At first, I thought it was a log, or perhaps a dog, gliding across the pond in the low evening light. It was over a metre long, chunky and a few shades darker than the muddy brown water. Only its head was above the surface, although I could see its body and huge flap of a tail, just under the water. It had rounded ears, black button eyes and a broad nose. I stood utterly still under the rustling willow tree, not even daring to raise my binoculars in case I startled the creature. I knew they didn’t have very good eyesight, but their noses were sensitive and their hearing was pretty acute.
The early summer evening was cooling rapidly and shafts of golden light speared through the trees. The bright leaves of the willow, birch, rowan and aspen shimmered in the lilting breeze. Dragonflies zipped over the surface of the pond and tiny glittering insects bobbed in the clear air. I could hear blackbirds, long tailed tits and warblers chirping in the trees. A woodpecker briefly hammered.
I’d been walking along the footpath, paralleling the stream uphill from the village of Ford. We’d had some bad floods there a few years ago but it had been better recently. Here, the ground levelled out and the stream’s flow was slower. This was also due to the tumbled pile of logs strewn from bank to bank. Mud and sticks were caught between the logs, forming a dam, creating a pool of water upstream. Water still flowed through some parts of the dam, a trickle spilled over the top and rivulets had spread out around the sides.
I walked on further, skirting the edge of the pond. I was glad that I was wearing my welly boots, as the ground was marshy, squelching underfoot. Small channels and tributaries fanned out around the pond, creeping into the reeds and tall grasses. I saw a clump of frogspawn at the same time as I heard a frog croak and another’s answering call.
I stopped beside a stand of young willow. Some of the stems had been sheared near their base and masses of new growth had shot up in response. My attention was drawn back to the pond as I heard a splash. The ripples had almost faded when the fish leapt again, chasing flies. By now, thick shadows were gathering under the trees and the water reflected the pinks and peaches of the fading sunset.
I drew in a deep breath, drawing in the peace and calm of the woodland. I felt the stresses of work lift a little as I let my mind rest in the natural beauty.
The grass on the other side of the pond wavered and the beaver waddled into view. It was dragging a sheaf of reeds. It paused at the water’s edge and picked up one of the stalks to nibble. Even in the dim light, I could see that its huge front teeth were a strange shade of orange, fortified with iron to strengthen the ever-growing chompers. Three kits scampered out of the reeds, one barrelling past its siblings to be the first to splash into the water.
The adult beaver gathered up the bundle of reeds and carried them into the water. It swam over to the dam, gliding smoothly through the water with the kits frolicking and splashing behind. The beaver tucked the reeds under a stick on the front edge of the dam, before diving down into its hidden lodge. Two of the kits followed their parent underwater but the third picked up one of the reed stalks, clamping it in its mouth before also diving down, leaving only a faint ripple.
I too, decided it was time to return home for dinner. I took one last, lingering look across the watery clearing and felt a wave of gratitude for this simple moment, surrounded by nature, witness to such amazing creatures as wild beavers, returned to the countryside after an absence of hundreds of years.
Links to further information:
https://youtu.be/IAM94B73bzE Beavers and Wildfire: a stop-motion story by Emily Fairfax