Beavers at Zero Degrees

Watson & I have had our eye on a beaver lodge for a while, and we hiked across the frozen lake to explore it this morning. The air was cold (about zero) and I wanted to take photos, so I did a lot of numb-fingered fumbling between camera and mittens. Here is what we saw, until my hands stopped working and even Watson was holding up one paw in supplication.

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A lovely pasture stream on the way there. Amazingly, its water is still running, free of ice.  Robins hang out here all winter.

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Chickadee, scolding me. I can’t believe I caught him on film.

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Here is the lodge, covered with snow. Off to the left you can see a fringe of twigs scattered over the ice; those are the top edges of submerged branches the beavers dragged there before the ice froze, to act as a food stash during winter months. Beavers can access this stash, under the ice, from their lodge. (You’ll see more about beavers and other winter creatures in my book WINTER BEES & OTHER POEMS OF THE COLD, Fall 2014.)

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Other animals had been there before us, to sniff things out—coyotes, perhaps? But beavers are quite snug & protected inside their rock-hard, frozen, stick-and-mud construction.

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The tracks led up to this tiny “ventilation shaft” at the top of the lodge, where beavers build more loosely, so that they can take in outside air.  Around the hole, the snow was beautifully crystallized from the expelled warmth. How amazing to gaze down into blackness and know that a family of beavers was huddled inside, patiently waiting out the winter. I could almost imagine one of them turning to the other: “YOUR turn to dive into that frigid water and drag back a snack."

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Speaking of snacks . . . stick! Nom, nom, nom.

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On our way back, we ran into a cool set of tracks we didn’t recognize (well, I didn’t--Watson probably did). Later, I looked them up: a river otter slide!  I’ve seen otters in the open lake, but never any sign of them in winter.

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More otter-slide tracks. Really thrilling to discover them. You never know what you’ll find when you step out the door, even in the dead of winter . . . and even at zero degrees.

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