Jul 14 2017

Dam-Nation! Close Encounters With the Earliest Engineers by Tamia Nelson

It’s impossible to talk about canoeing without mentioning beaver. They played a vital role in opening up the North American continent to European settlement. It’s a role they’d have been happy to forego, however, and it pretty much wiped them off the map. But now they’re back, and that means their dams are back, too. That’s good news. Beaver dams mean beaver ponds, and beaver ponds are always good places to spend a little time. So this week, Tamia’s doing just that.


Beaver ponds are the trout fisherman’s friend. They’re also delightful places to dip a paddle. Whether you’re listening to chorusing peepers in April, ghosting along under the full moon in July, or contemplating the reflections of the tinted hills in September, beaver ponds have something to offer every canoeist and kayaker. Except whitewater thrills and chills, that is. But there’s more to life than pumping adrenalin, isn’t there?

And the best thing about beaver ponds is this: The show is free. The beaver does all the work. All he (or she) asks is a bit of bark and some succulent lily roots by way of payment. It’s like having a butler-cum-cook-cum-handyman all rolled into one, and sticking someone else with the wage bill. Which makes our centuries-old war against the beaver hard to understand. Except, of course, that there was money to be made by killing beaver and selling off their skins and glands to the highest bidder. There still is. Money talks, and when it does, it speaks with a loud voice. It did in the 17th century, and it does today. If anything, its trumpet blasts have gotten more strident.

Still, after being hunted to within a hair’s breadth of extinction throughout much of North America, the beaver has now come back. His tenure is precarious, however. As the suburbs chew their way through forests and swamps, beaver have fewer and fewer places to call home. A beaver pond located in a state or national park is one thing. It’s an amenity for the tourists. But having one on your front lawn is something else. That’s an emergency. So it’s likely that, before too many more years pass, we’ll once again push the beaver back into life’s shadowlands. And then, sooner or later, the beaver will follow the dodo and the passenger pigeon into the perpetual night inhabited by nature’s discarded experiments. Sic transit gloria mundi. Our turn will come.

But that hasn’t happened yet. The beaver is still with us.… Read more…

Paradise Postpone - Illustration (c) Tamia Nelson

Originally published at Paddling.com on July 11, 2017

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