Sunday, November 6, 2011

Eulogy for a wetland: by Sunwiggy

Three weeks ago, when my husband and I were out for a Sunday drive, looking for snow buntings in the cemetery (they like it there), he told me that he had just taken a walk in The Scrub, and that the beaver dam was gone.  So was the beaver lodge.  And, so was the beaver pond.

Gone?  What happened to the beavers?  Who took away their dam and lodge?  Why?

The Scrub is not the prettiest place to walk and bird in the UP, by any means.  It's what I call the area that was formerly a railroad track, and a streetcar line, now given over to an ATV trail that runs from Calumet to Hancock.  It's surrounded by former hay fields, now mostly going back to forest, and still in the early succession stages.  It's wet and marshy.  Birds love it.  Warblers and vireos crowd into it during migrations, and some stay to nest.  Redstarts love the areas of tall willows.  Veeries "veer, veer, veer" from the lines of bushes.  Chickadees and various species of sparrows flit and call.  I guess all of this just proves that birds and humans see places very differently.  I like to walk there because the birds like to nest there.

I'm sure the loss of the beaver pond won't affect many of these bird species.  The creek still flows.  But, oh, I can picture the resident pairs of kingbirds and kingfishers, the great blue herons, the American black ducks and mallard ducks, all of the peeps, all of the water loving and needing birds that we used to see there.  I would always hush my companions and try to tiptoe as we approached the beaver pond.  It's not easy to be quiet on gravel.  Who knew what birds you might see before they burst into startled flight?  But, always, the biggest, hold-your-breath suspense was the question:  would you see one of the beavers?

The Patriarch Beaver was huge!  Some of the ATVers would stop and look for him, and take photos of him, and tell each other about him.  Sometimes he would sit on a mud bar, eating what looked like weeds.  Sometimes he- or a littler one- would be swimming in the creek, or in one of the channels they'd made.  We didn't see them often; early evening was the best time to look.

On October 30th, last Monday, I grabbed my husband and headed down to The Scrub to view the devastation for myself.  We got lucky!  Two trucks, marked Michigan American Water Company, were parked right by the site of the former pond.  We approached the employees of the water company, and found them to be friendly and informative.  (I let my husband do the talking.)  The water company had been worried about a big cement water pipe that had had most of the rock materials around it washed away, because of the dam.  They were concerned that a big storm would wash away the pipe itself, affecting the water supply to Hubble and Tamarack City, downstream.  As the photos show, they had piled up an impressive amount of rocks to protect the pipe and it's flow.

I had to ask:  what happened to the beavers?  I was told that the beavers were already gone, trapped or died or wandered off, when the dam and lodge were removed.  One of the workers said that he found a trap in the dam.  My husband mentioned to me later that one of the customers in the gas station where he works talked about the beavers being trapped down there last winter.  (But at least two had escaped; they were seen in midsummer.)  So, that solved the mystery of who and why.

Richard Louv discusses in his book, "The Nature Principle", how sometimes people are afraid to care about and bond to a place, out of fear that it might be bulldozed.  He points out that people need to take the risk, because you can't protect a place you don't love.  But, sometimes you can't protect a place that you DO love!  Still, I take his point.  And, to be honest, The Scrub hasn't been destroyed as a bird habitat (except for a few birds such as herons and kingfishers).  Mammals live there or travel through it, too; we saw deer tracks and coyote scat on our last visit.  There have been reports of bears.  It is an ATV trail, on the very edge of town, barely outside; the deer visit people's gardens up and down our street.  There are other, protected places, such as the Paavola Wetland, just down the highway, for beavers and their dams.  The  Nara Nature Center has a sign boasting of it's beavers and their activities.  But I still feel a sense of loss.  Must we, humans, always be pushing out and driving away our fellow creatures that are trying to share this world with us, with our endless needs and wants? 

And, just because the dam and lodge with its resident beavers was so close in to town, it could be visited by older kids on foot or bike...or an ATV.  I remember a conversation with a boy of about 12, telling me about the newts he could find in a ditch.  Another told me about a bear sighting!  My son, James enjoyed encountering a snake on the trail; he moved it to safety into the bushes.  I think we all need these meetings.  Well.  There's a UP saying that I hear all the time:  "It is what it is."  But, I think we could do better. 

1 comment:

  1. I just wanted to add a big thanks to Sunwiggy for sharing this story. It makes me think of my reaction to the wind mills going up around Evergreen Lake last year. Most people don't seem to mind them; in fact, a lot of environmentally-minded folk are in favor. And yet, for me, they managed to ruin one of my favorite places to bird and hike in McLean county, just by being so ginormous and intrusive and in my field of vision all the time. Plus, whenever I see one, I wonder if birds or bats have recently come to a bad end. But, wind power is an improvement over blowing up mountains in West Virginia to get the coal, so my personal sadness was just that: a quiet mourning for a change I didn't like. And that matters, too.