Out on our pond, a pile of partially submerged branches spreads out from our local beaver lodge. The beavers are good neighbors, if a bit cheeky: They had the nerve to build their lodge right at the edge of our property, although at least it’s tucked into a marshy curve of the shoreline that’s hard to see from our house. Their log skids lead back into the swamp, not onto our land, so while they’re cutting trees that technically belong to us, at least they’re not cutting trees in our front yard.
Each year as we reach the end of foliage season, our shy neighbors become, well, as busy as beavers. Every evening, they leave home and head to work, taking nighttime shifts to chop down trees with their sharp teeth, nibble off the branches, drag them to the pond, and swim them over to the lodge. They’ll eat leaves and bark from these branches — poplar, birch, ash, beech, and willow are favorites — during the long New England winter and use the bare wood for construction come spring. If ice holds off long enough, their food cache can spread out into the pond 20 or more feet and grow 5 or more feet high.
We’ve been preparing for winter on our side of the pond, too. Our shifts run more to daytime and weekend hours, but not full ones, so by beaver standards we’re slackers. We’ve been traversing the edges of the yard and what we call “the back 40” (more like the back quarter-acre), looking for leaners — dead or dying trees that aren’t downed. If the wood is sound, we chop them down. Virgil and Ursula and I use saws and axes on the smaller trees; for bigger trees, or sometimes just for ease, Jim fires up the chainsaw. Once the trees are down, we limb them and drag them up to the house, where we chop them into firewood. (Elsewhere, I’ve revised the old saying that firewood warms you twice; revising again, I’d say that this wood will warm us four times over by the time it’s in the fireplace.)
After last weekend’s early snow, Ursula and I pulled the logs up from the field on a sled, creating our own smooth skid road. The four of us took turns chopping wood in the fading light. We were cleaning up when I heard the distinctive slap of a beaver’s tail. We stood quietly, listening to the sound of our neighbors’ evening commute.
Winter will come, but I hope not before we — our family and our beaver neighbors — bring in enough wood to make it through.
Photo of beaver feeding in Canada’s Gatineau Park courtesy of D. Gordon E. Robertson.
“Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.