, because by mid afternoon most of my lizards appeared in their usual spots as if they had been there all along.

 

Why three days of invisibility? Did these lizards think I abandoned them? If they only knew… I thought about each of them every day all summer long. Unfortunately, I was missing a couple of adults; they never returned. But now I also had four new baby lizards – one of which was barely an inch long.

 

When the first hard frost hit early in October most of the adults disappeared quite suddenly except my favorite mother, her mate, and another pair that still appeared on warm afternoons. My beautifully marked mother was now so well padded that I wondered how she had room to swallow even one more ant! I last saw the mother who I have now re-named the “watchdog lizard” ten days ago. The four little ones continued to appear until the end of the first week in November. Now I only see Littlest lizard. I am delighted to see how canny this little one is, always keeping close to cover. As long as I am there without a camera he is quite friendly although he will not tolerate my touch (I actually have no idea if this lizard is a male or female because he’s too young to sex).

 

Now that the days are short and the cottonwood leaves are drifting to the ground even on windless days I know my time with the Littlest Lizard is coming to an end, but I am reasonably certain that this appealing little fellow will see another spring… and I shall be joyously awaiting his return.

 

A natural history note on bowing:

 

Bowing is a part of spring mating rituals and I have witnessed this behavior many times, but I have also learned that it is a form of communication that these lizards routinely use with me. I have never read anything in any literature about bowing with respect to general communication. When a lizard bows to me s/he is conversing with me in his/her own language.

 

A second scientific note about having a personal relationship with lizards:

 

Both humans and non – human animals have limbic systems within their brains that are closely involved with the regulation of emotions especially in the amygdala. The limbic system was present in the ancestors of reptiles, mammals, and birds. It is an ancient emotional activation system that we share with countless other species. The love I feel for my lizards is real and evolutionarily ancient. I have no doubt that these relationships are reciprocal.

November 2: All Souls Day

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“Women must know where they are going, how to get there, and how to get back.” Laura Shannon

 

Living part time in New Mexico, I see a lot of commercial skulls, witches, black cats etc. that mark this turning but I don’t see the rituals that once accompanied the ancient three day festival that is known as the Feast of the Dead and is comprised of All Hallows, All Saints Day, and lastly, today, All Souls Day.

 

Because I am attached to each cycle of the year in an intimate way I create ritual for each of these turnings using the Celtic calendar because it fits with what is happening around me in Nature. I am a Daughter of the Earth.

 

The leaves are falling and white frost covers the ground. Winter birds have arrived. It is too dark in the morning

 

This year I noticed how deeply private my ritual was, how focused my writing was on personal survival, structural integrity and health of my body, ‘my house’, the absolute necessity of honoring feelings in this body.

 

Normally during these three days I light candles for others and say prayers for those who have gone before, and remember my family – although family memory is rife with pain and betrayal .

 

This year these three days are passing with me aware of but not focused on the dead but on me. I have been wondering what it means that I need to turn so much attention on myself.

 

Making my way to the river through chopped off tree arms in the pre-dawn I was struck by the relationship between the severing of these beloved cottonwood limbs by the man who owns this property, the resulting destruction of my cottonwood cathedral, the powerful feeling that I was/am living the myth of the girl who had her hands severed by her father and his ax, the terrible violence inherent in this story, and how I close I came yesterday to chopping off my own finger while splitting kindling. But didn’t. My ritual intentions were/are twofold: protection of the structure and integrity of this body – house and to “re-member” what was done to the trees and me.

 

I don’t want to hold onto my anger but I want to remember.

 

By remembering I gain the necessary courage to create change.

 

During this writing has it become clear that this need for honoring trees in death is just as important as honoring them in life. I am more intimately attached  to my three – day ritual and the re kindling of the soul – literally and metaphorically – than ever before. On one hand I remember the dead, on the other I celebrate the sanctity of all life through trees – those that are maimed or dead, and those that are evergreen (a universal symbol for “everlasting” life). There is a wholeness, an integrity attached to this relationship between the days of the dead, my expression through ritual, and what happens in my life that I find especially moving. The souls of those tree limbs live on.

 

On my walk this morning I also discovered a perfect bird’s nest woven out of reeds and grasses, completely empty except for shriveled brown leaves. I gently and reverently removed the nest, and cupping it in frozen hands, brought it back to the house, placing it in the center of the tree that I adorned with lights and crystals just yesterday.

 

I have been lighting up an evergreen tree early in November for about the last 10 years without understanding why except that it felt right. I follow my instincts when it comes to ritual (unfortunately, the rest of the time I often succumb to logic and reason in inappropriate ways especially when under pressure). For the next three months I will be acknowledging my love for trees in a very deliberate and conscious way…

 

To find the empty nest on All Souls Day is significant for three reasons. The nest embodies loss but also acts as a container for the dead, (lost tree limbs)…and perhaps for me.