My kayak glides silently across the calm water. I quietly dip my paddle and pull, pushing the sleek vessel through the water. With each paddle stroke, a small vortex circles on the water’s surface. It circles, circles until swirling away into nothingness. The marsh is quiet except for the occasional sound of a drop of water falling from my paddle blade, or a startled duck exploding from the tall marsh grasses. A marsh hawk streaks low above the grass displaying its extraordinary aerial prowess. It dips, banks, and turns on a dime, slicing through the air as though it were a knife, hoping to startle some unsuspecting waterfowl into flight.
As I navigate around a bend in the marsh channel, I see ripples in the water ahead. A dark object cleaves the smooth surface of the water sending tiny ripples dancing away. It is a beaver, one of many there must be in this lake, but we seldom actually encounter one. Though I sit still and quiet, it soon realizes I am an intruder in its watery world and a loud splash echoes through the marsh as it slaps its tail in warning.
This lake in Canada, we enjoy paddling so much, has quite a population of beavers. We estimate there are at least a dozen beaver houses around this lake and the vast marsh that meanders from it.
Beavers are fascinating creatures. They are our largest rodent in North America. With teeth that grow continuously, they must use them, or they grow too long. While they can become pests when they intrude on humans where they are not wanted, they are in fact a valuable keystone species in the wild. They create habitat that supports a broad diversity of other wildlife. In the wild, when beavers dam a stream the lowland bordering the stream is flooded. In time the waterlogged trees die, water-loving plants take hold and soon a pond is formed that attracts a wide variety of wildlife.
Last year when we were in Canada, this particular beaver dam was not here. It’s located on an old logging road where a small stream trickles across. The beavers have built an impressive dam here, and now a beaver pond is forming.
The skill with which beavers build is quite amazing. They cut branches, shove them into the mud and then reinforce the dam with mud, grasses, and sticks. Beavers are notorious for damning up road culverts causing the flooding of roads. To them it no doubt seems the perfect place to build a dam.
As my kayak glides into the large beaver pond at the back of the marsh, I look at the dam that arcs around. Water is brimming to the very edge. Tall grasses grow from the rich mud. I admire the beaver’s dedication and skill. A docile animal that builds a home and habitat for itself unknowingly creates an Eden for other animals as well. I hear a trickle of water as it seeps over the mud and grass along the dam edge. I know as the sun sets, the work will begin to silence even this tiny trickle.
My blog will be silent for the next week or so, as I spend the week ahead kayaking some of Florida’s wild and pristine rivers.